To bee or not to bee

A friend of mine from advertising, Richard Tucker, now working as a freelance producer, sent me a funny email the other morning with a huge bee on it. The headline reads “If I Die You Die,” which in advertising generally means, “Duck, a blood bath is coming;” or perhaps it’s a metaphor for the world of people. Richard is a very clever fellow.

But bee experts have written before, quite reasonably, that the mysterious mass die-off of honey bees that pollinate $30 billion worth of crops in the US has so decimated America’s apis mellifera population that one bad winter could leave fields fallow.

Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the probable causes of bee deaths and the rather scary results show that averting beemageddon will be far more difficult than previously thought. The busy little buzzers play a great part in the production of our foods. And I’ve always been amazed by them. I thought it was time to dive in and find out the truth.

Scientists have struggled hard to find the trigger for what’s called the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD where an entire beehive dies at once. Let’s get the buzz on this one . . .

When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by parasite.

Most disturbing, bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Widely used, fungicides had been thought to be harmless for bees because they’re designed to kill fungus, not insects, on crops like apples.

“There’s growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals,” Dennis van Engelsdorp, the study’s lead author, told the publication Quartz.

Labels on pesticides warn farmers not to spray when pollinating bees are in the vicinity but such precautions have not applied to fungicides. But bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country’s surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that’s not just a West Coast problem—California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion.

In recent years, a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids has been linked to bee deaths and in April regulators banned the use of the pesticide for two years in Europe where bee populations have also plummeted. But van Engelsdorp, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, says the new study shows that the interaction of multiple pesticides is affecting bee health.

“The pesticide issue in itself is much more complex than we have led to be- lieve,” he says. “It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product.”

The study found another complication in efforts to save the bees: US honey bees, which are descendants of European bees, do not bring home pollen from native North American crops but collect bee chow from nearby weeds and wildflowers. That pollen, however, was also contaminated with pesticides even though those plants were not the target of spraying.

“It’s not clear whether the pesticides are drifting over to those plants but we need take a new look at agricultural spraying practices,” says van Engelsdorp.

So let’s go back to Rich Tucker’s truism, “If I die you die.”

To the question of Do Bees Die After They Sting You? Debbie Hadley writes on About.com:

Bees can only sting you once. Once a bee stings you, it dies.

You’ve probably heard that before, right? And if you’ve been stung by a bee, as most of us have at one time or another, you probably took a little satisfaction in knowing the bee was on a kamikaze mission when it stung you. Did you ever wonder if it’s true? Do bees really die after they sting you?

Answer:

The answer actually depends on what kind of bee stung you? Honey bees do, indeed, die after they sting you, but other bees (and wasps, not necessarily from Connecticut, for that matter) can sting you and live to fight another battle. Yikes. And here I was swinging my fly swatter at them.

The stinger (or sting) on any bee or wasp is actually a modified ovipositor. That’s an article all by itself. That’s why you don’t have to worry about male bees or wasps stinging you; only female bees and wasps can sting. This may be more than you want to know about the topic, but venom, pumped from attached venom sacs, is injected into the unfortunate victim through the stylus, the needle-like portion of the sting apparatus. The stylus is enclosed between a pair of lancets. When a bee or wasp sting you, the lancets become embedded in your skin. They alternately pull the stylus into your flesh, and then the venom sacs pump venom into your body.

In most bees, including our native solitary bees and the social bumblebees, the lancets are fairly smooth. The lancets do have tiny barbs, which help the bee grab and hold the victim’s flesh when it stings, but the barbs are easily retracted so the bee can withdraw its stinger. The same is true for wasps. So most bees and wasps can sting you, pull the stinger out of your skin, and fly off before you can yell “Ouch!” Solitary bees, bumblebees, and wasps do not die when they sting you.

In honey bee workers, the stinger has fairly large, backward-facing barbs on the lancets. When the worker bee stings you, these barbs dig into your flesh, making it impossible for the bee to pull its sting back out. As the bee flies off, the entire stinging apparatus—venom sacs, lancets, and stylus—is pulled from the bee’s abdomen and left in your skin. The honey bee dies as a result of this abdominal rupture. So a honey bee can only sting once. Because honey bees live in large, social colonies, the group can afford to sacrifice a few members in defense of their hive.

If you do get stung by a honey bee, be sure to remove the stinger as quickly as possible. Those venom sacs, though detached from the bee, will continue to pump venom into you. Scrape it out of your skin with a fingernail, or with something flat, like a credit card. Just don’t squeeze it as you do so, because you’ll release more venom from those venom sacs into your body.

Of course, it’s best to avoid getting stung by bees at all. Remember, bees don’t sting just for fun. They do so only when they feel threatened, or in defense of their nests. In most cases, bees will choose flight over fight.

So to my friend I say, if the bee dies, I don’t necessarily die, yayayeyaya! But then there’s Hamlet’s Soliloquy, which I have so clumsily borrowed for a title and finish, which has greater human ramifications that we can examine below . . . a priceless read for its wisdom, better even than honey for the spirit, a balm that aids the ailing world in its hostile hive, stinging back and forth for the kill.

Electromagnetic waves from cellphone towers kill bees. Lastly, an experiment conducted in the southern state of Kerala, India, found, “Found that a sudden fall in the bee population was caused by towers installed across the state by cellphone companies to increase their network.

“The electromagnetic waves emitted by the towers crippled the ‘navigational skills’ of the worker bees that go out to collect nectar from flowers to sustain bee colonies, said Dr. Sainuddin Pattazhy, who conducted the study,” the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

“He found that when a cell phone was kept near a beehive, the worker bees were unable to return, leaving the hives with only the queens and eggs and resulting in the collapse of the colony within ten days.

“Over 100,000 people in Kerala are engaged in apiculture and the dwindling worker bee population poses a threat to their livelihood. The bees also play a vital role in pollinating flowers to sustain vegetation.

“’If towers and mobile phones further increase, honey bees might be wiped out in 10 years,’ Pattazhy said.”

In closing, my apologies to Shakespeare for bowdlerizing the lead line of perhaps his greatest soliloquy in Hamlet. His timeless soliloquy is linked here . . . Rich, I want you to read this or I’ll have to submit your threat “If I die, you die,” to Facebook.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at gvmaz@verizon.net.

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