The Buzz on the Bay’s Bees
By Edree Hovey
The quiet buzz of bees can be counted on to fill the air of our warm, lazy days of summer. It’s a comforting sound that we hope will be part of our world for generations to come. But if the die-off continues at its current rate, there are no guarantees. Rushing about from one flower to another, the busy bee, with four wings beating rhythmically up to 450 times a minutes, rushes about from one flower to another gathering the nectar necessary to its survival while spreading pollen necessary for our survival. Without bees’ telltale footprints through the dusty pollen, plant life could not survive. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) were introduced to the Colonies in the early 1600s by the Europeans, and spread quickly through the entire nation. Unlike most bees that prefer a solitary existence, the industrious honey maker is part of a complex social network that takes up residence in huge colonies in trees or in hives set out by farmers or beekeepers. The honey bee is only one of the over 3,500 species in the bee family, most populations of which have recently gone through a rapid decline. In 2008 it was reported to the U.S. Senate that the decrease has reached close to 35 percent!
Our increased pollution, much of it originating from emissions from power plants and automobiles has taken its toll. Interestingly, pollution masks the scent of flowers, which is what attracts the half-inch pollinator as it darts between blossoms in a constant search for nectar. To further aggravate the falling population of bees, both parasites and bacterial diseases have become a continuing threat. Often the causes are unknown, not easily treated and often discovered by the beekeeper too late to head off what can quickly wipe out an entire colony. Colony Collapse Disorder is also a real threat. Like the early Colonists on Roanoke Island, the bees can abandon their homes for unknown reasons, leaving no trace or clue as to what happened. This, along with pollution, increased use of pesticides, destruction of natural areas and irresponsible mosquito spraying has decimated many of the Bay’s nearly 10,000 hives. As if that isn’t enough to scare the yellow jacket off one of nature’s little miracles, African bees are expected to eventually take up residence in the Bay area as they continue their slow but steady trek north. Aggressive in temperament, the African bees are unlike their docile but busy cousins, and are capable of unprovoked attacks. Although not popular with people who are highly allergic to bee stings and must keep an EpiPen handy, the honey bee is far too important agriculturally to ignore the signs of its decline. With most pollinating done by the bumble, digger and sweat bees, the honey bee continues tirelessly in his roll of reliable pollen spreader. Not only is the honey bee busy spreading pollen throughout the farmer’s crops, but it also is a source of one of our most delectable sweeteners as well as products from the honey comb such as candles, cosmetics, polish and lubricants. In days gone by honey was used as an antiseptic that effectively drew the poison out of an infected wound and was also successfully used to calm a cough or coat a sore throat.
Bees, our most reliable pollinator, followed closely by bats — our nocturnal pollinator — are responsible for spreading pollen to over one-third of our all important commercial crops. Without bees, the farmer will be further challenged to successfully produce adequate harvests. This honey bee decimation is not confined to the Bay area, but is worldwide, so the causes and cures need to be addressed on a worldwide level to prevent catastrophic results. With heightened awareness and a combined effort we could have a long and promising future with nature’s pollinator. The quiet hum of bees, a sure sign of summer, needs to be a sound familiar to all future generations.