Bees. They have been around, since... forever. The history of the bee is actually quite interesting. The first known bees existed in Myanmar where scientists discovered bees in amber dating back 100 million years. Bees were not as varied as they are now (there are now about 20,000 species) and did not act like modern bees do. Not only did they not look the same (think of those really scary and annoying wasps we know today), they also lived on insects instead of pollen. Pretty crazy how evolution works.
Today research suggests that we have the diverse plants and foods we eat because of the evolution of the bee and the flowers of the plants. Plants became more colorful and diverse so that they would be more easily spotted and pollinated by the bees (a little side note here: many plants cannot self-pollinate and/or are not very efficient at doing so and depend on the bees for that). The bees of course benefited from this relationship: the pollen would be carried out on their legs and help out with reproduction; the nectar would be stored in their bellies to carry back to the hive to feed the queen bee and the young in the hive. Cool, huh?
The bees have had a great run and up until recently, bees are starting to disappear. Researchers have called this phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder. For 20 years the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has been asking the Federal Government to put severeal types of bees onto the Endangered Species list. One species in particular, the bumblebee, which is one of the main species for pollinating important crops, has seen a drastic decline in size. How drastic you ask? Try in the ballpark of 87% population decline since the 1980’s. Pretty bad.
There are other types of bees that have been dying off too.
Other species have experienced dramatic declines in recent decades. A bee that only lives in Hawai’i was put onto the Endangered Species list recently for its dwindling population.
“It's not just the rusty patched bumblebee that is struggling in the U.S. Other species have experienced dramatic declines in recent decades. The reduction is believed to be caused by a combination of habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, climate change and an extremely small population size..” - USA Today
You can read more articles from sites such as:
Panna, which talks about farming being derailed because of the lack of pollination occuring
SOS Bees providing a brief overview on the causes.
Huffington Post, which did an article on this growing issue.
So after reading all of that, you are probably wondering, “Ok, so what are we doing about it?”. Excellent question! This article from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service goes over how money is given to farmer to plant cover crops so that bees can eat and gain strength for the winter. This helps out with one of the main issues: the loss of habitat. Remember, the bees drink the nectar so they can take it back to the hive for food. If they don’t have anything to pollinate then they starve.
If you are looking for some local ideas, visit Queen of the Sun’s webpage. They have a page devoted to how anyone can help the bees survive and thrive. Also, you can contact the San Diego Bee Keeping Society for more information about how local apiaries are being affected and even keep tabs on swarms in your area and how to properly and safely remove them.
We contacted the San Diego Beekeeping Society and will be helping them out with their current projects. Stay tuned for more information!