In the news: bees

You may know that I call my front garden Beetopia. It hums and buzzes all summer long. Lately there have been a variety of different kinds of bees visiting – several kinds of bumbles, some odd little bees that look more like flies, and variations on honeybees. I notice all the different kinds of bees these days because colony collapse and bees dying has been in the news for the last few years.

sweat bee

sweat bee

The news has taught me that fruit pollination is in danger, which means that Washington state’s entire fruit growing economy (and the nation’s economy) is at risk. Honey will disappear. Bees are dying because of pesticides and parasites. One of my friends had posted a petition to demand that neonics (a type of pesticide) be taken off the market because it kills bees. I went to take a look at it, and then Facebook recommended a related article that was, for once, actually useful.

The article in Forbes magazine tells a different story, as I understand it. Varroa mites and a virus and other complex factors have led to devastating colony collapses. But beehive numbers worldwide have gone up from 50 million in 1960 to almost 80 million in 2010. The number of hives in the US have been fairly stable over the last 20 years. There are about 2.5 million bee colonies in the US. Colonies can regenerate quite quickly – being short-lived creatures with quick breeding cycles, it doesn’t take decades to revive a population the way it does for elephants (or redwood forests). Bees are farmed, and like many farmed creatures, the “herd” stays relatively stable because it’s being manipulated and controlled by human farmers.

The article mentions there is some concern that this level of regeneration might not be sustainable in the future, but I would expect that might mean a national hive herd set at a lower number – maybe 1.5 or 2 million hives, and maybe an increase in the cost of honey and perhaps fruit, but it seems unlikely that honeybees would actually die out. Eastern Washington’s fruit economy is not really likely to be left without pollinators. (And honeybees are not the only pollinators out there anyway).

And those neonics have been used more and more during the time period where bee numbers have remained stable or have increased. They have not been clearly linked to bee deaths in real world usage, but the chemicals they replaced were definitely bee killers. Your average homeowner gardener probably doesn’t need to be buying any pesticides at all, but regardless, neonics sold at big box stores do not seem to be implicated in honeybee colony collapse. What farmers do in massive monoculture farms has much more influence anyway, and if they’re not using neonics, they’re going to go back to the less effective and more harmful pesticides of old.

I think all of us have heard anecdotally that honeybees are declining and maybe dying out. Since I read this article I’ve had a couple of people bring up the “beepocalypse” narrative. It’s just a given in most people’s minds. I thought it was worth sharing this information that, as far as I can tell, seems to be more accurate.

As usual, the news tells us the dramatic, worrying, sensational part of the story and leaves us in the dark about the context and detail of the situation.

I’m happy to continue planting lovely purple flowers in my garden for my bees and other pollinators. Judging by the loud humming buzz, I think they’re happy.


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