One of the trends that has been sweeping social media the last few years is the save the bees movement. Many people are jumping on this bandwagon, and why not? I mean who doesn't love bees? They are an essential part of many ecosystems, their communication is very intriguing, and let's face it of all the insects out there a bumblebee is one of the cutest. But before jumping on board with the trend I challenge everyone to dig a little deeper and know your facts.
The save the bees movement is a result of two major areas of concern the media has highlighted impacting the bee population. First is colony collapse disorder and second is pesticide applications. I am writing this as a response to the mixed messages people are seeing and what I have been hearing.
Colony collapse disorder is caused by many factors not just pesticide use. Generally speaking many hives, although populations reduce, they can survive. Research is still being done regarding colony collapse disorder but as of right now long term effects on honey bees are not as concerning as they were a few years ago.
Neonicotinoids are a chemical found in many seed treatments and other insecticides which can be harmful to bees, specifically native bees. Contrary to what many people think, native solitary bees are the ones that maybe impacted the worst. Honey bees are not endangered and not all native bees are either. The species that are endangered or at risk in Canada are a couple species of bumble bee. Wildlife preservation Canada (WPC) has information about the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee which is endangered. "Scientists have not pinpointed the reasons for the rapid decline of such a widespread and common pollinator. At the local level, pesticide use, habitat loss and increased competition with other species like the European honeybee contribute to declines. Range-wide factors may include climate change and infections carried by commercial bees." - WPC
The misconception seems to be just because honeybee populations are on an upward trend all be populations are doing the same. Localized die offs are happening which don't seem to affect the population as whole. This does not mean the population is unstable, neither does it mean it will remain stable. Regardless the native bee populations are the ones that are less noticeable to the naked eye. They are susceptible to disease, chemicals, and habitat loss. Honeybees on the other hand, although some are derived from native species, are mostly domesticated either from European or native species. They are still key pollinators but the wild species actually do most of the pollinating. There are thousands of species of bees in North America and upwards of 40 species of bumble bees. All of the different bees have different characteristics and habitats so it is important to know the difference in identification and when you are speaking to people about them.
Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticide that farmers use to help protect their crops. There are other groups on insecticides but these ones are getting a lot of media attention. The problem with this group is that although all pesticides should be used with caution, for some pests there is no other alternative besides spraying a non selective insecticide which can be more dangerous. That leaves producers with the dilemma of what to do? This is something that many producers do think about so it is important to engage in conversation respecting their perspectives as well.
Do some research, not just on Facebook, before jumping on the band wagon or jumping down someone's throat. This way you can have a meaningful conversation about your goal and the cause you are supporting. If you are donating money or supporting an organization do research to see where the funds are actually going, if they are going to the right place, generally speaking the organization is willing to be fairly transparent and would love to help you understand their goals.
Here are some easy tips to help bees do well in your yard:
- Grow flowering plants that grow at multiple times through out the year. Staggering your planting of fruits and veggies helps you get produce at different times and it helps keep your garden in bloom longer.
- If you are going to use pesticide use the on label recommendations and make sure you are using them on the right pest species.
- Know the difference between bees and wasps, while doing a presentation with a group of kids I noticed that many don't know the difference. Generally speaking bees will leave you alone as long as you don't threaten them.
- If you do have a hive make sure to manage it properly. If you are concerned there might be an issue then know the cause and avoid contamination with other hives in case of the problem being carried by external pests.
This post is meant to provoke thought and hopefully help people create a more meaningful conversation. I am not pushing either or any opinions I am just illustrating that there is more to most stories than you hear in the media. Respect that others have different lifestyles, different opinions, and different ways of expressing themselves.
United States Environmnetal Protection Agency. 2017. Colony Collapse Disorder. https://www.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/colony-collapse-disorder
University of Florida. 2015. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in Honey Bees. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in720
Jessamyn Manson. nd. Research.
Wildlife Preservation Canada. 2017. Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee. https://wildlifepreservation.ca/rusty-patched-bumble-bee/
BugGuide. 2017. Native Bees of North America
Gwen Pearson. 2015. You're Worried About The Wrong Bees.
Sydney A. Camerona. 2011. Patterns of widespread decline in North American bumble bees. 10.1073/pnas.1014743108