When one thinks of endangered species, pandas, tigers, and whales are the first that come to mind. We hold a special place in our hearts for these furry creatures. It would be sad to see them disappear from the face of the earth, but the hard truth, is that even if they did go, humanity would still be able to survive.
On the other hand, there are animals and insects in existence that man cannot live without. We forget that there is an array of endangered species out there, and they all vary in terms of their importance to the ecosystem. Of all the living things out there, one we most definitely take for granted is the honeybee. But, are bees going extinct? Let's take a look.
Are Bees Going Extinct?
According to a recent nationwide survey, beekeepers in the United States lost 44% of their bees between 2015 and 2016. This is cause for alarm, as the percentage of losses keeps rising year after year. So, are bees going extinct? The answer is "yes." It's no secret that the bee population around the world is steadily decreasing, but this fact receives very little attention in the mainstream news.
Why? Maybe it's just because bees just aren't as cute or exciting to talk about, as pandas. Regardless, the loss of bees is especially tragic, because the death of bees sparks a chain reaction that has devastating effects on entire bee colonies.
So, why are bees going extinct? For starters, when things go awry for a bee colony, it results in colony collapse disorder.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) occurs when the number of worker bees in a colony starts to dwindle, causing the community to die out. Hives with stored honey and pollen with little to no bees present, or those home to a queen bee with no workers, show signs of CCD.
A hive full of honey and pollen with no worker bees in attendance, is unusual because when worker bees migrate to a new hive, they take their resources with them. The same can be said about a hive with only a queen present, as the queen bee needs her workers in order to survive and continue the cycle of life. In the end, CCD means the death of a hive, and results in a reduction of the bee population.
CCD is caused by a number of factors, but the ones which pose the biggest threats are insecticides, parasites, viruses, and climate change.
Farmers have to use insecticides in order to preserve their farms and remain competitive in the agriculture business. Pests love to eat away at their cash crops, and the simplest and most economical way to deal with this unfortunate problem, is to spray chemical which will kill those pests.
The downside to this is that while insecticides kill harmful insects, they also have negative consequences for those insects that do not cause crop destruction, namely the bees.
Some countries who have noticed the decline in the bee population have passed laws against insecticides in order to curb this problem. While this is a step in the right direction, it is still not enough to fix the problem completely. Our man-made chemicals are not the only issue; mother nature, itself, also poses a significant threat to the bees.
Pests / Viruses
Certain parasites and insects contribute to the bee extinction problem by spreading harmful viruses and directly destroying hives. More specifically, varroa mites and hive beetles are to blame for numerous encumbrances that can be deadly to bees, and their colonies.
Varroa mites carry viruses that can be spread to bees. These viruses can weaken bees' immune systems, cause them to become paralyzed, and have wing deformities. Ultimately, these viruses result in mass sickness, and death in bee colonies.
Sometimes, hives can become infested with hive beetles. The larvae of hive beetles tunnel through the comb, causing honey to leak, and this creates a mess in the hive, making the hive unmanageable. Eventually, worker bees abandon the hive, leaving it destitute.
Climate change is also an issue for bee colonies as bees require certain weather conditions in order to survive. When the climate is no longer suitable for bees to live in, the only option they have is to migrate and leave their hive behind.
Why Do We Need Bees?
What most people don't realize is how crucial bees are to helping sustain life on earth; however, scientists are very much aware of how important they are and have been for a long time. The question "are bees going extinct?" is not a new one. Even Albert Einstein recognized this and made the statement that "If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live."
This claim may seem a little far-fetched to some, but when you analyze the facts, you'll see that this is actually true. Without bees, humans, and animals alike, we would not be able to survive for very long. Extinction of the bees could very well mean the extinction of all life on Earth.
The fact is that out of all the crops we consume (which make up 90% of our food), 70% of them are pollinated by bees. And, for some crops, bees are the only pollinators that assist in plant reproduction.
Any seasoned farmer will tell you just how important bees are to the growth of their plants. If bees do not spread pollen between male and female flowering plants, the plants are unable to fruit. It is for this reason that some farmers have also become beekeepers in an effort to increase the bee population, and help with the growth of their crops.
Without bees there to help facilitate the pollination process, humans would suffer from a worldwide famine. With fewer plants, humans would have a food deficit. And, since trees help retain water, fewer trees would mean less water on the earth.
In addition, animals which are herbivores would quickly go extinct. Plants, unable to reproduce, would quickly vanish, leaving herbivores with a diminished food supply. And, with animals going extinct, the food chain would be knocked off balance, resulting in devastating effects to wildlife and the environment.
The removal of bees from the ecosystem would be like removing the cornerstone from a skyscraper. That one stone holds the entire edifice intact, and without it, the whole building would crumble.
What Can We Do to Help Bees?
Faced with a possible bee extinction, it's our job to educate ourselves and do what we can to try to find a solution to the problem. It should be clear by now that bees deserve our attention even more so than some of the more famous endangered species we hear about frequently. Without them, we will perish.
Fortunately, there are ways we can help save the bees. It doesn't take a large investment or copious amounts of time to make a difference. Any and everyone can contribute by staying aware of the situation and making life choices that are conducive to a bee-friendly world. Here are some ways we can help:
Provide Bee Habitats
One of the best ways we can help bees thrive on the planet is by providing them with safe habitats. Contrary to popular belief, not all bees live in hives. Some actually live in dead trees and deserted animal burrows.
We can provide habitats for them by setting out bee blocks on our land. A bee block is a block of wood with many drilled holes of different sizes where bees can nest. These provide a place for bees to live with very little maintenance required on our part.
Another option is to become a beekeeper yourself. You can establish a safe place for honey bees to live and oversee the colony to ensure that all goes well. This is a great way to boost the bee population with the added benefit that you get to reap the rewards of your labor with fresh batches of homemade honey from time to time.
Support Local Beekeepers
Beekeepers often sell the honey they harvest from their hives. By purchasing honey from them, you are supporting their efforts to keep the bees alive. It may cost a little more than honey sold by a large corporation, but it will most likely taste superior. And, when purchasing locally, you can feel good about your decision to help foster the lives of bees in your area.
Plant Things That Bees Like
The nectar and pollen produced by plants is a prime source of food for bees; thus, planting things that bees love helps keep them healthy and happy. This is one of the easiest ways to help promote a healthy environment for them. With just a few dollars, you can purchase a pack of seeds that will grow perennial plants and provide food for the bees year after year.
Stop Using Pesticides
When bees consume insecticides, the poisons attack their central nervous systems and can cause paralysis. This can harm the worker bees and eventually lead to colony collapse disorder. By limiting the use of pesticides, you can help provide an environment that is conducive to healthy bee life.
All endangered wildlife should be monitored and cared for, but of all the species out there, bees may be the most important of all. We should stop asking "are bees going extinct?" and start asking "how can we prevent bee extinction?." There are small ways that each of us can help out, and for the sake of humanity as a whole, we should be willing to pitch in where we can. With a concentrated effort, we can make sure our planet is livable for the generations of the future.