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Transcript of Honeybee Mystery
Honey Bees Dying
12/12/2013 Honey BeeMystery -- National Geographic Kids
12/12/2013 Honey BeeMystery -- National Geographic Kids
Catherine Clarke Fox
All across the United States, honeybees are flying away from their hives and
dying. Empty hives are causing a lot of worry about some important food
Bees give us a lot more than delicious honey. They are pollinators—they enable plants to produce the
fruits and nuts we enjoy by carrying pollen from one plant or flower to the next. The wind pollinates oats,
corn, and wheat, but many other plants (like apple and cherry trees and melon vines) depend on insects,
bats, and birds.
Animals pollinate about one out of every three bites of food we eat. And in the U.S., millions and millions
of bees kept by human beekeepers fly around doing a lot of this important work for food crops.
Professional beekeepers raise honeybees, box them up, and send them on trucks to fields where
farmers grow food. Bees live in groups of about 40,000 individuals called colonies.
California’s almond crop alone depends on about half the bees in the country, about 1.5 million colonies!
The bees pollinate in the almond groves for about six weeks, and then are sent on to work other crops.
But now the almond crop and many others could be in trouble with so many bees dying.
“The colony is what we call a super-organism,” says Dr. Jeff Pettis of the
Bee Research Laboratory at the U.S. Agricultural Research Service in
Beltsville, Maryland. “When a lot of the bees die, the whole colony is at risk.”
Researchers like him at government and university labs all over the country
Although the 22-percent smaller size of starter honeycomb cells on the right cannot easily be seen, the tighter, more natural
spacing helps honeybees better survive varroa mite infestations.
Photograph by Jack Dykinga/ARS/USDA
Honeybees are important pollinators for many fruits, including blueberries and strawberries.
Photograph by Scott Bauer/ARS/USDA
Entomologist Jeff Pettis examines a screen that separates live varroa mites from bees, thus reducing mite levels in honey bee
Photograph by Peggy Greb/ARs/USDA
12/12/2013 Honey BeeMystery -- National Geographic Kids
are trying to figure out why so many bee colonies are dying.
However, explains Pettis, bees are hard to study. Most die away from the hive, so researchers don’t have
dead bodies to examine. And when researchers return to a hive after two weeks, about half the bees they
studied on their first visit will be dead, replaced by new ones in the natural life cycle of bees.
Making detective work even harder, these busy insects fly up to two miles away from their hive in search
of pollen and nectar from flowers. So when bees pick up diseases or get exposed to poisons in their
environment, it is hard to know exactly where that happened.
“It isn’t like studying a large animal like a cow that doesn’t move around much and is easy to find out in
the cow field,” says Pettis.
Researchers do have some ideas about what could be affecting bee health.
They could be sick from poisons widely used to kill insects, or they might not
be getting enough good food to stay strong. Also, tiny insects called mites
feed on bees. “Any or all of these things could be weakening the honey
bees,” explains Pettis, “and then a virus or bacteria could be doing the killing.”
Pettis is hoping for a solution, because bees are so important. “Here’s a good example of what
pollinators like bees give us,” he says. “You can eat plain oatmeal every day and get by, and oats are
pollinated by the wind. But if you want to add some blueberries or strawberries or nuts to your daily
oatmeal, those are the things you have to thank pollinators for. Bees are worth protecting because their
work adds so much to our diet.”
Text by Catherine Clarke Fox
© 1996-2013 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.
Return of the Natives
Where do North American bees come from?
How are we trying to reinforce the North American Bee population?
7 Wonders of Honey
1. A flavor for every palate. With more than 300 varietals in the United States, honey adds its own
unique profile to every recipe. Using different varietals usually more robust in flavor. The National
Honey Board makes it easy to find varietals in your area with honeylocator.com.
2. It’s a category unto itself. Honey provides balance to any dish, complementing and enhancing a variety of foods and flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory. Honey also masks bitter flavors often found in gluten-free flours.
3. Locks in moisture. Honey attracts and holds moisture, enhancing freshness and shelf life. Honey’s humectant properties expand from brining on meats to the freshness of cookies. Honey is also the perfect ingredient for gluten-free recipes, giving baked goods added moisture.
4. Emulsifier. Honey acts as a binder and thickener for sauces, dressings, marinades and dips. Honey also helps better blend ingredients like oils and vinegars.
5. Eye-catching colors. Honey adds a rich golden or amber color to finished foods, making it ideal for browning and glazing. As a result of the natural color and browning to the finished product, when baking, reduce the oven temperature by up to 25 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent over-browning.
6. Sweet substitutions. Honey can easily be substituted for a granulated sweetener. For sauces,
marinades and salad dressings, substitute honey for up to half the granulated sweetener required.
In baking, for each cup of honey used, reduce any added liquid by ¼ cup, add ½ teaspoon baking soda and reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Extended shelf life and storage. Honey is naturally anti-microbial to resist spoilage, which extends shelf life in baked goods and other items. Not only does honey extend shelf life in recipes, honey also has its own extended shelf life. Honey is best stored in an airtight container at room temperature. If your honey begins to crystallize, don’t throw it out. Just gently heat it and stir periodically until crystals dissolve. This pantry staple is much more than a simple sweetener…
Why are the Bees Dying?
What are we in danger of losing?
Why are they Hard to Study
Honey Bees Dying
What’s Going on in Honey Bee Colonies Worldwide?
