Why are bees important?
You might think that honey bees are important because they make honey – but that is not the only reason they matter so much in the agricultural world. The most important thing they do is pollinate plants. Countless crops, including cotton, lemons, nuts and even cauliflower, etc., are pollinated by the humble honey bee. Without such pollination the modern agricultural industry would be nothing. Agreed, plants which rely on the wind for pollination (e.g. some grasses, dandelions, etc) would continue to grow; but without the honey bee, pollination of things like strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, etc. would have to be carried out by some other means. In parts of China where insecticides have killed off the honey bee entirely, pollination is effected by hand. This, of course, is slow, labour-intensive and costly.
Are bees suffering?
Apparently colonies of bees have been dying (or "collapsing") more and more in recent years. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been happening at such a rate that is has been dubbed "bee AIDS". In the winter of 2007-2008 nearly 30% of bee colonies in America collapsed. They were opened in the Spring, only to discover that only the queen bees and the eggs remained. The bees themselves were nowhere to be seen and it is assumed that they die elsewhere. This is strange because bees do not normally abandon a functioning hive at all, and because if they do abandon a hive the honey within is usually eaten by other bugs, such as beetles, etc. However, in cases of CCD such pests leave the hive and its honey alone and intact.
Why are bee colonies collapsing?
No one knows for sure but various theories have been put forward. Some suggest that it is a microbe called the Acute Paralysis Virus that is wiping out bee colonies. Others think it may be due to a parasite called the Varroa mite which feeds on blood. Another culprit could be a fungus which lives in the gut and is called Nosema Ceranae. Even the mobile phone has been blamed for causing CCD. It is thought that the bees' navigation system can be confused by emissions from mobile phones. In other words, maybe the bees just get lost. More credibly, pesticides such as insecticides have been held responsible for the decline in healthy apiaries.
What will happen if bees become extinct?
Bees are currently not on the endangered species list – there is some way to go before their population falls that low. However, the number of bee colonies in America has fallen from nearly 6 million 60 years ago, to approximately 2.5 million today. CCD has not reached Britain yet but the Varroa mite has. By the spring of 2007 a quarter of all bee colonies had died. It has been said (by Albert Einstein, no less) that "If bees disappeared completely, man would only be able to survive for another four years." Scientists hope that he was exaggerating.
Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.
1. Countless crops, including cotton, lemons, __________ and even cauliflower, etc., are pollinated by the humble honey bee.
2. In parts of China where insecticides have killed __________ the honey bee entirely, pollination is effected by hand.
3. Apparently colonies of bees have been dying (or "collapsing") more and more in __________ years.
4. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been happening at such a rate that is has been __________ "bee AIDS".
5. Scientists hope that Einstein was __________.