Bees are not in Danger

I repeat, the bees are fine. Of course, before I get too much further, let me define bee in this context.

Honeybee, Apis mellifera, the most common assumption when the word ‘bee’ is used.
burdock, wild edible plant
A small North American native bee, Augochlora pura. Also a bee, but often overlooked.
Bumblebee, one of many species of the fuzzy big bees. These are common in gardens and people notice them, but usually don’t realize how many different kinds there are around them.
Halictid Bee, another of the small native pollinators often overlooked due to their small size.

So, these are a few of the bees I’ve photographed over the years. As you may be able to tell, I’m rather fond of the genus order Hymenoptera overall (see my Wasp Apologia for the other side of this, the argument for the insects no-one loves). Bees are cute, fuzzy, and they pollinate crops, which means more food for us. So it’s no small wonder that the mass media hysteria surrounding the ‘beepocalypse’ has gained huge traction. It really doesn’t matter that there was no scientific evidence backing the claims being made. It didn’t matter that claims of the honeybee’s demise were premature, and that the honeybee’s disappearance would not, in fact, turn the whole Earth into a starving dust bowl. It sounded good on TV and for most people, that’s where their desire to know things begins and ends.

Reality is something else entirely. I’ve been shouting into the wind about this for coming on five years now, and I have no doubt that this article, like the others I’ve written, read, and contemplated writing, will do nothing to stem the tsunami of deliberate misinformation and ignorance. But I have to try. Because just like the anti-vaxxers, the pro-bee movement is not what it seems on the surface. When there is a concerted effort to whip up mass hysteria, and to ignore the evidence, it’s not just for the publicity. But that’s another discussion

Looking, for the moment, at honeybees in particular, we are seeing that far from being devastated by Colony Collapse Disorder, there has been an increase in their numbers. The pesticide most often blamed for bee death is neonicotinoids, which are applied to crops and taken up into the plants to kill pests when they eat the plant. Which bees do not, so you may be pardoned confusion over how bees are affected by this. The neonics are taken up into pollen, which bees do eat. However, “there is no scientific evidence to link neonicotinoids as the major cause of colony declines” even when the bees were fed 20 times the amount normally expected to be found in their usual foraging. Science has shown that, in direct opposition to what is being shown in media, low doses of pesticides and bacteria in combination can actually have a beneficial effect on bees. But the EU banned neonics… only that “legislation was at no time based on a direct link on bee mortality.” In fact, honeybees in Europe are overall healthier than they were in the past, as shown by overwintering hive survival.

And what about the wild bees? Well, there are not a lot of species that visit the crops, and none of the endangered species contribute to agricultural pollination. What does this mean? That we shouldn’t do anything about the poor endangered species of bees? No… but what it does tell me is that they are not endangered because of pesticides. They don’t visit the same places where pesticides are used. And the bees who are exposed? Can be encouraged greatly with simple conservations measures like leaving strips of wildflowers blooming in between fields. What doesn’t show negative effects on the wild bee populations? Stopping pesticide treatment or moving the times agricultural activities are carried out.

Here’s the takeaway from this: honeybees are doing just fine. Beekeepers who rely on them for their livelihood, and who treat for varroa mites, who move their bees from place to place following the crops to pollinate, often have healthier hives than the little guy in the backyard who doesn’t treat and neglects his hive. If he would treat for the mites, he’d not have to worry about losing his hive, and he wouldn’t be adding to the hysteria by falsely reporting that he lost his hive to CCD – he lost his hive to neglect, more often than not. Wild bees are also going to be okay. If you want to help the bees, plant wildflowers and grow your gardens. Don’t run out and pick up a random pack of wildflower seeds – that’s not going to help your local bees, who probably have specific host plants they prefer. Let some of your lawn return to nature, and enjoy the pleasant hum of the happy bees.

And don’t buy into the bee hysteria. Colony Collapse Disorder hasn’t been seen in years, it never affected the wild bees, and it’s not responsible for the collapse of biodiversity. If you see an article talking about bees, check to see if they mean wild bees, honeybees, or what. If you hear about the demise of the bee, with a photo of a honeybee, take it with a big grain of salt. What are they talking about? A single rare species bee? Most likely. While sad, it’s not the dramatic apocalyptic scenario they are trying to make it out to be.

