Honeybees are an integral part of our ecosystem. They pollinate millions of plants, are a part of countless food chains, and are essential for producing tons of products that we humans get to enjoy. In 2017, China earned $270.7 million in honey exports, with other countries like New Zealand and Argentina earning in the hundreds of millions as well.
Despite the importance of bees in our economy and ecosystems, it has become obvious that bee populations are dwindling. Why are honeybees dying? Well, there are a number of theories that people have come up with to explain this decline, with some going as far as saying they are being abducted by aliens. However, many scientists studying the problem believe that the bee population decline is being caused by a combination of parasites, pathogens, pesticides, poor nutrition and habitat loss.
Why Are Honeybees Dying?
Pesticides are one of the more well-known factors. It’s common knowledge that farmers and food companies will spray their crops with pesticides, as it reduces crop death and makes production more efficient. Unfortunately, the bees can consume these pesticides during the pollination process, which can kill them.
Neonicotinoids (neonics) are a class a pesticide that is used to protect a variety of fruits and vegetables. Although neonics are not meant for honeybees, they can get coated in the chemical during pollination. When a honeybee comes into contact with neonics, it affects certain neurons in the bee’s brain, causing nerve impulses, paralysis, and eventually death. Neonic residue has been found in honeybee hives, meaning it was able to spread to other bees within the hive.
Parasites are one of the other key players in the decline of the honeybee. The Varroa destructor is a mite that has been plaguing honeybees for quite some time. The Varroa destructor can bite a bee and suck out its blood. While doing so, it releases a toxin that can disfigure the bees wings and legs. If a Varroa destructor infestation is left untreated, it can collapse an entire colony.
Pesticides and parasites are just a couple of factors that have led to a decline in honeybee populations. Most researchers agree that the issue doesn’t just stem from just one or two reasons, but rather, a handful of factors working together.
10 Foods We Wouldn’t Have Without Bees
- Honey – This is an obvious one. Honey is what the bees use for food in the winter, and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy it if we didn’t have bees.
- Apples – Yep, no more apple pie, applesauce or apple juice. If bees went extinct, there would not be enough cross pollination to produce apples on a large scale.
- Almonds – 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in California. These almonds require an enormous amount of hives and pollination. Bye-bye bees? Bye-bye almonds.
- Oranges – They say that nothing rhymes with orange. Nothing rhymes with neonicotinoids either.
- Chocolate – No bees means no chocolate, as the cocoa beans rely heavily on the pollination of bees.
- Black-Eyed Peas – No not the musical group The Black Eyed Peas, the legume. Although the amount of required pollination is fairly low, black-eyed peas would be affected by bee extinction.
- Blueberries – Blueberries are extremely healthy and are great for snacking. However, without the pollination of bees, they will become a distant memory at the farmers market.
- Avocados – Great on tacos and toast, avocados are versatile and delicious. However, 90% of avocados grown in the U.S. rely on honeybee pollination. Can you pass the guacamole?
- Grapefruit – Throw it in a cocktail or have one for breakfast, the grapefruit is a classic. However, grapefruit is almost entirely dependent on pollination from bees.
- Pumpkins – With Halloween around the corner, people are going to be getting ready to visit their local pumpkin patch. Without pollination from honeybees, farmers wouldn’t be able to produce enough excess pumpkins for us to make jack-o’-lanterns.
So the next time you see a bee buzzing around you, resist the urge to swat it and try sending it some positive vibes instead.