Honeybees live in a group called a "hive" or a "colony", and:
Are a "superorganism". Honeybees cannot survive alone.
Only sting defensively, because stinging kills them.
Are a true Amazon society dominated by females. Males can't sting, do nothing except provide genes, and are regularly kicked out the door for winter.
Pollinate plants that are the source of one out of every three bites of food we eat. Without bees there would be no coffee or chocolate, no nuts or fruits.
Are probably at an all-time population low, worldwide, due to a number of pressures, almost all man-made. See CCD discussion below.
THERE ARE ONLY Three KINds of Honeybees
Worker Bees - all females, comprise over 99% of the hive population. Workers do all the work except laying eggs and impregnating the queen.
The most common questions we get asked are regarding CCD. What is it? What causes it? How worried should we be about it? See below.
What is CCD?
CCD or "Colony Collapse Disorder" is the term describing the recent worldwide loss of bee colonies or "hives". CCD is typified by the sudden disappearance of an entire colony, leaving few clues as to why.
what causes CCD?
Despite intense scientific examination of bees and hives across the globe, no single cause for CCD has been found. The multiple contributors to CCD can be placed in the following three groups.
1. New ParasitesDespite regulations and better inspection methods, the increased movement of people and materials around the globe has made it increasingly difficult to contain pests and diseases within international borders. This has resulted in the introduction of parasites and diseases to populations of bees with no defense mechanisms for them. In the last few decades bee populations in the United States, for example, have been decimated by the below:
YEAR PARASITE COMMENT 1984 Tracheal Mite First documented worldwide in 1921. Hard to diagnose. Hard to see. 1987 Varroa Mite Number one killer. Weakens bees, carries viruses to them. 1994 Nosema Ceranae version of this unicellular fungus can be deadly. 1996 Small Hive Beetle Common now in U.S. Can spoil honey and hive.
It may be worth noting that Australia, where the Varroa mite does not yet exist, has no reported CCD. The hive beetle has yet to make it to Canada. Meanwhile bee populations in the United States have dropped so low that almond orchards in California have obtained special exemptions to import millions of Australian bees for pollination services.
2. New InsecticidesIt seemed like a good design: no more spraying of insecticides from a tractor or crop-dusting plane, but building the insecticide right into the plant. Unfortunately in practice these new poisons, collectively known as neonicitinoids (so called because they are chemically similar to nicotine), wash off the seeds and into the soil where they stay and buildup over years. They were tested to not "kill" honeybees outright, but not whether they interfered with their survival behaviors or built up over time to dangerous levels in the soil or honeybee colonies.
Despite billions of dollars spent on pesticide production and heavy lobbying by big agriculture firms, the movement to ban these poisons is building in early 2016. For the time being, however, consumers may still have a difficult time understanding which plants they purchase have been treated, or which pesticides contain "neonics" such as these:
- Imidacloprid - Currently the most-used pesticide in the world it inhibits insect nerve transmissions.
- Acetamiprid - Sold under the names "Assail" and "Chipco" to control sucking insects on fruit such as cherries.
- Clothianidin - Dust from this insecticide has been found to blow onto nearby fields with flowers that honeybees like.
- Nitenpyram - Has been used as an oral application in dogs and cats for several years to kill adult fleas.
- Nithiazine - Acutely toxic. Possible carcinogen. Marketed as "QuikStrike" for fly and other insect control.
- Thiacloprid - Intended to disrupt the nervous system of aphids and white flies. Marketed by Bayer.
- Thiamethoxam - Absorbed into every part of the plant, including pollen, this insecticide is intended to paralyze insects.
3. An Increase in "Monoculture" Farmlands
A large stretch of farmland that contains only one crop is called a "monoculture". To the right is what a California almond orchard looks like from the air. From inside the orchard the fields appear to go on forever.
Two thirds of the 2.74 million bee hives in the United States, two out of every three bees in the U.S. today if you like, are trucked on 18-wheelers hundreds of miles across the country and placed in California almond orchards for months at a time as part of lucrative "pollination contracts" with some of the country's largest bee colony owners.
As you can see, for the bees during this time it's almond pollen/nectar or nothing.
You may like pizza, but what if you had to eat nothing but pizza for three months? Would you be happy or healthy? In order to feed the increasing demands of a swelling world population, agriculture has adopted the mass-production methods of industry. Insects have been considered mostly as pests.
Here is a picture showing what this can lead to, however. This is a farmer hand-pollinating a pear tree in China's Sichuan province, where officials thought more insecticide would lead to more production... until they killed off all the pollinators.
Farmers there are now using bamboo sticks with feathers tied on the end, and climbing trees to spread pollen literally by hand in order to get their pear trees to bear fruit.