by Scott Smith
Robinson and Coleman examine a praying mantis found in the pasture.
Robinson and Coleman examine a praying mantis found in the pasture.
A ferret with lymphoma, an adrenal tumor, and an insulinoma. She had no hair left and was covered in lymphatic lumps. She didn’t look like a mammal anymore. Nevertheless, her spirits were high and I fed her a hefty dose of Nutrical tasty goo before anesthetizing her.
I have long envied that euthanasia is an option for animals but not me (ignoring the option of sucide, of course). If I looked like that ferret, they would keep feeding fluids, waiting for ‘mother nature’ to end it. Horrible.
Barb! sent me an e-mail about a colony of honey bees in her neighbor’s woodpile which led me to look into what a person should do when they find a wild colony which led me to an interesting article on the role wild bees play in pollination.
When honey bees interact with wild native bees, they are up to five times more efficient in pollinating sunflowers than when native bees are not present, according to a new study by a pair of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and UC Davis.
FIVE times! That’s a lot of efficiency. When I first started reading the article I thought that the reasoning would have something to do with the secret language of bees… you know, a domestic bee meets a wild bee and the wild bee does a little dance and gives the domestic the lowdown on the good local flora, but no. It turns out that the domestic bees are simply avoiding the wild bees. It’s hard to say if the domestic bee is a snob or afraid, but either way, the avoidance is what works.
Now, this big difference is all happening in a commercial farming setting. The study was done on a sunflower seed farm and on sunflower seed farms there are rows of girl sunflowers and rows of boy sunflowers. Bees all have specialized jobs. Some of the bees collect nectar and some of the bees collect pollen. So a bee left to its own will just go right down one row and will rarely switch from boy to girl sunflower. Enter the wild bee and the domestic bee hightails it on out of its way. TA DA! The domestic bee finds a safe place to land on a flower it wouldn’t, through it’s normal job description, ever have a reason to land on.
So, it’s in a farmer’s best interest to maintain some wild habitat amongst his (or her) regular crops because:
“Growers can throw more and more honey bees out there, but they’re not going to get more pollination if the bees visit only one of the cultivars,” Kremen said. “Wild bees make the honey bees more skittish so they move more frequently between the different cultivars. Each time they move, they have the possibility of transporting the pollen between the rows.”
Considering the big scare at the beginning of this particular growing season regarding disappearing honey bees and how we’ll basically end up eating bread and water without sufficient pollination I think Barb!’s neighbor should consider leaving the bees alone or paying a professional to move them to a spot where they can be useful to us.
Yesterday an update on Colony Collapse Disorder hit the news (thanks to all who sent me links). Scientists have discovered a virus that shows up in bee colonies affected but not in healthy colonies – unless it’s a bee in Australia… those bees seem to handle the virus well.
“There are no cases [of Colony Collapse Disorder] in Australia at all,” entomologist Dave Britton of the Australian Museum told the Sydney Morning Herald last month. “It is a Northern Hemisphere phenomenon.”
It’s interesting to me that this is happening in mostly big, commercial operations that move their hives around the country pollinating big corporate farms. Some scientists believe that it is not that the virus is so bad, but that colonies with immune systems weakened by a multitude of stresses can’t fight off the virus – I heard it compared to HIV on NPR. I wonder if mono-culture might be one of the factors. Bees are trucked around to pollinate huge crops of single plantings…
“I still believe that multiple factors are involved in CCD,” said Jeff Pettis, “and what we need to do is look at combinations such as parasites, stress and nutrition (together with the virus).”
People who eat only one type of food don’t tend to be healthy either.
So, I’ve been thinking about the bee thing, pretty much constantly, and I’ve got a couple of questions.
There’s a lot of talk about how dependent our food supply is on bees, but is that because we grow our food in such a centralized way that massive numbers of honey bees have to be trucked in in order to insure pollination? I mean, I don’t raise honey bees in my backyard and I still get tomatoes and zucchini without trucking bees in. Perhaps it will simply force us back into small scale, local food production. Maybe the return of the Victory Garden. Am I being naive? Putting too much confidence in the backyard food movement?
Perhaps it is not that we are too dependent on honey bees, but that we are too dependent on large scale agriculture.
I was listening to NPR’s The Story this evening simply because I happened to be in my car and they were broadcasting a piece on Colony Collapse. Dick Gordon interviewed professional beekeeper, Jeff Lee (who happened to turn his life long hobby into a profession when he was unable to find work in the pharmaceutical industry) and Dr. Dewey Caron. Dr. Caron addressed some of the same theories that I mentioned in my other post and did some clarifying and dismissing.
He stated that:
-scientists have been unable to make a connection to genetically modified crops.
-bio-terrorism was dismissed
-there is a pesticide (which he didn’t name) that causes short term memory loss in bees at very
low exposures. Dr. Caron said, and I quote, “it makes them stupid.”
Dr. Caron seems to lean toward an environmental contaminate, but doesn’t think that there is a simple answer. He refers to bees as a possible “canary in the mine.”
Jeff Lee had a lot of excellent input as well. For instance, did you know that beekeepers can’t get insurance for their bees? They don’t fall into the crop category and they don’t fall into the livestock category, so when they lose half their hives they’re pretty much screwed. He also has a lot of really good thoughts on what could be causing the Colony Collapse that line up pretty well with what Dr. Caron said.
You can get the podcast and listen to the whole thing, and I recommend it.
Technology CAN save us!
We need to design tiny robotic bees, which can mimic real insect bees. By doing this bee keepers can help remove killer bee populations from city dwelling where they might attack people. Although some would say this is far-fetched, we are not that far off in understanding the bee population or their queen bee migrations. By developing tiny insect like Queen Bees which the bees will follow we can help divide hives and steer bees into areas where they can help us with our crop yields without killing little kids, pets and even adults.
I have no idea about the respectability of this site, but I went in search of information on anyone who might be looking for artificial means by which to pollinate our food crops. Tiny, pollinating robots! This is the answer. Now we don’t have to give up text messaging and chatting with friends on our cell phones while driving 80 mph down the highway. Techno-stress, here I come.
Everyone is talking about bees and how entire colonies are leaving their hives and disappearing, never to be seen again. Whatever is causing it has been known by a lot of names (including ‘disappearing disease’) but ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ seems to be the most widely accepted ‘official’ name for whatever it is. Quite honestly, this scares the bejeebers out of me. Its something I generally try not to talk about in front of my children because I remember being in middle school and being told by a teacher that when I became an adult I would have to have an actual wheel barrow full of money in order to buy one loaf of bread. I always took stuff like that to heart and generally suffered a lot of anxiety all through childhood. But, I digress.
There are several theories about why bees might be disappearing including global warming, genetically modified crops, pesticides, and neonicotinoids (now strictly limited in France because of their implication in the die off of bees). The general consensus is that whatever is killing them is a new threat, so it seems to me that traditional pesticides can be scratched from that list since, in reality we are probably using fewer of those now than we were back in the 1950’s and this die off is relatively recent (although not so recent that it shouldn’t have been getting more attention before now). The neonicotinoids are interesting though, because I think everyone thought that because it is derived from nicotine (so wonderfully natural) that we were using ‘safe’ chemicals, but, Mother Nature laughs at us as usual. While neonicotinoids are considered to be very safe for people we shoot ourselves (and our crops) in the foot because they are extremely harmful to pollinators like bees (suppressing their immune systems and leaving them susceptible to opportunistic diseases like mites and fungi). And, no pollinators, no food!
I’m hungry just thinking about it.