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Honey bees – take a walk on the light side

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A number of studies have concentrated on pesticides as the primary contributer to declines in honeybee health.

Others believe numerous factors that interact with one another that are behind the decline, including pesticides, nutrition, parasites and management practices, such as subjecting bees to excessive travel.

A honey bee goes to the doctor. “When did you start feeling like you’ve lost your way?” the doctor asked.

“Right after some researchers fire-hosed me with insecticide,” the bee said.

“Why did they do that? And, say ‘ah,’” said the doctor.

“To prove that pesticides are hazardous to my sense of direction, I guess,” the honeybee answered.

“It’s a good thing you don’t have to deal with those guys every day.”

“No kidding,” said the honey bee. “I wouldn’t live long.”

What is not so funny about this exchange is that it exemplifies a real life situation affecting agriculture – the health of native pollinators, primarily honey bees. And some aspects of it are getting out of hand.

For example, in recent research conducted for Science magazine, honey bees were given an extremely high dose of insecticide to determine if it impacted their ability to find their way back to the hive after foraging. It was found, of course, that many couldn’t, and soon we were hearing that pesticides were the cause of colony collapse disorder and a decline in bee health.

It was good case study for Iain Kelley, with Bayer CropScience, who takes the bee pollinator issue very seriously, but doesn’t spare anyone a piece of his funny bone.

Kelley, speaking in Nashville recently at a joint meeting of the American Cotton Producers and the Cotton Foundation, said the Science article “was a well-conducted study. The bees were given a daily dose of neonicotinoid in one trip out in the field, and there were significant numbers that didn’t find their way back to the hive. But the dose was the equivalent to chugging a bottle of wine in 10 minutes, and then finding your way back to the hive. It’s not the way things happen out there.”

Sometimes humor is the best medicine for the frustration that agriculture feels when the media latches onto an issue or a sound bite, such as CCD. You would think CCD is a physical implosion of the hive, a Bee Armageddon. But it happens when bees leave the hive, forage, then simply don’t come back. Or as Kelley explained in his native Scottish accent, “It’s like they’ve gone off in the bee rapshur.”

Kelley gets plenty of laughs. But everyone gets it. Colony collapse is not caused by the queen bee raising taxes while increasing hive spending. For some reason, bees get lost. As it turns out, bees get lost for many reasons. And most of it has to do with stressors.

There are numerous factors that contribute to this, including pesticides, nutrition, management practices and others.

Kelley related one possible bee stress factor, a beekeeper’s annual journey from Florida to California for almond pollination, back to Florida, to Pennsylvania for apples, to Maine for the cranberries, back to New York, to Pennsylvania again and to Florida.

“They say that travel doesn’t affect bees, but these bees have more frequent flyer miles than I do,” he said.

Gives me jet lag just thinking about it.

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