animals, human impact, insects

Decline of the Honey Bees: The Most Likely Suspects

You’ve probably heard that honey bees are in decline. Since 2006, honey bees have been struck by a condition that devastates hives, leaving as many as 95% of hives in an area empty. It’s been called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD for short) and it makes the bees abandon their hives, flying away and never returning. Since about one third of all U.S. crops depend on these bees to thrive, CCD not only affects how much it’ll cost to put honey on your toast, but how much it’ll cost to buy fruits and other foods too.

honey bee colony collapse
(Image credit: Ken Thomas)

Based on recently published studies, a likely suspect is pesticides. Specifically, a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids. They’re related to nicotine and affect the nervous system. In one study, when low doses of a certain neonicotinoid (imidacloprid) was given to honey bees, 94% of hives were abandoned six months after having been dosed. In another study, more than 30% of bees got lost, and couldn’t return home, after having been given a different neonicotinoid (thiamethoxam).

Neonicotinoids have been used since the late 1990s, and imidacloprid specifically has been used on corn in the U.S. since 2004-2005. That corn’s used to make high-fructose corn syrup that’s fed to the honey bees. This timing appears to match the CCD symptoms, which first appeared in 2006.

To protect the honey bees from these pesticides, some actions are being taken. In April 2013, the European Commission announced that it’d restrict the use of three common neonicotinoids (including imidacloprid and thiamethoxam). In the U.S., politician Earl Blumenauer introduced The Save America’s Pollinators Act, which, if it becomes law, will suspend use of these neonicotinoids plus one other.

If you’re not a beekeeper and wish to help the honey bees (and do more than contacting your representative about the Act), you could plant a bee garden! Every flower can help!


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