Sunday, August 25, 2013
Sunday Reading - The Decline of Honey Bees
Over the years I have read many reports and articles on honey bee decline. All sorts of theories and hunches have made the rounds from cell phone towers and power line interference to herbicide and pesticide spraying by outside sources then back to hive pests and mites. To date I haven't seen any one theory that explains all the deaths.
Within the bee keeping world there seems to be a constant argument between one side who insist on treating their hives with antibiotics and acids and the other who try and breed treatment free bees. The treatment free side insist that strong colonies can and will overcome honey bee stress factors with their own hygienic tendencies while the other side in convinced every colony death is due to varroa mites that weaken the bees.
I am certainly not some insect scientist nor do I take care of enough hives or for a long enough time line for anyone within the bee keeping world to give my observations any thought but looking at things from a sustainable/survival point of view I think has given me a bit of a different perspective.
As a child I was not unfamiliar with bee keeping. My grandfather kept bees as did several family friends. The Ford 8N tractor setting in my barn was originally purchased new by a neighbor who happened to be my father's best friends dad. We lived next door to them for years and he had a number of hives.
Why is that important? Well I can remember certain things from back then that drive home the point that bee keeping today is an entirely different animal than it used to be. For one thing all these treatments and pests were no where near an issue, hives rarely died out from pests. The bees themselves seemed much more gentle as well. As a kid I remember helping with hive inspections and stuff wearing only a light veil. I remember swarms being handled without a sting. Trying either of those today will result in at least a sting or two.
I could not say why this is but I assure you that overall honey bees have become a bit more defensive than they used to be. My guess is since mating cannot fully be contained or selected with queens that eventually the more aggressive DNA managed to spread into and got mixed in with strains that were more gentle but who knows.
The aggressiveness of the bees is not the only change however. Sometime back in the 70's or 80's some bee keeper had the bright idea that larger working bees would produce honey faster. If I remember right off the top of my head drone bee cells comb is 5.4 mm while worker bee cells are 4.9mm. Well someone began producing foundation for hive frames with the larger cell sizes making larger worker bees.
A pretty sneaky move and it seemed to work but within a few years it spawned a new problem. Mites. The mites you see had usually preferred to attach themselves to the larger bodied drones instead of the workers. This caused stress but since the drones only real contribution to the hive is to try and mate with a new queen the mites weakening them overall had little effect. Now though the mite numbers could explode and live on the workers. It didn't help that most bee keepers also tried to limit and remove drone production from their hives either.
Also mites can be controlled to an extent by having periods when new larva are not produced. This breaks the cycle as the mite infested adults die off and there are not enough new hosts. The annual drone removal each year reduced the mite counts when the drones and workers were the proper size and so did natural occurrences such as swarming. Swarming however reduces the honey production and weakens a hive, it has it''s dangers but so does any natural reproduction but bee keepers are constantly stopping hives from swarming so the mite cycles are not interrupted.
In a sense I am reminded overall to the Malcom Reynolds quote from "Serenity" "Eventually they will go back tot he thought that they can make people better". Well in many ways I believe what we are seeing with honey bees is as much a blowback from that philosophy as it is about pesticides and such. We were playing God with our bees.
Now many a bee keeper and large scale operators will just blow my theory off. As I said I am no scientist and I have not been keeping bees personally long enough to have seen everything that can happen. I am inexperienced.
I have lost my share of hives and never seen anything that looks like CCD. For some mites are the only answer anytime a hive dies but I don't hold to that excuse either. In almost every case except the severe drought conditions I witnessed last year anytime I have lost a hive it has been from something I did wrong. From taking too many bees in a split, to leaving the bees too much room, to feeding irresponsibly and causing robbing.
Bees are not domesticated livestock they are complex societies that have their own rules and we should try and work within those rules and help them not change them overly much. In the end taking the honey and making new places for them to live is hypocritical as you do manipulate them but we should try and keep that to as much of a minimum as possible. Or suffer the consequences.
I believe in many ways the decline of bees we are seeing to day is attached to the general decline we are seeing in our own world as well. Attached in the realms of arrogance, social engineering and greed along with messing around in areas we have no right to be in.
Bees need a return to the old ways as much as we do. Their miniature societies have been victims of cheap energy and high speed changes as much as ours have and is a perfect little mirror of us if we will only look closely enough to see the reflection.
Keep Prepping Everyone!!!