A lot of people are afraid of bees, but that’s not really fair. Bees are our friends. Did you know that bees have personalities? It’s true. Also, they do a little jig called the waggle dance to direct their pals to food sources. They can also recognize human faces. Heck, their movement has even helped people come up with algorithms to find serial killers. The bees are alright, is what I’m saying.
And that’s a shame, because they’re dying.
At an unprecedented rate. In fact, they have been dying off at 30% a year for about a decade.
“Meaning they are 300% deader now”
“I said what now?”
Now, Einstein almost certainly didn’t say that, and even if he did, he was a physicist, not a bee biologist, so what does he know? The point is, though, that bees are super important to the ecosystem and our agriculture, and their disappearance could be disastrous on several levels. So where are they going?
No, not there
Turns out that there are three main reasons that all the bees are dying. One reason is that they’re being plagued by mites, principally one called the Varroa mite. These little parasites can live on the back of a honeybee for up to two years, drinking their blood and transmitting viruses like some sort of diseased vampire.
Even worse, they’re kind of gross-looking
The viruses deform bee wings development and cause paralysis, which biologists suspect is bad. The mites spread when the bees fly around, and have been transported to every continent but Australia, and an infestation of 2000 mites can kill off up to 30 000 bees. Varroa mites are so awful that their scientific name is actually Varroa Destructor, meaning they’re from the same family as Gozer from Ghostbusters.
Second cousins, twice removed
That’s not the only reason our black and yellow friends are buzzing towards extinction, though.
Like any environmental problem, we have good old humans to thank, as well. And it turns out we’re pounding our honey-making friends from all sides. First, we have pesticides, specifically a class of pesticide called neonicotinoids, which sounds like some kind of patch that helps you quit smoking but is actually a toxin that shuts down the nervous system. Neonicotinoids kill enough bees that they were banned in the EU, with further initiatives to ban them in the US.
Although America has other problems at the moment
Another problem is that the meadows of wildflowers that bees get their nectar and pollen from are being mowed down for crops. So ironically, the bees we need to sustain our food growth and agriculture are being killed because their food sources are being overtaken by our agricultural growth. I’m pretty sure there is a moral in there somewhere.
I think it’s “Don’t be a bee”
Of course, there is another, bigger problem, too. A climatic one, you might even say. A changing one, you would not say, because that wouldn’t make any sense. Climate change, is what I’m getting at.
Turns out climate change has its downsides
As the world gets warmer, animal species tend to move from the south to the north (at least in the Northern hemisphere). For some reason, though, bees don’t move north, they just lose territory in the south.
For reasons that aren’t completely understood, bees aren’t following other animals by shifting their territory to the north, so they just lose ground from the south, and their numbers drop as a result. Scientists estimate that bees have lost nearly 200 miles off the southern end of their territories in North America and Europe since 1970, a rate that continues at about 5 miles per year. So bee territory will just keep getting smaller over time, because they don’t want to move north.
Although they may soon reconsider
So to sum things up, bees are getting slaughtered by destructor mites, getting blasted by pesticides, their food sources are being demolished, and their territory is rapidly disappearing. May that provide you some comfort the next time you get stung.
They also die after they sting you. Being a bee kind of sucks
So what can we do to help our little friends? First thing, of course, is to instantly reduce your carbon footprint to zero by rejecting all of society’s global-warming niceties and living off the natural land as our ancestors did before us (all the while killing every Varroa mite in sight).
“For the bees!”
Barring that, though, there are still lots of things you can do. You can provide places for the bees to live. You can plant flowers to give them food. You can stop using bee pesticides. You can buy more honey, giving more money to beekeepers. You can even legally become a beekeeper yourself, with hives in your own backyard.
Heck, you can even grow your own beard of bees
On a municipal level, some cities have started placing bee sanctuaries (called apiaries) throughout their architecture. Toronto is on the verge of becoming Canada’s first Bee City, which is a designation that we’re pretty sure they just made up, but speaks to the city’s commitment to helping sustain the bee population.