Why are the insects dying? | Bees are being poisoned!

‘Bees’ - quoted most of the time as insects, can actually be considered unarguably as the most staple for our survival. The most pertinent of the roles led by the bees is of the pollination of crops. A steady fall in the population of bees and more specifically honey bees in different parts of the world has intensely led an irreplaceable disturbance in the ecosystem of several countries (except Antarctica). Such a steady decline is only indicative of a condition of empathy for people who believe in eating fresh fruits and veggies. Oftentimes, bees or honeybees are kept in hives that are equally suitable for pollination as well as production and storage of honey. Some specific variants of bees such as the bumblebees and stingless bees are housed in hives that have been designed solely for the purpose of pollination. However, there are some bee species that cannot be kept in hives since their very nature is that of a solitary one. Hives are designed to serve the purpose of being economical which is possible only when they are being used for the purpose of housing large or at least medium-sized colonies of bees. The advanced forms of farming require the service of bees and the location of their hives close to freshly seeded areas of the farms. Once the crops are pollinated enough, the hives are transferred to a location where the bees can produce and store nectar in different compartments of the hives. Some of the bee species that are considered beneficial for the purpose of pollination are:

Feral European Bees

One of the commonest species of honeybees in the world. European honey bees have extensive colonies and are therefore used commercially for bulk pollination of crops. The best price you could get for buying a lot/nuc of european honeybees would be of 95$.

Asian Bees

As the name suggests, asian bees confine to the regions of southern and southeastern asia. A major disadvantage that can be linked with the use of asian bees in pollination cycles is of making the hive easily approachable to varroa mites. This in a way would mean that the asian bees could possibly stagnate the pollination cycles of european bees even if they are stored in different hives of an apiary or farmland. Asian bees can also pose a harm to the beekeepers by inducing an allergic reaction with their sting.

Australian Stingless Bees

They are native to the regions of Australia. Unlike asian bees, the stingless variant of bees are harmless. They adapt more easily to the hotter range of temperatures. Since they are rare, they have been kept as a steady motive for several bee rescue missions

Bumblebees

These are the bees that like to socialize. Though their colonies are significantly smaller than the ones of the european bees, they are amicably used by horticulturists around the world for pollination of crops in greenhouses. Currently, they populate the regions of only Australia and Tasmania.

While there is no certain cause that can be picked out for the recent decline in the population of bees, there are couple of them that can be held responsible for interfering with the lifecycle and health of bees.

The first and foremost of such a factor would be climatic conditions. In the past few years, a tremendous change in the yearly rainfall slab and temperature fluctuations in the seasons has been witnessed by folks around the world. The uncertainty of climatic conditions can be thoroughly witnessed the form of extinction of the best of the bee population. A sudden change in climate initiates a run-for-food situation for most of the bee populations and therefore brings on a high level of stress in the honeycomb. Some broods cannot be facilitated at a temperature of 35 degrees since they find the temperature oddly chilling. In fact, in some scenarios the brood might get infested due to low-end temperature levels and become prey to the chalkbrood disease. Like a gordian's knot, the aforementioned changes have been witnessed in the cases of several feral colonies even after they were fed sugar syrups at an early stage of the seasonal gap as a caution for their survival.

Varroa mite, also known as the varroa destructor has been vindicated for the recent and steady decline in the population of bees. Apiculture faces an enormous threat from this parasitic being. One of the other parasites that has been found indulging in the same manner in bringing down the hives of european bees is Nosema ceranae. Nutritional status of bees is a major marker of their resistance to diseases. There are wax moths that are surprisingly capable of destroying an entire colony of bees by chewing down the beehive material made out of wood. Small hive beetles (found mostly in Australia) are no less than an endemic for the bees. The infestation caused by these beetles deters the quality of honey collected by the bees over a period of time. As a result, the charred honey starts dripping out of the honeycomb and gets fermented.

Industrial agriculture is a practice that can remarkably affect the quality of natural habitats. Most of the pollinator ranges collide with the regions of industrial practices and therefore absorb their hazards. Industrial agriculture is an enhanced form of agriculture that involves higher outputs of crops from the same hectare of land by cutting down on the fallow periods. Copious use of herbicides and pesticides in Industrial agriculture makes the population of bees go down in the adjacent areas.

Monoculture farming is a modern way of farming that involves the cultivation of same crop over and over again. Since the bees get fed by just one crop during the period of pollination, a phase of malnutrition enters into their body. The enhanced signs of malnutrition can be witnessed more prominently in the agricultural practices where the beehives are hastingly transferred from one farming location to another for the pollination of a larger region of monoculture crop.

Starvation causes malaise in bees especially during the winter months. Bees feed on pollen and nectar that go rare in the months of winter or in rainy days. Some of the beekeepers collect honey just at the brink of winter and therefore rob the bees of the food that could last for them during the winters.

