After this semester’s LLC visit to Mason’s main apiary, I developed a new love and fascination for honeybees. Though I learned a lot during the class demonstration, I decided to do some additional research about them. I was curious to find out more about the social structure of bee colonies, the mystery of Colony Collapse Disorder and about how they are related to sustainability topics.
I have learned that there are typically three main types of honeybees that can be identified in a colony. Worker bees, which are the bees most commonly seen by people, are non-sexually developed females. These bees are responsible for finding food, building, cleaning and protecting the hive, and circulating air with their rapidly beating wings. Interestingly, worker bees have the potential to live up to five years in the wild. The queen is another type of identifiable bee, of which there is only one per hive. She is solely responsible for laying eggs. The third type of bee is the drone, or male bee. Several hundred of these male bees live in a hive during the spring and summer months, but will inevitable be expelled each winter.
While there has been a growth in understanding about how honeybee colonies function, about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), scientists still know very little. As mentioned during the apiary demonstration, CCD is the phenomenon during which entire honeybee colonies disappear with no explanation, leaving all of their resources still in the abandoned hive. If this disaster continues to occur at its current rate, there will be no honeybees remaining in the year 2035. Most explanations for CCD are directly linked to human impact, including habitat loss, malnutrition, mortality due to direct contact with insecticides, immune system deficiencies due to “sublethal” contact with insecticides, and neurological effects caused by climate change.
For someone who is environmentally and sustainably conscious, the mere idea of the extinction of any animal species is enough to spark initiative to prevent the tragedy from happening. Unfortunately, many people do not share this mindset and are moved more by strict economic consequences. In the case of honeybee colony collapse, there is a persistent, negative economic effect present. Honeybees are responsible for the pollination of one third of America’s food crops and as a result, are valued at more than $15 billion year. Without these natural pollinators, humans would be tasked with hand pollinating crops in order to continue food production. In a particular region in China where pears are grown, this hand-pollination is already happening due to a complete extinction of honeybees in the area. If this were to be the case in the United States, hand-pollination jobs would cost farms more than $90 billion per year – a devastating economic impact.
I don’t think that it can be denied at this point that honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder is a serious issue we face today. If something isn’t done, there will be devastating effects on the environment, human sustainability due to lack of food, and the economy. If these reasons aren’t enough to spark more initiative to prevent the loss of honeybees, then I don’t know what is. I hope to continue to learn more about honeybees, with the possibility of taking a Beekeeping and Sustainability class in the Spring, and plan to spread awareness of this issue whenever possible.