High School High School Biology and Chemistry High School Society and the World

The Flight Of The Bumblebee

Honey bees might become extinct in the foreseeable future, and humans play a huge role as to why. Methods of farming and high levels of air pollution render bees helpless. They are disappearing by the millions. At this rate, it's unlikely that we will be able to stop their extinction, only stall the process. How we treat bees truly reflects exactly how the human race, as a whole, is destroying our surroundings, unconsciously or otherwise.

Honey bees might become extinct in the foreseeable future, and humans play a huge role as to why. Methods of farming and high levels of air pollution render bees helpless. They are disappearing by the millions. At this rate, it’s unlikely that we will be able to stop their extinction, only stall the process. How we treat bees truly reflects exactly how the human race, as a whole, is destroying our surroundings, unconsciously or otherwise.

Image by Victor Hanacek

So you aren’t quite convinced that honeybees are the good guys. That’s understandable. After all, they sting, enjoy the annoying pastime of buzzing in your ear, and is it just me or are they getting bigger every year? Despite their tendency to drive people crazy, we really do need bees! Bees are dropping by the millions, and this is mostly our fault, considering how we manage to hurry along global warming, increase pesticide exposure, and accidentally import invasive species that are detrimental to the overall well-being of indigenous ecosystems.

Many sources pointed to pesticide exposure as the potential culprit of Colony Collapse Disorder (1). This is because one of the main ingredients in most pesticides and fungicides are neonicotinoids (2), which have been shown to “poison” bees through pollen and nectar. Although the loss of many wildflower varieties contributes to honeybee decline, UN Environmental Programme Director Achim Steiner (3) says that some insecticides and fungicide have shown to be 1,000 times more harmful to honeybees. Neonicotinoids affect a honeybee’s sense of direction, brain and memory metabolism, and their ability to memorize the faces of distinct people and possibly other organisms. Although large companies like Bayer and Monsanto deny any and all allegations concerning this (and many other environmental issues), the growing number of dying bees seems to be directly correlated to the increase in fungicide and insecticide spraying.

I’m sure most people have wondered what the world would be like if we didn’t have insects. I mean science says mosquitos are virtually useless and would cause nothing but a beneficial change in our ecosystems. But this doesn’t hold true with bees considering that over 30 billion dollars in crops would be in the trash if we don’t immediately take the initiative to aid bee conservation efforts (4). This is because over ⅓ of all crops we consume are pollinated by bees. Not to mention that they also pollinate the crops we use to feed livestock. In one case, after a large crop of corn, modified genetically to be able to withstand the pesticide “roundup”, had been planted, 37 million bees died seemingly without reason (5). And although we now know the reason, there is not much to do about the decimated numbers. We can only try to help them now.

We are not only losing bees and their pollinating ability, we are also losing honey, a sweetener even the Romans used. Honey has been recognized to be a powerful antiseptic and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties (6). It has even been hailed as a medicinal miracle by our ancestors. The Bible and Quran have praised honey for its versatility, the Greeks thought honey promoted longevity, and Ayurvedic traditions include the aforementioned sweetener. Not only are we losing honey, but we are losing beeswax. Beeswax is a non-carcinogenic substitute for common paraffin wax candles. They aid in cleansing the air in candle form instead of filling the air with pollutants. Additionally, thousands of beekeepers would lose their sources of income as a result of a bee extinction.

As to why we aren’t doing anything right now, well that is a great question. Many companies are denying all responsibility concerning the loss of bees and other beneficial insects due to the fact that they make way too much money at the insects’ expense.

But despite this, there have been many efforts to help bees out. Many minor conservation groups encourage planting bee-friendly flowers and plants and leaving out sugar water to re-energize lethargic bees. But these small groups cannot solve the impending threat of bee extinction alone.


References and Notes

1: https://www.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/colony-collapse-disorder

2: neonicotinoid- insecticide that resembles nicotine

3: https://news.un.org/en/story/2011/03/368622-humans-must-change-behaviour-save-bees-vital-food-production-un-report

4: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140502-what-if-bees-went-extinct

5:https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/10/the-surprisingly-simple-reason-millions-of-bees-are-dying/?utm_term=.23a6136f749e

6: https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/15/health/honey-health-benefits/index.html

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