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Is Our Honey Bee in Mortal Danger?


The Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) consists of several subspecies or races.  Mellifera is Latin, and means honey-carrying.  Apis refers to the genus and hence we have the bee that carries honey.  It is the one we know here in the eastern United States.

A community of honey bees has been used by Aristotle, Plato, Virgil and Seneca, Erasmus and Shakespeare, and in Marx and Tolstoy as a model of human society.  Honey bees are known to communicate through many different chemicals, odors and actions.  These are perhaps analogous to our phone, internet, and TV.  They live in colonies (cities or developments if in the suburbs) where the workers will sting intruders deemed to be harmful to the hive (National Guard, police or military).  Alarmed bees release a pheromone (a woman’s scream or police siren) that stimulates this defense and attack response in other members of the colony.

One of the first things I think of when I envision a bee is a honey comb.  The honey is made from a mixture of nectar and sweet deposits from plants and trees where it is brought to the hive and modified and stored in the honeycomb.  Bees also create beeswax which is secreted from a series of glands on their abdomens.  Both of these bee products have been gathered by indigenous peoples for centuries.

Recently there has been a great deal of media attention given to the “disappearing act” that some of the honey bee colonies have been experiencing.  The U.S. has lost one-quarter of their colonies in the last few months or about five times their normal winter losses.  The east coast alone has reportedly lost 70% of its commercial bee colonies.  This is also happening in Europe and Brazil and has been named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Alarming?  You bet!  About one-third of our diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for up to 80% of that or more.  The disorder has serious implications for agriculture since many crops are pollinated by bees.  “The economic worth of the honeybee is valued at more than $14.6 billion in the U.S.,” said Professor Diana Cox-Foster, a professor of entomology at Penn State University, when she testified before congress, which is looking into the mystery.  “The bees are immuno-compromised, being stressed somehow.”

“This is the biggest general threat to our food supply,” said Kevin Hackett, the national program leader for USDA’s bee and pollination program.

The top suspects are a parasite, an unknown virus, some kind of bacteria, pesticides, or a one-two combination of the top four, with one weakening the honeybee and the second killing it.

Some scientists are advancing the theory that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously home-loving species from finding their way back to their hives.  Research conducted at Landau University found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby.

If it is radiation from man made devices wreaking havoc with bees we must ask ourselves this question: what’s more important to us, our phones or bee pollination (tasty blueberries)?  I, for one, will be turning off my mobile device unless I need to use it that moment.  I don’t won’t to miss out on the blueberries, apples, cherries and melons this year or any other.



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