Bees facing a worldwide dwindling population crisis are getting a little help from their friends as government officials and concerned citizens participated in National Honeybee campaigns to raise awareness of their plight. On Aug. 16, 2014, inspired by National Honey Bee Day, Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley, California initiated a citywide Honey Bee Awareness Day, joining cities nationwide and bee advocates around the world in public education efforts to draw attention to the danger the stinging insects face due to habitat loss, climate change, limited clean water and food supplies, pesticides, mites and disease.
Honey bees’ pollinating activity plays a direct role in producing about one-third of the world’s food supply for humans in addition to livestock feed crops making the threats to their dwindling community populations a serious matter for the awareness campaign that wants to help. Without their assistance, many fruits and vegetables as well as coffee, almonds, sunflowers and alfalfa, just to name a few, would suffer, causing worldwide food shortages. Biological diversity within ecosystems would see negative impacts as well as the dying greenery would interfere with the food chain for the interdependent web of plants and animals that live there.
The danger to honey bees stems from many sources, according to the University of Minnesota Food and Agriculture (UMFA). Varro mites drink blood from bee pupa, which weakens their immunity opening the way for other viruses to attack. Effective control depends on beekeeper vigilance, without which an entire colony could be obliterated within two years. The Smithsonian Magazine reports a beekeeper survey that highlights starvation, poor weather and weakened colonies that have trouble surviving the winter cold. Furthermore, there are an increasing number of cases of colony collapse disorder where the majority of adults in a hive simply disappear without a trace, causing speculation of causes from high-fructose corn syrup, pesticides to genetically modified crops.
Honey bees are well-known for being diligent workers in support of the queen who spends all her time laying up to 1,500 eggs per day to keep the colony population healthy. Jody Gerdts and Becky Masterman, who head up the Bee Squad efforts to promote bee Health in the Twin Cities, face an increasing problem of missing queens in some of their colonies. The latest queen to go AWOL has not been seen since July 30. They have no answer to the queen failures but finding a viable and fertile queen for the hive is critical to the colony’s probability of surviving the winter.
Private citizens may not be able to solve all the honey bees’ problems, but the awareness campaign spotlights several definitive measures they can take to help alleviate at least part of the dwindling population problem. Sustainable gardening practices are a step in the right direction for protecting bees from pesticide contamination of their food supply. Therefore, UMFA recommends pesticide free gardening and crops of native perennials, such as goldenrods, mountain mint, milkweeds, prairie clover, bee balm and asters. Monetary donations to bee advocacy and research groups also help fund the research needed to find answers to the global population crisis that threaten bees with extinction.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
U.S. Department of Agriculture
University of Minnesota