Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bees, the Latest Buzz

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell near 700 points on Monday leaving a lot of people stung because Congress failed to pass a Wall Street bailout plan. Not exactly the Crash of ’29 which dropped the Dow by 22% as a prelude to the Great Depression, but the situation does have people on edge.

In our modern era, economic woes are only one distraction. Global warming concerns are nettling to many people, as well as global economic competition. Add to this concerns about the need for clean water in much of the world, energy shortages, wars, rumors of wars, and government encroachments on freedom…. with the ongoing problems of inadequate health care for so many… and you have a witches brew of troubles bubbling and roiling in the pot.

So you probably do not want to hear about the latest buzz on bees.

Yesterday, in a newsletter, I became aware of the plight of the bumblebee. Initially, when I went online to see how serious this problem was, I only found articles from 2007. I was temporarily relieved. Maybe it was a blip, not something to get overly concerned about.

If you do a Google search, you will find that in 2007 there were an alarming number of stories about bees dying in North America. Here is the opening of a typical story, this one from the Los Angeles Times titled "Bees Dying of Mysterious Infection."

The dead bees under Dennis VanEngelsdorp's microscope were like none he had ever seen before.

He had expected to see mites or amoebas, perennial pests of bees. Instead, he found internal organs swollen with debris and strangely blackened. The bees' intestinal tracts were scarred, and their rectums were abnormally full of what appeared to be partly digested pollen. Dark marks on the sting glands were telltale signs of infection.

A story in The Economist talked about a trend regarding bees abandoning their hives. A story by Benjamin Lester in Cosmos, March 2007, titled "Mystery of the dying bees" begins this way: “Something mysterious is killing honey bees, and even as billions are dropping dead across North America, researchers are scrambling to find answers and save one of the most important crop pollinators on Earth.”

The Lester story went on to implicate parasites and viruses, but a few sources are blaming hybrid corn, chemicals and other human interferences.

A little background on bees: A typical hive contains one queen, a hundred drones and sixty thousand worker bees. It’s quite a community. The worker bees attend to the larvae, maintain the hive and do the all important job of preparing nectar. Perhaps most importantly, bees are an essential ingredient in pollinating our fruit trees and crops. Watermelons, berries, cherries, oranges, peaches and kiwifruit all need bees. Cukes, squash, and some varieties of beans and peas also need these tireless honey gatherers.

By switching my search method from websites to news stories, I learned that the problem has not gone away at all. In fact, it is getting worse.

Here’s the latest buzz: “Last winter, over 36 percent of the U.S. bee colonies collapsed, affecting honey production, but more significantly, affecting the one-third of all food production that requires pollination - from fruits and nuts, to the dairy and beef cows that feed on alfalfa.” *

The full story reads suspiciously like a press release for a U.S.-Israeli firm seeking to solve the world’s bee crisis. Or, they may be on to something… I really don't know. What I do know is, I sure appreciate our apple trees.

* Here's the rest of this story

No comments: