Autumn brings again reports of honey bee colonies crashing, collapsing, and beekeepers trying to figure out what to do.
From what Ive learned, heres at some of whats going on ...
First off, some colonies die every year, in fact some die every month, every week, every day. They always have and always will. Bees are insects subject to the pressures of nature and the real world and they offer a bell curve of tolerance to those natural pressures ... no different than animals everywhere, domestic or wild, large or small. It happens. But because they are under the media microscope at the moment and live in a manmade box under the care of people, blame falls disproportionately on the glamorous and visible Colony Collapse Disorder and its (probably) man made cause. But for some bees in some places, sometimes, let's rule out Colony Collapse Disorder right off.
For a better picture, lets back up a moment and see what peripheral activities beekeepers have been up to lately ... its been an interesting summer ... and it leads back to honey bee colonies collapsing.
Beekeepers have been meeting with representatives of pesticide companies in an effort to refocus how new pesticides are tested for harm to honey bees. Registration requirements for most new chemicals dont require those tests to determine the long term effects of pesticides that adults eat or store to feed to their young later. Its already known that some of the newer nicotine pesticides are deadly to adult bees if sprayed directly, and now it is suspected that when taken back to the hive and stored in nectar and pollen are causing problems later ... but, its not yet been measured. Maybe now it will be. Remember the side effects of the drug thalidomide years ago? Unforeseen side effects.
Meanwhile, beekeepers have mostly figured out where their bees do well, and where they dont. Actually some had figured this out quite awhile ago ... and it was as simple as this ... honey bees that pollinated, flew by, or even thought about crops sprayed with the new systemic nicotine pesticides did worse than honey bees that did not come in contact, fly by or even think about them. At first it seemed to be mostly eastern bees that were having this trouble, but when beekeepers actually looked, it is obvious that bees and nicotine dont mix anywhere on the map. Interestingly, theres a new documentary out about this very poison. It is pretty damning in its presentation and accusations, but its probably not the whole story yet. In fact, the whole story on these has yet to be told, Im told. Still, it is becoming increasingly clear that these chemicals, either by themselves or as a contributing factor, are causing all sorts of hell for honey bees everywhere they are. And you can be pretty well assured that if honey bees are at risk, so are all the rest of the pollinators out there. All of them.
The bottom line to this is that more and more beekeepers are doing two things. One, they are moving away from row crops using these chemicals for the majority of the foraging season, and 2, for those that pollinate for a living, boycotts are beginning if growers are using these chemicals. They may be legal and they may be good, but for some growers, use them at your own peril. This story, and its role in the Colony Collapse Disorder drama is still not in the final act. Stay tuned.
Crop producers apply fungicides to their crops to prevent fungal disease from destroying the plants or disfiguring the fruit. Mostly, these chemicals have been tested on adult bees foraging on flowers sprayed directly with these chemicals to see if the adults were harmed, and, generally, they werent. But, what hasnt been studied, or what may have been studied by the chemical companies and not made known, is that when adult honey bee foragers visit these flowers that have been sprayed and bring back contaminated pollen, it is the young that are fed this poisoned food that ultimately are harmed ... either directly, or indirectly, when the harm done shows up in the form of damaged adults, later. For many crops, and their growers, there are no options ... if a spray is not applied at precisely the correct time the crop is ruined or damaged, or something that costs money happens. So for some growers this isnt an option ... its a must do. The result, then, is seen much later in the season, when the beekeeper is gone, but the crop saved. Unforeseen side effects.
These, too, are finally being looked at from the perspective of a honey bee colony, rather than a foraging honey bee in the field. But any changes will be looked at carefully. The crop must be protected ... but so must the bees.
Speaking of changes ... the EPA is looking closely at the ramifications of pesticide spray drift ... what happens when these lethal chemicals leave the intended area -- the crop -- and settle on the flowering weeds that border the intended field, where all manner of unintended organisms live and are affected. What constitutes a 'spray area', and what can be done to either better define that area, or to better confine that area. If you have an opinion on this ... and EPA is looking for opinions ... read the EPA's proposed regulation and see what others have said. For additional information on spray drift -- Do you live anywhere near a crop that gets sprayed? Anywhere at all? -- you should know what is allowed.
No, Colony Collapse Disorder has not been solved. But beekeepers are learning even more of the many ways that bees can die. Some natural and expected. Far too many unnatural, and unexpected.
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