Wild Bee on Chicory. Photo taken by Cedar Sanderson 07/28/2018

29 thoughts on “Bees are not in Danger

  1. I’ve been pointing out similar things for years as well. I’m not sure my friends who are bent out of shape about the beepocalypse understand anything beyond the headlines they read, because a few months later they usually end up sharing another article on FB about how all the bees are dying/endangered. It’s like banging your head into a wall repeatedly with some people.

    1. Pretty much. My ire was raised when I said something critical about the Cheerio’s save the bees seed packet, and promptly got a PM from someone scolding me for having made his wife (who evidently bought into the whole thing) feel bad. A couple of months later, it came out that yep, just like I’d said, the campaign was promoting invasive plant species and was poorly thought out. They suspended it. Did I hear from my critic? Nah. It was all about the emotions, never about the truth.

      1. The few times I talked about it in my family, it was noted that CCD was not happening in Australia, nor did it affect wild bees, so I relaxed about it and figured it was something that would pass if it was a disease (survival of the fittest and all that.)

  2. the beepocalypse story makes better sound bites and meme posts, don’t expect the average person to look into it.

  3. Aside from the fact that the “common honeybee” is itself an invasive species, imported from Europe… which displaced a number of native bee species which otherwise would be performing the same pollination tasks.

    Yeah, always more fashionable to blame some conspiracy theory rather than pay attention to the actual science.

    1. Not according to this article.Native bees do not support monocrop agriculture, in the section where the author says native bees are not susceptible to agricultural pesticides.

      1. No, I was referring specifically to the few species of bees classified as endangered. They are not affected by pesticides as they are not found in agricultural areas. There are a number of native bee species which are valuable to agricultural pollination.

  4. What H.L. Mencken said years ago still applies, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

    1. As we have here for a decade or so. Bee crack about covers it, the little gourmands are all over it. No collapses here.

  5. I’ll believe the honeybees are in trouble when the beekeepers act like they are.

    Five years ago we had honeybees build a large hive under our manufactured house, between the floor joists. We’re in a fairly busy area where lots of children walk by and there were no incidents, so they were not aggressive.
    We tried to get someone to take the hive, but nobody would. The explanation was that since there have been some “africanized” honeybee hives in our region, they would have to have the bees tested and that was far more expensive than buying bees from breeders. So the only way to get the bees from underneath our house was to have them destroyed.

    I am no expert on bees, but if CCD was a real, urgent problem beekeepers should have been eager to get a large healthy hive while getting paid to collect it.

    Another example of “Your actions are too loud to let me hear what you’re saying.”

    1. I know my Dad, who has been keeping bees for nigh on 30 years now, loves to get called in to collect swarms. Also, you’d know if the hive was ‘Africanized’ by their behaviour. According to some numbers, the amount of honeybees in the States rose by 45% since the initial CCD furor. Partly because of all of the media – backyard beekeepers sprang up everywhere. The problem with them is, they don’t usually have a good grasp on what they are doing, their bees die (or swarm off like the ones in your house) and then they panic because CCD when it was no such thing. Which makes more media furor. Sigh.

  6. The Sierra Club just sent out a mailing entitled BUZZ KILL. INSIDE: Why America’s honeybees are dying and how you can help! So there’s that and it did catch my eye because as a home gardener, I fully understand and appreciate all bees. I am not at all surprised that it’s overstated and untrue. The Sierra Club is just following along with many nonprofits with emotion-grabbing headlines to collect donations. Pass.

    1. Exactly – it’s all a play on emotions, not backed by science. It’s frustrating, because then the truly bad things are lost in the clutter of the little boys like the Sierra Club and the EU crying wolf.

      1. For many people, the environmental movement is not based on the weighing of facts or evidence. It is a religious movement. When confronted by statements that go against their dogmas, they will react as expected.

