July 9, 2006 10:04 PM   Subscribe

The Vanishing. "Bees are in grave danger. So is our food supply. Why something so small matters so much."
posted by homunculus (39 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The article disputes the conclusions of a previous MeFi post about bees and varroa mites:
Many bee experts assumed varroa mites were a major cause of the severe die-off in the winter of 2005. Yet when researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, traveled to Oakdale, California, where Anderson and a number of his fellow beekeepers spend winter and spring, they could find no correlation between the level of varroa mite infestation and the health of bee colonies. "We couldn't pin the blame for the die-off on any single cause," says Jeff Pettis, a research entomologist at the lab.

Anderson has his own ideas about what caused the almond pollination crisis, and what is most responsible for wiping out honeybees across the United States. "Varroa is a bit of a red herring," he says. "One of the biggest problems is irresponsible use of pesticides and the failure of regulators to enforce the rules meant to protect bees from poisoning."

posted by homunculus at 10:06 PM on July 9, 2006

Bees are pesky little bastards. I had a hive growing behind a board on my balcony. First I tried spraying the opening with foaming carpet cleaner, which was entertaining for me but didn't really do anything.

Then I used the official be killing stuff, which would kill on contact (a little unnerving to see) but it never diminished the number of bees. Then I tried sealing the crack with ducttape, which they ate through, then expanding hard foam, which they also ate through. Finally I just put caulk in the crack (while they were sleeping). I could hear them chewing on it for days. Really eerie.
posted by delmoi at 10:38 PM on July 9, 2006

Many vegans believe that honey isn't vegan.

This site says that not only are bees not necessary for crop pollination, but that bees are actually harmful to the environment.

WTF? Does this argument exist just so vegans can go on eating vegetables?
posted by redteam at 10:40 PM on July 9, 2006

In the past few years I've noticed a marked decrease in honey bees and an upswing in the number of bumble bees I see in my suburban California backyard. I don't see many honey bees at all any more. I'd assumed the mites were knocking off the honey bees and the bumble bees were filling that niche.

Maybe it's an over drop in bee population, as the article states, and I'm not aware enough to notice it.

In any event, great post.
posted by cccorlew at 10:47 PM on July 9, 2006

A stinging commentary, surely.
posted by mischief at 10:56 PM on July 9, 2006

After reading Robbing the Bees a few months back, I've had a new found respect for honeybees and (the history of) honey in general.
posted by shoepal at 11:13 PM on July 9, 2006

Oh, and FUCKING pesticides! We just keep fucking things up left and right these days. sheesh.
posted by shoepal at 11:17 PM on July 9, 2006

"Surely that was no human bee! Once I take care of the humans, I will begin my war against... the bees!"

This is clearly the work of poor, incompetent Zim.
posted by sparkletone at 11:20 PM on July 9, 2006

Bees Form Better Democracy
posted by homunculus at 11:44 PM on July 9, 2006

RE: the vegan argument

As far as I can tell (and I'm sure I've missed something) there are only two things produced on the planet specifically to be eaten: Honey and egg yolk.

Vegans will eat plants, yet mostly that involves killing them. Plants do not grow for consumption.

Egg yolk and honey, OTOH, are produced to be eaten.

Perhaps the true vegan would limit their diet to these.
posted by sourwookie at 11:50 PM on July 9, 2006

And yes, I do know that certain plants produce fruit to be eaten so that their seeds are defecated and spread. But that's more exception than rule.
posted by sourwookie at 11:54 PM on July 9, 2006

Well, sour, fruit is explicitly designed to be eaten. That's not the exception, that's pretty much all fruit. It's a tempting treat to get animals or insects to move the seeds around. I think many vegetables are too.... peas and string beans, definitely. Many are not, though, like carrots and beets.
posted by Malor at 12:04 AM on July 10, 2006

That article wastes the entire first page on writerly crap. Skip to page 2 if you are interested in the subject. Or just read this part and save a half-hour:

"Farms with no nearby oak woodland or chaparral have too few native bees to succeed without the services of rented honeybees. But those near remnants of wild habitat host native bees of many species, in numbers high enough to pollinate even a demanding crop like watermelon. The farms that fell into this category were all organic operations set on smaller plots of land tucked into hillsides where native vegetation survives. By contrast, conventional farms not only use a variety of pesticides but are set in the midst of the Central Valley's hostile landscape."

I've also seen far less honeybees in California/Nevada since the '90s, with bumblebees more common. Pesticides may well play a major role, but it must take a long time because unregulated pesticide use was heavier in the '60s-'70s than today.

