Imagine a world without honey bees. A disappearance of these insects would ruin the balance of the ecosystem and harm the production of valuable crops and plants across the world. From potato chips to a fresh tomato, many products would disappear. Without honey bees, one out of every three bites of food would be gone.
Honey bee loss has been documented as early as 1869. In 1918, occurrences were found in the US. Different suggestions of causes for the disappearance were proposed, such as lack of food, genetic factors, or loss of habitat, but most were proven wrong. From 1972 to 2006, there were new dramatic reductions of honey bees in the U.S. The death rate increased in late 2006 and early 2007. In October 2006, some honey beekeepers began reporting losses of 30-90 percent of their hives. Before the 1990s, there was a 17%–20% decrease of honey bee population, whereas after, there were significant losses of more than 30%. This new sudden disappearance of the honey bees was called the colony collapse disorder.
Colony Collapse Disorder is when a colony dies with no dead honey bee bodies near the hive. A live queen and usually plenty of food is still present. The rest of the colony within the honey beehive usually dies out without support. The total number of honey bee colonies has decreased from 5 million in the 1940s to only 2.5 million today. Simultaneously, the number of pollinators needed for plants is increasing.
The main cause of the colony collapse disorder is still unknown, but many suggested causes are being considered, such as pesticides, mites, fungus, and other pathogens. Recently, many scientists have agreed that the disorder is caused by a combination of different causes. Neonicotinoids in pesticides may have sublethal effects on honey bees, causing damage to their development, immune system, and behavior. The toxins are thought to work their way through the plant up into the flowers and leave traces in the nectar. In March 2013, two studies were published showing that neonicotinoids affect honey bee long-term and short-term memory, preventing the honey bees from finding their way back home. Another cause might be a lack of nutrition in the honey bees’ diet. “Honey bees need a varied diet of different pollens in order to grow into strong, healthy workers,” explains Dr. Heather Mattila, a honey bee biologist at Wellesley College. “A green space can be a green desert if it doesn’t have flowering plants that are honey bee-friendly,” Mattila adds. With an increase of pollution, custom lawns, and urbanization, there is many less pollen sources for the honey bees. When a colony dies, the healthy colonies nearby will enter the dying colony and steal materials. This results in many of the causes to spread. The Varroa mite remains the world’s most destructive honey bee killer, which may be another cause for CCD. Other theories such as honey bee migration and lost genetic diversity are also a possibility.
So, why should we care about the colony collapse disorder? If the Colony Collapse Disorder continues, it will have a major impact on the world. Without honey bees, the US could lose 15 billion dollars in crops, and the number continues to increase. Here is a list of some of the plants honey bees pollinate.
Almonds, Apples, Apricots, Asparagus, Avocados, Beans, Blueberries, Broccoli, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cotton, Cranberries, Cucumbers, Grapes, Kiwi, Macadamia, Nectarines, Olives, Onions, Peaches, Peanuts, Pears, Plums, Pumpkins, Raspberries, Soybeans, Squash, Strawberries, Sunflowers, Watermelons
And that is just a start. Think about what the decrease of these plants means. Higher prices for fresh goods, less amounts of manufactured products such as ketchup, potato chips, bread, and baby food, and less nutrition in the overall human diet.
The colony collapse disorder needs help fast. One way the public can help the honey bee survival is to decrease the amount of pesticide use. Another way to help is by planting pollinator-friendly plants. These plants are good sources of nectar and pollen.
Thanks for reading!