We need to talk about bees
.On top of all the other terrible things have already happened this week, the bumblebee was listed as an endangered species.
This is a big deal for a variety of reasons. First, the speed at which bee populations have plumeted is horrifying. For the new endangered rusty patched bumblebee, or Bombus affinis, nearly 90% of its population has disappeared in the last twenty years. It's so bad that President Obama released a national strategy to rehabilitate the honeybee population and protect their habitat.
Second, the massive loss of honeybees has serious ramifications for the food industry. Obviously there's less honey. The losses for commercial beekeepers are in the millions of dollars. There's also the fact that bees pollinate about a third of the agricultral produce we eat. If bees continue to die like this, we are in major, major trouble.
Why is it happening?
The short answer is no one really knows. There is probably no single cause, just several big issues that all have the same consequence.
For a while we thought it was something called colony collapse disorder (CCD) where all the worker bees just up and leave and the rest of the colony falls apart. There are various causes including pesticide use, disease and parasites, and stress. Basically the bees get so stressed they stop functioning. I don’t blame them.
But reports of CCD have decreased recently and bees are still dying like crazy. Many colonies are at risk for a now wide-spread parasite called the Varrora mite which infect bees and compromise their immune systems, leaving them exposed to various other health isses. There's also the ever-present use of pesticides as farmers attempt to kill bugs harming their crops while saving the bugs they need. Right now there's a lot of talk about the use of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics. Unlike a lot of pesticides, which are sprayed on to plants, neonics are applied directly to seeds so they are part of the plants as they grow. When bees are exposed to them, the neurotoxin in the neonics behaves like nicotine, affecting the insect's nervous system. Studies are divided on much this is effecting bees. Some research claims the neonics can compromise bees' immune system as well as their ability to learn and remember hive locations, while other studies claim exposure to low level neonics doesn't harm bees.
Beyond diseases and insecticides, there is also the effects of climate change. As the earth gets warmer lots of plants and animals are being forced to seek new hospitable habitat. Generally this means animals are moving further north where it's cooler. Bees aren't doing that. So as their habitat gets warmer, it's also shrinking and losing the ability to sustain as many bees. We don't know why they aren't moving, but right now, it's bad.
What can you do?
Plant more flowers. I know this sounds silly, but it's really important. Bees need more things to eat. As you plant, try and pick things that are native to your area. Here in Philadelphia, there's the Pollinator Project, a wonderful organization that sells seed packets of native wildflowers specfically to help bees.
Buy honey, specifically local honey. It's a great snack and it will directly support beekeepers trying to keep their hives alive.
If you have a yard, be conscious of what pesticides and chemicals you're using and how that can affect the local ecosphere of your property.
Seeds for Action
Seeds for Action is a Philadelphia based cohort focused on taking the barriers out of social justice and activism and translating the emotions of the last election into accessable dire