Bees are dying and their colonies are collapsing all over the globe. They have been in trouble for several years now, with multiple threats leaving their future uncertain. But what does it mean for us if bees literally become extinct?
We often take for granted how dependent we are on bees for pollinating the foods we eat, but the repercussions of their decline could hit hard, both economically and personally, if we don’t find a solution to their problem soon.
About one-third of the foods we grow and eat require animals for pollination, and honey bees are responsible for pollinating up to 90% of them! If bees were to die off, about 50% of the fruits and vegetables we eat would no longer exist!
Even more, the animals dependent upon those foods would eventually die off. Alfalfa would fail to thrive without bees, for example, which is a staple food for cows. A dramatic bee die-off could potentially crash the beef and dairy industries. Plants in the wild would also suffer, and migratory birds, which rely on forest fruits and nuts in order to survive, would suffer and eventually die off.
According to the FDA, the estimated value of the crops that bees pollinate is around $15 billion. Add that to the value of the honey and beeswax they produce and the bees are actually a vital contributor to our economy!
Bees currently face multiple threats, both biological and chemical. American Foulbrood is a bacterial infection that is a particular problem for commercial beekeepers. Highly infectious, leaving behind spores that can survive years on equipment, honey, and wax, this bacterial infection can quickly wipe out entire colonies of bees. Antibiotics can be effective against it, but controlling its spread can be difficult due to robber bees, shared equipment, and passing swarm migrations.
Colony collapse disorder is an equally threatening problem. Colony collapse disorder occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen with plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the immature bees still in the colony. In the U.S. alone, the number of honey-producing colonies has plummeted from about 5.5 million in 1950 to under 2.5 million as of 2015.
At this point in time, researchers aren’t sure what’s causing this drastic, colony collapse disorder. Some suspect pesticides are responsible, while others blame mites, internal parasites, alien species and even starvation. Whatever the cause, it leaves hives suddenly and unexpectedly devoid of nearly all their workers. The USDA and EPA are currently working to pinpoint the problem, studying the effects of pesticides and other potential agents and searching for viable solutions.
A Future for Bees? What You Can Do to Help
Bees might be struggling for survival, but you can do your part to help aid their survival by planting flowers to keep them fed and refraining from using pesticides that could poison them. Some great choices for bees are daisies, zinnias, marigolds, crocus, aster, hyacinth, goldenrod, calendula, and wild lilac.