  7. Another writer once described bees as agricultural animals, which is absolutely true, but not at all how the public thinks of them. how ironic that a species of “livestock” has become a rallying cry for environmental activists, which typically abhor production agriculture. As usual, this is just another proxy in the Luddite war against chemicals and all things modern.

  8. I can agree that the “hobgoblins” of neonicotinoids and CCD as a threat to the bee(any bee) are of unproven importance but the conclusion that if number of Apis Mellifera colonies reported is stable then everything is OK is wrong .
    We should be hysterical or at least driven to action because the bee used in agriculture is not able to resist the mite (Varroa) unless chemical controls are used. The mites are developing resistance to synthetic pesticide treatments and can probably develop resistance to the “natural” chemical treatments. If the useful Apis varieties stay as they are they are at risk of needing ever increasing treatments or they die. The useful Apis bees need to be stronger- GMO anyone? Feral Apis Mellifera are reduced to a minuscule fraction of their former numbers that is where the now “healthy ” Apis population is headed if they don’t get stronger.

    1. Yes, the varroa mite is the big thing to be afraid of when it comes to keeping bees. Not only the mite itself, but the comorbidity of the viruses and fungi it either brings with it, or leaves the hive vulnerable to. There are already motions toward breeding/bioengineering better bees – I’ve written about that in the past in my article Mitey Bees. Unfortunately, the panic about pesticides means that home beekeepers either do not treat for varroa – making them a vector for hives that have been treated – or are improperly treated, leading to the development of resistant varroa.

  9. “genus Hymenoptera”? Hymenoptera is a large *order* of insects, comprising the sawflies, wasps, bees, and ants. Over 150,000 living species
    Pete 🐝

  10. I found this essay fascinating and illuminating! I’d been vaguely wondering for years with some sense of uneasiness about the alleged bee apocalypses. I shall hence forth stop worrying about the fuzzy little buggers. If I ever get my own house in the suburbs or the countryside, oregano plants will dot my wildflower garden alongside wild bergamot, anise hyssop, and whatever else will support my plot to contribute to the delinquency of the local bee population. ^_^

    BTW, speaking of backyard chickens, I’ve also read here and there about people employing guinea fowl for insect control. They supposedly damage gardens less than chickens and do a yeoman job of pecking out the noisome ticks that carry Lyme disease. Furthermore, hunting down well-hidden guinea fowl nests helps keep the brain sharp. ^^;

    1. Guineas, I feel the need to caution you, are VERY loud creatures. Which makes them not only great for bugs, but good watchdogs as you’ll definitely hear about it when people arrive. This makes them less suited for the ‘backyard’ farm, though. Quail, on the other hand, are nearly silent and can often be kept stealthily in a suburban environment. Of course, you’ll need a dozen of those cute little speckled eggs to make an omelette, though!

      1. Aha! I *thought* I’d forgotten about another bird that was better for some reason — the noise, as you kindly pointed out. I guess guinea fowl are better for farms and country estates with no nearby neighbors while your small, quiet quail serve better for keeping next-door neighbors from reaching for a shotgun after having been woken up far too early for the umpteenth time in a row. All right, then — quail are my homeys! :^)

        Now then, which are better — Northern Bobwhite quail? Pharaoh Coturnix? Tibetan Coturnix? Good old Texas A&M quail? Jumbo Bobwhite for that extra oomph? My ignorance is exceeded only by the ease of rattling Google to shake out quick results from quail chick sellers. Ah well, I need the house first, and then I can happily mumble about which cute chicks to anticipate in the mail. 😀

  11. “And what about the wild bees?”

    A couple years ago I wondered about the ratio of ‘kept’ bees vs. wild bees. I dug around on the internet for a bit, trying to find the answer, and learned a few things in the process. Most notably that (a) 25% seasonal hive die-offs are fairly typical, and the 35+% we were experiencing was not unheard-of, and (b) that honey bees were only responsible for an estimated 10% of pollination, the rest of pollination being achieved by, well, by every other flying insect and animal, and every crawling animal, and walking animals, and wind, and storms, and pretty much everything else that goes on in nature.

    I never did find the ratio of ‘kept’ bees vs. wild bees, though.

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