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Bees at work (VIII): Bees living in a time of chaos

Have a beautiful first Tuesday of February, the month of love for many of us in the world. For us it has been a positive start, we are feeling much better. I went to do some laboratory tests prescribed by the doctor that is looking at my case, and it appeared that I did not have COVID19 last week. So let´s wait to know so I can confirm to you that the emergency was caused by the Pfizer booster side effects or if it is this latter reason and another one on top of it. Thank you for your prayers and your harmonious support feelings towards me. Just a tiny thought of your solidarity is priceless.

So let´s begin. Today it is our turn to write about the factors that are causing chaos to the bees, most other insects, mammals, and all the species on the planet. “Since the decade of 1980, commercial beekeepers in the USA noticed that it was increasingly difficult to keep honeybees alive through winter”(1). So, this industry has been preoccupied for 40 years! They have been searching for answers since then, and have fixed partially the problem, but not everything because the bees live in chaos that is beyond what the honey industry can do. The reasons that university professors, researchers, USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), consulting authorities, and other regulation specialists have listed are:

  1. Pathogens: With globalization the honeybee population has gone from local to global too. And bees that hold parasites or other pathogens travel to other countries with their own load of mites. When tracheal mites (Acarapsis Woodi) infect the apiaries, the loses could burden any beekeeper to an extreme of pushing him or her out of business. The tracheal mite affects the breathing tubes that carry oxygen inside the bee´s organism, and the bees may die, particularly when the temperatures go down. The varroa mites is an aggressive threat that attack the insect blood. In addition, the varroa mites are carriers who transfer other deadly viruses, as the deformed wing virus, to an edge in which bees can´t fly. The Varroa infestation is a plague that alters the colony equilibrium. Other plagues are the small hive beetles and wax moths. Just a bit more than a decade ago, the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) also attacked the life of the adult bees and the colonies collapsed again.(2)
  2. Diseases or Illnesses: These can be caused by bacteria, virus, or fungi. Bacteria such as European foulbrood (Melissococcus putonius) and American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae) outbreaks in honeybees in a way that destroys the larvae. This disease is highly contagious and transmissible through spores. While antibiotics have been used to control the plague, the spores may remain alive for a decade waiting for a host. Another honeybee bacterial pathogen, Serratia marcescens, causes lethal septicemia in adult honeybees, and potentially brood. Bacterial pathogens of native bees are largely undocumented but are as highly deadly as those that we have mentioned above. When we land into the fungi that attack honeybees, the Chalkbrood (Ascosphaera apis) is an important fungal pathogen of larval honeybees. Microsporidia are another highly specialized group of fungal parasites that are transmitted through infectious spores. In this group we can name three of them Nosema Apis, Nosema Ceranae, and Nosema Bombi. About the virus, the most complex and difficult for beekeepers is the deformed wing virus (DWV) which was explained above).(3)
  3. Pesticides:  In the United States, even though there is an agency (EPA) that is trying to keep the bees safe from the effect of pesticides, there are levels of pesticides toxicity that seem to be right to use them, or are innocuous to the bees, but if there is a mistake in the application of it, or if there is little control in all the area of foraging, bees can suffer, and be wiped out. Bees are constantly challenged in the dynamic surroundings that may be affected by pesticides above what they can resist. There are two ways in which bees can be exposed to pesticides, even in very low concentrations: (a) Contact exposure: when bees are exposed to pesticides while landing and foraging on treated surface’s such as leaves and flowers. (b) Oral ingestion exposure: by ingesting pesticides from contaminated pollen and nectar from treated plants, or by ingesting water that has been contaminated with insecticides. Some plants get systemic pesticides through their roots or leaves (2).
  4. Pollution: Breathing toxic fumes due to exposure to heavily polluted air is one of the key contributors to early death of the bees too. There is a study of scientists which decided to focus on the giant honeybee (Apis dorsata), a wild bee native to South and Southeast Asia, and they recently proved that toxic particles of air pollution are directly correlated to their existence. In their study “80% of the bees from the highly and moderately polluted sites had died while only 20% of bees from the low-polluted and rural sites perished” (4).
  5. Scarcity of resources: When bees are deprived of their sources of food, either because there is not enough, or it doesn´t comply with the correct nutritional mix, the colony is confronted. Even if the hive is in a perfect property location, and the bee, initially, determined excellent resources (plentiful and diverse flower patches, water, and resins) up to 10 kilometers from the hive, climate conditions may vary if we live in uncertain climate change threats. Bee scientists have detected worker bee robbers, which are more likely to burglarize nectar or pollen from other colonies when these resources are limited. The lack of food (flowers) is a big issue for beekeepers. It is such a problem, that right now, meanwhile I am writing this article, more than 25 % of all apiculturists all over the world are feeding the bees with white table sugar or are also supplying them with syrup made with sugar (5). Beekeeping takes for apiarists more than moving bees to an area where plants are yielding nectar, because countryside natural flowers are also in risk of destruction too, particularly because of the climate change and the expansion of the cities and infrastructure to the rural areas. Remember that honeybees require carbohydrates (sugars in nectar or honey), amino acids (protein from pollen), lipids (fatty acids, sterols), vitamins, minerals (salts) and water. Additionally, these nutrients must be present in the right ratios for honeybees to survive and thrive (6). If flowers are not available, the bees starve.
  6. Inappropriate Beekeeper Practices: Apiculturists all over the world must be observers of the bees all the time, not just for honey production, but to constantly watch the sensory responses of the bees when they manipulate, transport, and exploit the making of honey. Bees are extremely sensorial. Bees are exquisitely endowed to perceive a wide range of stimuli from their environment at different levels: mechanical, visual, chemical, temperature, olfactory and by dancing they also communicate it to us. When the climate changes, the waggle dance of the honeybee changes, and beekeepers may overlook these messages, proceeding to apply their management and transportation practices, ignoring, or even hurting the forage bee’s food collection messages. A bad management of the hives, can destroy a colony forever.
  7. Communication technologies: Beekeepers are observing that the radiofrequencies of the internet businesses are hurting the bees.  There are some studies that affirm and have gathered evidence that “The radiation from mobile phone masts and similar wireless devices can therefore disrupt bee navigation, both by the sun and by the earth’s magnetic field. This can reduce the number of foraging bees returning to the hive” (7). “Recent studies reveal that a cell phone tower and mobile phone handset are also causing side effects to honeybees due to radiation emission” (8).

I will stop here. We will continue with episode number 8 “Honeybees ‘democracy by Thomas Seeley”, next Friday. See you again then.

Strategic reflection music section:

Why did we pick “Ode to the Joy” last week? This song reflects the importance of love between people. It is a timeless composition by Beethoven, an oeuvre of art from the past, in our present, and for the future. “Ode of Joy” is a magnificent work of art, interpreted by every single good orchestra on earth. The flashmob that we shared spoke by themselves.

Song for today: Halo, from Beyoncé.  We have picked three videos (as usual). The first one is the original one. The second is the interpretation of the String-space String Quartet. And the third one is by Barcelona English Choir. Enjoy!

Thank you for reading to me. See you next Friday. Blessings!

Sources of reference used for this publication


Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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