Bye-Bye Bees

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Next time someone suggests that you “stop and smell the roses,” just consider what a world without flowers would be like.

For eons, the only plants on Earth were non-flowering, such as pines or liverworts. Flowering plants didn’t appear about 130 million years ago, and bees about 100 million years before that.

Our distant ancestors, slogging through life during the Paleolithic Era undoubtedly noticed bees visiting flowers, but whether they made the connection between the bees’ visits and the subsequent fruit is unknown.

Regardless, Paleo man and woman depended upon the industry of bees for a good part of their diet … and wouldn’t they be astonished to learn that the future of a good part of agriculture is now uncertain because we can’t stop trying to control Mother Nature.

The same pharmaceutical companies that manufacture aspirin and other headache remedies are also producers of one of the most dangerous kinds of pesticides, neonicotinoids.

These pesticides are derived from nicotine and gained popularity because they tend to be more destructive to insects than they do to mammals. Tobacco juice has long been used to kill or repel insects, but the neonicotinoids take the process a further step in that they are used in a wide application around the world.

Neonicotinoids are a systemic pesticide, which means that they are sucked into every part of the plant, including the reproductive part of the plant – the flowers.

Flowers are important because they produce seeds. Some seeds are enclosed in fruit like apples or tomatoes, while other seeds are simply that, such as onion seeds. Flowers need to be pollinated if they are going to produce more plants the next season.

For the last several decades, bees everywhere have been experiencing severe declines, both in domesticated bees and wild bees. The problem seemed to begin with CCD (colony collapse disorder) when honeybees would simply fly the coop suddenly, leaving the hive empty. However, although the desertions have stopped, colonies are now just dying. The direct culprit is the nosema parasite, a fungus, but the indirect cause points in another direction: neonicotinoids.

Massive die-offs of bees have occurred recently; up to half of the honeybee colonies died during the winter of 2012~13. While lawsuits have been instituted to curb the use of neonicotinoids and other related pesticides, foot-dragging and procrastinating seem to be the approach taken by agencies that should monitor such events like the FDA and EPA. It will evidently take several more years of hemming and hawing before anything is done, and who knows how many honeybees will be dead by then? And would we be around today if cavemen and cavewomen were not able to access the fruits that resulted from honeybee pollination?

Although neonicotinoids may be leading the honeybee extinction parade, other pesticides and fungicides are also doing their part. It seems that ingesting pollen that is contaminated by the chemical barrage sprayed on our crops is destroying the bees’ immune systems. In effect, we are giving them a kind of AIDS. Whereas it’s quite possible that the bees would have been able to fight off nosema infections ordinarily, once their immune systems are weakened, the bees will succumb.


Interestingly, a scientist in Minnesota has developed a strain of honeybee that can detect infected larvae as they are developing. Once they sense that a larva is sick, it is unceremoniously dumped out of the hive before it can hatch and infect other bees.

When you consider that about one third of our crops depend on bees to pollinate them, the serious nature of the problem becomes apparent. While some crops, such as corn and wheat aren’t dependent on bees for pollination, many, many others are. To ignore what could be a global catastrophe simply to keep fattening the coffers of a few multinational corporations is not just shortsighted, it’s just plain stupid, bordering on suicidal.

Since you’re here …

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Lex Cavemen

LEX is the scientist. He is obsessed with understanding why and how the world around him works the way it does.

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