(A dozen years back, I had a disturbing temp job cataloguing birth defects of children born to Central Valley farm laborers, who were almost all Mexican and Central American illegal immigrants. That was the most depressing job I've ever had. The deformity rates were out of the ballpark, and most of the parents were living alongside the farms and at least bathing and washing clothes in the pesticide-laden runoff.)
posted by kenlayne at 12:18 AM on July 10, 2006

sourwookie, the only things I can think of that are produced to be eaten by something other than the producer are milk and fruit. Egg yolk is only "meant" to fuel the growth of the embryo, not to be eaten by something else. Eating the yolk of an egg involves killing the embryo, so there's no way a vegan's going to be onboard with that.

Secondly, you've misunderstood what veganism is. Veganism doesn't have to do with eating what's "meant" to be eaten (evolution is an unthinking process, it doesn't "mean" anything: what works flourishes what doesn't work dies off, but there's no intention about it), it involves avoiding foods that involve the exploitation of animals. This rules out both eggs and honey, but presumably not plants pollenated by animals if such pollenation is part of their intrinsic behavior.

But it's an interesting idea to explore, and if you take it to its logical conclusion one of the most morally acceptable (if you will) diets is carrion. It doesn't involve interrupting the life of anything else or taking something that was produced for some other purpose. You'd only be depriving bacteria and other carrion eaters. And in fact there is some body of evidence that man evolved in part as a carrion eater; the fact that our bodies utilized partially spoiled (a.k.a. "high") meat better than fresh. Commercial meat preparation includes treatment to induce the the desirable -- to humans -- effects of spoilage.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:20 AM on July 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Secondly, you've misunderstood what veganism is.

I guess I have. My bad.
posted by sourwookie at 12:23 AM on July 10, 2006

Maybe we should start leaving a few more oxen carcasses lying around. I can recommend Bee (I know, I know) Wilsons book for all things apicultural.
posted by tellurian at 12:32 AM on July 10, 2006

Pesticides kill a lot of native pollinators and honeybees, but varroa and tracheal mites are definitely not red herrings.
posted by crataegus at 1:56 AM on July 10, 2006

Quite so. Herrings are fish; mites are arachnids.
posted by flabdablet at 5:05 AM on July 10, 2006

Don't worry folks, those africanized bees will come and save us any minute now.
posted by furtive at 5:28 AM on July 10, 2006

I thought it was the amphibians?
posted by HTuttle at 5:38 AM on July 10, 2006

That's a fungus.
posted by flabdablet at 5:43 AM on July 10, 2006

Grow bee-friendly flowers (even on your balcony or in your window box) and don't eat food treated with pesticides.

As for vegans and carrion-eaters and so on: the moral diet would be factory-grown food matter that was never alive at anything higher than a cellular level, and I bet that's what all non-rich people will be eating soon whether they choose to or not. Factory food will be cheaper than killed food, will require little or no pesticides, will be produced vertically (lower land requirements), and will be closer to (near, in, and under) cities, so delivery will be cheap and preservatives will not be as great a requirement. Deliver trainloads or pipelines of raw materials to one end of the factory, let the factory digest it and construct with it, and get life-sustaining matter from the other. A population that eats and enjoys Chicken McNuggets and the like will eat and enjoy a totally synthesized, non-plant, non-animal, texturized, chicken-like food material (and doesn't everything taste like chicken anyway?) that is priced like macaroni.
posted by pracowity at 5:58 AM on July 10, 2006

A population that eats and enjoys Chicken McNuggets and the like will eat and enjoy a totally synthesized, non-plant, non-animal, texturized, chicken-like food material (and doesn't everything taste like chicken anyway?) that is priced like macaroni.
posted by pracowity at 5:58 AM PST

Its not soylant green, but the product Quron was designed as a response to reading books like The population Bomb. Its from a selected soil fungus that is vat grown. Chicken McNugget - Quron Both taste about the same to me.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:19 AM on July 10, 2006

No, that's a book.

What do they teach them in these schools?
posted by flabdablet at 6:30 AM on July 10, 2006

When you've finished your Quorn, try a little Nutripon.
posted by flabdablet at 6:47 AM on July 10, 2006

Nice post. I love bees. As always, it's worth recommending Sue Hubbel's A Book Of Bees, a classic in the genre.
posted by OmieWise at 6:51 AM on July 10, 2006

May I suggest that you calling your local beekeepers association and have them come collect your bees under the porch? Most times they'll do it for free.