Honey bees are continently exposed to numerous threats: pests and parasites (such as the Varroa mite or Nosema), bacterial diseases (foulbrood), fungal diseases (chalkbrood), viral diseases (invertebrate iridescent virus – IIV), and pesticides. Now honey bees are facing an even greater risk: Colony Collapse Disorder (or CCD), a little understood phenomenon in which worker bees from a colony abruptly disappear. Today, the disappearance of honey bees has transformed into a global epidemic, negatively affecting ecosystems in a multitude of environments. Since 2006, North American migratory beekeepers have seen an annual 30 percent to 90 percent loss in their colonies; non-migratory beekeepers noted an annual loss of over 50 percent. Similar losses were reported in Canada, as well as several countries in Europe, Asia, and Central and South America.
Why Are Bees Dying & What is Causing this Epidemic?
Because there are no bee bodies to examine, scientists are unable to determine the exact cause of death. Initial hypotheses were wildly different including environmental change-related stresses, malnutrition, pathogens (i.e., disease including Israel acute paralysis virus), mites, pesticides such as neonicotinoids or imidacloprid, radiation from cellular phones or other man-made devices, and genetically modified crops with pest control characteristics such as transgenic maize. Now mostscientists believe that CCD is the result of an unfortunate combination of many factors all of which work to increase the honey bee’s stress and reduce its immune system.
Why Should We Care?
The impact honeybees have on the human population and the environment is far more crucial than we may think. Agricultural crops rely on honeybees worldwide to provide them with life and guarantee their reproduction. Bees facilitate pollination for most plant life, including well over 100 different vegetable and fruit crops. Without bees, there would be significantly less pollination, which would result in limited plant growth and lower food supplies. According to Dr. Albert Einstein, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination…no more men”. Bees’ eradication affects us more than we may think.
What Are Scientists Doing to Help?
Because a honey bee population collapse would mean an agricultural catastrophe, scientists have been working overtime in an attempt to determine the cause of CCD. Sceintists have linked CCD to many factors including the Varroa mite and Nosema. Recently, a Harvard biologist published a study directly linking the pesticide imidacloprid. Still the consensus is that multiple factors are to blame which is why many scientists are looking at ways to improve a honey bees health as the potential solution.
How Can We Help?
One of the easiest ways to help rejuvenate the honeybee population is to respect honeybees. Learning to preserve beehives and embrace bees’ roles in our ecosystem can be challenging, but the bees have a job to do and threatening their quality of life will consequentially threaten everyone’s. There are also proactive ways to encourage the regrowth of honeybee colonies. Plant bee-attracting flowers, sponsor honeybee research, or even become a beekeeper. Join a local beekeepers' association to become better informed about the care and keeping of honeybees and other steps you can take to stimulate colony growth and combat CCD.
Return of the Natives: How Wild Bees Will Save Our Agricultural System [Preview]
Reviving native bee species could save honeybees—and our agricultural system—from collapse
By Hillary Rosner
The Food Issue: The Science of Feast, Fuel and Farm
It started as fuel, became a passion, ignited a global crisis—and made us human »
September 3, 2013
Xylocopa varipuncta Bombus crotchii Megachile montivaga Osmia laeta Lasioglossum incompletum Xylocopa tabaniformis Megachile fidelis Bombus vosnesenskii Halictus ligatus Ashmeadiella bucconis
Image: David Liittschwager
The U.S. relies primarily on a single insect, the domesticated European honeybee, to pollinate one third of its food supply, including such delicious crops as apples, peaches, almonds, lettuces, broccoli, cranberries, squashes, melons and blueberries.
As colony collapse disorder and other maladies continue to devastate honeybee populations, researchers are turning their attention to alternative pollinators—the thousands of native bee species throughout the country—and are looking for ways to make croplands more attractive to these wild bees.
So far studies suggest that restoring wild habitat near farms to welcome and nurture native bees not only increases crop yield but also makes honeybees themselves more efficient pollinators.
More In This Article
The Mind-Boggling Math of Migratory Beekeeping
Field biologists have a strange affinity for spending countless hours in the hot sun scrutinizing tiny things. You might see a bee buzzing on a flower and think, “Oh, a bee.” A biologist, though, will want to know: Is it a nonnative, domesticated honeybee? Or is it one of 4,000 bee species native to the U.S.—maybe an ultragreen sweat bee, a metallic-sheened creature that drinks human perspiration? Or perhaps a cuckoo bee, such as Bombus suckleyi, a type of bumblebee that sports yellow hair on its fourth abdominal segment, as opposed to the rare B. occidentalis, which has black or white hair in the same spot?
You also can probably name many reasons not to sit in a field counting grains of pollen, an activity that conservation biologist Claire Kremen thinks is a perfectly reasonable way to spend an afternoon. But then, you probably will not be the one to revamp the nation's food supply and rescue our agricultural system from looming collapse. Kremen, however, just might.
This article was originally published with the title Return of the Natives.
1. "Honey Bees Dying - Why Are Bees Dying Worldwide | Bees Free." Honey Bees Dying - Why Are Bees Dying Worldwide | Bees Free. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
2. "Honey." National Board. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
3. "Honeybee Mystery." National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
4. "Return of the Natives: How Wild Bees Will Save Our Agricultural System: Scientific American." Return of the Natives: How Wild Bees Will Save Our Agricultural System: Scientific American. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
What are the threats to the honey bees?
What are the impacts of bees dying?
How can we help?