Sharon Pochron is a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agree: Bees need our help. Both of these agencies have moved to protect them, listing them as endangered.
But protect them from what? It’s a complicated story.
Insecticides can directly kill bees, no surprise there, but let’s assume some bees live. Herbicides then reduce the abundance of high-quality bee food. Bumblebees and honeybees love to eat protein-rich pollen, but herbicides remove pollen from the bees’ environment when they kill plants. So the bees that don’t die outright from pesticides live in a world without a lot of food.
But we’re not done with this story. Bees that survive exposure to insecticides, especially nicotine-based powders and sprays, suffer from impaired cognitive abilities. This makes them bad at finding food, which has been made scarce from herbicide applications. So bees that survived sub-lethal doses of insecticides are hungry and confused, but it gets worse. Their bee immune systems get suppressed from exposure to insecticides. They become infected with parasite infections and viral diseases, and then they bring these infections back home to their hives. At this point, they die, taking their hivemates with them. This is the story of colony collapse.
If you have a heart, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “poor bees.” And you’d be right.
But I have my sights on the more corporate-minded of you. You might think bees are cool enough, but they sting, and after all, they’re just bugs. If you’re that person, take a look at these photos.
The Hanyuan county in China’s Sichuan province has killed all their bees with pesticides and herbicides. As seen in the images, the farmer in the tree has to rub pear pollen onto every single blossom, doing the job of the missing bees. What do you think will happen to the price of pears? To almonds and pecans? To apples and cherries? You don’t have to be an economics major to answer correctly.
We haven’t reached that point in the U.S., but think of this. You know those bees that died because of pesticides and herbicides in places like New York, Hawaii and Georgia? They were living in our food, eating the pollen of our food and they died because they found the cocktail of chemicals swirling around our food too toxic to survive.
How does that peach taste now?