My mom and dad are beekeepers and they often go to people's houses and remove wild swarms that would otherwise be destroyed. There's an art to it, but most beekeepers would rather risk getting stung a lot just to save some bees.

I was always fond of bees as a kid, but after retirement my folks got into beekeeping and it's been very interesting. Her first year my mom had three hives that produced 15 gallons of honey. And since then I've never wanted for honey or candles. I have to say, if I were not living in the suburbs, I'd probably have a hive myself. Bees are neat to watch, helpful to have around and as long as you don't use floral smelling hairsprays, not that likely to sting.
posted by teleri025 at 7:47 AM on July 10, 2006

I'm a novice beekeeper and I don't use medication in my hives. I just feel that it leads to stronger, more resistant mite populations and weaker bee populations. Strangely, I haven't had a mite for two years.

There are some apiaries that are raising more resistant queens. The answer against the mite is in the genetics.

My wife and I just harvested 15 gallons out of four hives this weekend... chemical free (except for what a bee might be exposed to within two miles of the hive).
posted by mania at 8:09 AM on July 10, 2006

In Iron County, Wisconsin, in the 90's, I noticed very much an abundance of bumblebees over honeybees. I wondered about it. I'm a native of southern Michigan, where bumblebees were very much out-numbered by honeybees.

Africanized bees? As I am currently living in Africa, I wonder about this. The bees here seem quite peaceful. I frequently urge them (and sometimes help) out the windows when they get lost indoors. I tend to be a bit phobic (or used to) about bees, so I call them 'honey' and act nice. I've gotten over most of the phobia! They never harass me. Maybe they are imported European bees, and the 'African' type are elsewhere.

And yes, I also hug trees...but only the special ones.
posted by Goofyy at 8:15 AM on July 10, 2006

teleri025 writes "I have to say, if I were not living in the suburbs, I'd probably have a hive myself."

Don't let that stop you. Bees are great urban and suburban dwellers. If you keep your hive behind closed doors (say in your garage, attic or tool shed) it is rare for anyone to discover you have bees unless you tell them. You can even build an observational hive [pdf] viewable in any room with an outside wall.

I kept a hive in an attic space for years to pollenate our 3000 sq ft of garden. Attics are great if you have easy access and your attic doesn't get too hot because your bees leave at a high elevation and no one can really see them coming and going.
posted by Mitheral at 8:51 AM on July 10, 2006

I raise Africanized bees. Sure, the honey output isn't so great, but they sure do keep them pesky neighbors away, and the kids no longer run across my yard!
posted by nlindstrom at 8:53 AM on July 10, 2006

Thank you for the post homonculus. I love bees, love all kinds of honey and am grateful for the role bees play in the environment. Sorry to hear they are in danger of vanishing.

People who use pesticides are more likely to get cancer.

Here in Hell's Kitchen, smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, there is a charming community garden with a healthy beehive.
posted by nickyskye at 9:46 AM on July 10, 2006

Fascinating post.
posted by Tuwa at 10:01 AM on July 10, 2006

Great post. Pracowity beat me to the suggestion that people grow bee-friendly plants in their yards. Every beekeeper person I ask tells me how much bees are hurting these days.
posted by salvia at 12:14 PM on July 10, 2006

Bees are certainly NOT in danger.

I just got stung about 3 hours ago. I came out of the store and there was a bee on my car door handle--my car door handle! If there's really some crazy shortage of bees, what the hell are they doing loitering about in parking lots, chilling on my Nissan?
posted by fusinski at 12:58 PM on July 10, 2006

If there's really some crazy shortage of bees, what the hell are they doing loitering about in parking lots, chilling on my Nissan?

Were you at the mall? It might have wanted a ride to the nearest flower.
posted by Tuwa at 2:14 PM on July 10, 2006

delmoi, the thing to do is call a beekeeper to take them away. I'm not sure whether they charge, or pay, or what, but they know how and it's better than killing them.
posted by jam_pony at 5:34 PM on July 10, 2006

Wow, there was all kinds of information in that article from the vegan website. Too bad none of it made any sense as a coherent argument.

Great post, homunculus.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:50 PM on July 10, 2006

We recently had a huge swarm create a hive on one of our willows. It was instant, I swear. One day it wasn't there, and the next day, there were hundreds of bees and a big ol hive. I called a local dairy to ask them if they knew a beekeeper. They did, and the beekeeper came out in his suit and got the hive, (actually, the branch which held the hive) and rounded up all the bees, waved goodbye and went off on his merry way.
posted by dejah420 at 11:48 AM on July 11, 2006

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