Colony Collapse Disorder is a collective term used for describing the impact of aforementioned pointers on bee population. CCD countifies for a major decline in bee colonies. While this disorder is in progress, the protein levels in worker bees is yet another quantifier that can be used for identifying a CCD affected bee colony. High level of proteins in the worker bees are indicative of stress. The mass to protein ratio can therefore be considered as an indicator of a colony’s health. A slight fluctuation in the levels calls for immediate attention. Yet another indicator of the honeycomb’s wellness would be the size and the symmetry of the comb. Some of the honeycomb experts use metagenomics for calibrating the levels of microbes in bee colonies.

Prime insecticide varieties responsible for bee deaths

Some insecticides work at a systemic level and have therefore been labeled as neonicotinoids. This would convey that the effect of these insecticides would not stay limited to the outer surface of the leaves but would penetrate their vascular channels. Some companies suggest the use of neonicotinoids at an early stage of farming by coating the seeds with them. This assures their supply in the pollen and nectar eventually. Neonicotinoids act as neurotoxins for the system of bees. Bees are required to sustain a certain level of learning, and navigation skills in order to serve their sources of pollination everyday. Even the mildest of disruptions to their cognitive abilities could result in a massive loss of pollination quality. A total of seven such insecticides have been identified namely:

  • Imidacloprid
  • Thiamethoxam
  • Clothianidin
  • Fipronil
  • Chlorpyriphos
  • Cypermethrin
  • Deltamethrin

While most scientists agree with the fact that the population of bees is under a threat globally there is no apt data available in this regard. The latest data that was provided was by Lebuhn et al, 2013 which stated that the population of bees has come down by almost 50%. In some regions of U.K, the use of honeybees for pollination is restricted and therefore the pollinators use wildbees for the purpose of pollination in various forms of farming practices. It is therefore urgent to implement programmes that can keep a track of the bee count and pollinator populations on a global level. If the price tag could be counted as an indicator, a recent hike in the prices of pollination-dependent crops in the year gap of 1993 to 2009 can be considered as a winner.

Was Monsanto's RoundUp ever convicted of harming bees?

Rated as an ‘A’ grade weed killer - Monsanto's Roundup messes up with the gut bacteria of bees. As a result, the bees become prone to any of the low-grade infections, followed by a subtle decline in the bee population. Erick Motta and his coworkers (University of Texas, Austin) stated in their recent presentation that the younger population of bees when exposed the components of Monsanto's Roundup died due to the steady decline of gut bacteria that followed a process of indigestion in the bees. Yet another research that confirmed this fact hailed from China. Their research stated that the growth of the larvae of bees became retarded and often stopped after being exposed to Monsanto's Roundup. Monsanto's Roundup leaves its biggest mark on the life cycle of wildflowers that the bees depend on for pollen and nectar. The impact of the hazardous components contained in Monsanto's Roundup is not just responsible for contaminating the immediate but also the farthest of the generations of bees. As a result, the digestive system of the offsprings of feral european bees and asian bees gets compromised to an immense level. Furthermore, the health state of an entire colony of bees comes to a stake following the imbalance in nutrition inaugurated by a combination of insecticides and malnutrition.

What is being done globally to save bees?

Importance of pollination and bee population is being realized at a global level. European union was one of the foremost to impose a ban on the use of neonicotinoid containing pesticides. U.S on the other hand is optimistically looking towards to the creation of healthier super bees through their never-ending means of genetic modification. Various communities in Australia have initiated an awareness campaign in this regard. The campaign has been named - ‘Save the Bees Australia’ and its prime intent is of making people aware about the benefits of pollination and help them in assembling hives that can rule out the absence varroa mites in honeycombs.

A group of experts at the Helsinki University in Finland have claimed the development of world’s first vaccine that could offer protection to bees from diseases. In addition, to handling the population of bees, this vaccine could also hold an answer to the issue of global food crisis. The vaccine might even put an end to the colony collapse disorder that had been sweeping the nations of their bee populations for years. The first step in this direction began in the year 2014, when an eminent researcher Dalial Freitak witnessed the transfer of immunity as genes among the generations of moths. The vaccine goes up the sleeves of the queen bee through the medium of a sugar crystal. The immunity administered into the system of the queen bee gets transmitted to passes onto the offspring and then further to the entire community.

According to the recent reports produced by the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) ,average amount of honey production around the world is 20kgs with the max being in canada. In europe alone, the beehive production has been estimated to be of 15 million in spain. While the assorted colonies of bees followed the pattern of decline in the rest of the world, they continued to increase in the regions of Asia, Africa, South America and Australia till the year 2009. Nevertheless, since 2014 a steady decline in all the continents over the world has been witnessed. In the march of 2015, a 9.2% decline in the population of wild bees was reported. A major proportion of the endangered bee species belong to the regions of europe and are not the ones that are used for the pollination purposes of commercial food stuff. U.K’s biodiversity indicators keeps a track of various natural habitats. The sttas provided in 2017 indicated a decline in the population of not just bees but also butterflies. The pollinator region in the regions of great britain comprise of approx. 300 species of bees. The decline in bee population in stats was hastingly followed by a decline in the number of pollinators.

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