Disappearing bees deserve attention

A strange phenomenon is sweeping the U.S. and other parts of the world: disappearing honeybees. This inexplicable trend may have long-lasting repercussions and deserves more public attention.

It’s being called “colony collapse disorder,” but the exact cause is unknown. Culprits may include a parasitic mite, three kinds of viruses, two bacteria and a fungus that affect bees, according to an article published by professor Elke Genersch of the Institute for Bee Research in Germany in the scientific journal Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology.

Global warming and stress imposed by beekeepers have also been blamed. One study at Punjab University in India suggests that even cell phone radiation may be involved.

Whatever the cause, honeybees have disappeared by the billions over the past few years and colonies have collapsed across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan, according to BBC News.

In 2007, beekeepers in 24 states reported huge losses in bee populations, from 30 to 60 percent on the West Coast, to more than 70 percent in the East and in Texas, according to the New York Times.

Last year, there were 2.5 million bee colonies producing honey in the U.S., down from 3.3 million colonies 20 years ago, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The polar bear has long been the poster child for the environmental consequences of a changing world, but now it may be time for Al Gore to make a documentary on honeybees. It’s time for environmentalists to raise up a new banner and shout, “Save the bees!” The public should not let this species go quietly. It is, after all, in their best interest.

A famous prediction often attributed to Albert Einstein says, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

While disappearing bees probably won’t spell the end of the world, they will affect our food supply far more than some may realize. Aside from the obvious loss of honey, bees still play a vital role in crop pollination.

Farmers rely almost entirely on honeybees to pollinate almond, apple and blueberry crops, and honeybees pollinate an estimated $14 billion worth of seeds and crops annually, according to a Cornell University study.

“Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food,” Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation, said to the Times.

Increased awareness is an important step in dealing with the crisis. Parts of Canada just observed their first annual “Day of the Honeybee” on March 29.

In the vein of backyard vegetable gardens, many in the U.S. have taken up amateur beekeeping, in part to help with national bee population recovery. Beekeepers in Florida have more than doubled in number over the past three years to 1,615, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Not everyone has to buy a hive.When bees invade a yard or attic, people can have them removed rather than exterminated.

It will take a concerted public effort to save the honeybee, but it’s a necessary endeavor.

Michael Hardcastle is a junior majoring in creative writing.