A stinging threat: What’s happening to the bees?


Edwin Bristow/The Carolinian

Jayda Brunson
     Staff Writer

What will happen to the world if bees become extinct — will fruit, nuts, coffee and even the human race — survive? Due to the significant decline of bee populations around the world, these are just a few of the questions people are asking. Robert Jacobs, of the Guilford County Beekeeping Association, spoke with The Carolinian regarding the environmental ramifications of the declining bee population.

Question: What are some of the greatest threats to bees?

Robert Jacobs: Varroa mite is the biggest threat to honeybees that we have now. It feeds on the adult bees, but it also attacks on the broods — or baby bees — that are developing in the brood cells, and if you do not have a plan for reducing the number of those mites in a hive, that hive will probably not last for more than a couple of years before it dies out.

Question: What are some of the top reasons why bees are dying?

Robert Jacobs: Probably [the] number one [reason bees are dying] these days would be the varroa mite which carries diseases with it. [And] an underlying problem that we have now, would be the number of pesticides and fungicides that are out in the environment. As the bees go out and collect nectar, which is carbohydrate and pollen which is protein, they bring back the pesticides that are either sprayed on those plants or are systemically, the plants are developed to take the pesticides up in them and have them within the plant, the bees bring those back, they build up in the hive, they’re also in the food that’s given to the baby bees, a mixture of nectar and pollen, is fed to the young larvae, if that pollen has pesticides on it, then you can think of it sorta like, what’s going on in flint Michigan right now, and that is you have the lead in the water that children have been drinking. That’s not immediately going to kill those children, but it effects their development; whether they lose IQ points, whether they live as long [or] whether they are as healthy and alert and vibrant as they would otherwise be is problematic. We’re finding the same thing with the pesticides that are fed to the baby bees; they don’t necessarily kill the honeybees outright, but they shorten the lives of the new bees. They affect the way they are able to go out and forage for food. So, with shorter lives and not being as good at foraging, you have hives that don’t thrive, and they die out over time. So, a lot of the pesticides that are working their way into the system are also a problem and the pesticides may also compromise the honeybees’ immune system, so, if you have bees that are weakened by the pesticides, and then the Varroa come in and bring in virus and diseases, you’re starting to get combinations in the environment that are real challenges for honeybee survival.

Question: What are the differences and difficulties between beekeeping on a local and general level, and what impact do different environments have on bees’ health?

Robert Jacobs: Well, among beekeepers, the standard thought is [that] all beekeeping is local. You are always looking at what your conditions are, when do things happen here, when do plants bloom [and] when does it generally become warm enough? Over 60 degrees so [is when] you can open up a hive and examine it, and see what’s going on without doing damage to the bees. Obviously, our season starts much earlier than [it does for] the northern beekeepers; who have bees even in Alaska, but winter is actually a more difficult time for our bees here than bees that are properly taken care of up north. The reason is [that] the bees put up honey for winter, that’s their emergency food or their canned food for winter. In the north, those bees stay in the hives and cluster to keep warm, and slowly warm up and work their way up to the honey supplies as the winter goes forward. Down here, with the warm winter that we had, the bees are flying regularly. They’re coming out and they’re burning up energy, and burning up food that they use by flying. There aren’t plants blooming, there isn’t nectar for them to get, so it’s much easier for these bees to burn through their food stored in late winter and early spring, and we’re in much more danger in having our bees starve right now than northern beekeepers. So, you have to be aware of your environmental conditions, you have to be aware of what the particular season means for the bees, and with the unusual weather that we had late in winter and December of this year, and the early, early warm weather that we’ve got now. It really means [that] we have had to make sure that the bees don’t starve to death, because they may have started building up new brood earlier than they normally do, and not have the food that they need to be able to feed those baby bees.

In short, if the population of bees continue to decline and become extinct, a large portion of the world’s global food supply will no longer be available. Bees have the ability to pollinate plants more efficiently than other insects, and if bees become extinct, the world will be forced to find an alternative, likely artificial way, to pollinate and save some of the major, crop-producing plants, and the food it creates.

Categories: Features, Human Interest, Investigative, Uncategorized

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