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Something to Bee Considered: The Lives and Troubles of Bees

Have you or someone you know experienced a problem with bees on campus? Do you freak out and run away when the word “bee” is uttered? Perhaps taking a look into the lives of bees and the trouble they are facing will change your perspective on these busy insects.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been an issue for what is approaching six years. CCD describes the phenomenon where honeybees have been dying off all around the world, resulting in the death of their uncared for offspring. Although scientists have not pinpointed the exact cause of the disorder, most of their evidence points towards pesticides used on the plants that the honeybees pollinate. The pesticides that are thought to have a direct effect on the honeybees is a newer group of insecticides called neonicotinoid pesticides. These pesticides are sprayed on crops and plants, making their way through the plants’ system, and infiltrating the pollen, that is picked up by the bees. The neonicotinoid pesticides are toxic to the honeybees, therefore directly causing their death. Other pesticides affect the honeybees’ well-being indirectly through the destruction of their habitats and polluting environments where they find their food.

I think that it is beneficial to learn a little about the bees, as they are a very interesting species in their social organization and the way they function together. There are about 20,000 species of bees, all of which live in colonies that are made up of worker bees, drones, and the queen bee. The queen is the only female bee in the colony that can reproduce; all of the other female bees are sterile. The sterile female bees are the worker bees; these bees work very hard to collect pollen and nectar to feed the rest of the colony especially the offspring and to keep the hive clean. CCD is directly affecting the worker bees because they are collecting the pollen that is infected with pesticides. The male bees are all drones and their only job is to mate with the queen bee. Basically, the women do all of the work. If you have ever been stung by a bee then you might be interested to know that it was a female bee since the stinger, called the ovipositor, is part of the female reproductive system. Although, l said earlier that most female bees are sterile, they all have the ovipositor and can use it to sting. Some bees, including honeybees, can only sting once because their ovipositor is designed with ridges or is barbed so it stays in the flesh after they sting and is ripped out of their body, leading to their immediate death. Honeybees make their hives in or on trees normally, but they can also be found in attics, chimneys or under porches.

Right now you might be saying to yourself, “Well jeez, these bees sound pretty neat but… why do I care about them?” Let me tell you why you care about the bees. Besides the fact that the ignorant human species is, in yet another way, causing a negative impact on the other forms of life that we share the planet with, CCD will also directly impede on our own species. The worker bees of the honeybee colonies work hard every day, pollinating over 100 different crops in the United States alone. Without their help there would be a significant loss in foods such as almonds, apples, grapes, soybeans, cotton, and many others. If you do not care about any of those foods then you might be concerned by the certainty that it will have a huge impact on the economy by directly affecting the farmers who cultivate the crops for a living and the consumers who purchase the crops in order to profit. In other words, many of the local stores that you love so much or the larger stores you rely on, or even the companies that package the nuts and make the clothes you wear, could suffer a huge loss.

Another reason that you might be interested in bees is that, whether you are aware of it or not, there have been several instances where bees have formed hives in the attics of dorms or buildings here on campus. Last year my roommate and I were surprised to find one bee after another appearing on our window. We eventually figured out that they were coming in through a space in a pipe coming from the attic. These bees were very disinterested in harming us and seemed more concerned with getting back to the rest of their colony outside. The bees and their hives have been exterminated from the dorms because they are seen as being very potentially harmful, especially to those who have allergic reactions. Something interesting I learned recently, which sort of reminded me of the situation on campus, is that there are many cities in the world that are actively involved in “beekeeping”; major cities such as London, Paris, Boston, San Francisco, New York, and Toronto have been developing areas where bees are able to live and reproduce having less contact with the pesticides. Is it possible that the bees are being forced to relocate and our dorms are safer places to reside? I can’t help but think of the possibilities of coexisting all the while knowing that I am letting my imagination get the best of me.

Another aspect of the issue to be aware of is its political shortcomings. The pesticides that are having such a huge impact on the bees are hardly even legal. They are being passed by the Environmental Protection Agency by slipping through without safety requirements and dodging the system in other ways. Clothianidin is one of the pesticides that is most harmful to the bees and is a drug that is produced by Bayer, the same company we trust with aspirin and baby aspirin. This issue is much more significant than most people are aware of. Bees are a vital part of ecology and of sustaining the world; they have been referred to as an “indicator species”, providing us with information about the environment we’re living in before we can realize on our own. Perhaps the bees are telling us something bigger than to just stop using these pesticides. It may be that this is cautionary advice to look at what substances we trust in entering our homes, and more importantly what impact our lack of awareness or concern has on the greater population of the world, non-human animalia. 

Information found from the following sources:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/annie-spiegelman/bee-deviledscientists_b_1…
http://www.pestworldforkids.org/bees.html
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/04/06/common-pesti…

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