Shortly after I moved to the country, about 25 years ago, I planted an apple tree. In about five years, the tree reached maturity and began blooming, but at most only two or three apples were produced during the ensuing four years.
I noticed that there were no bees visiting the flowers. The next year, honeybees were visiting regularly, and the tree produced an abundance of apples. I observed that the bees inhabited a cavity in a large oak tee about 100 yards away.
The following year, there were no bees and no apples, and I saw no bees flying in and out of the bee tree.
A few decades ago wild honeybees living in tree cavities were common. Now the wild bees have become exceedingly scarce or have vanished altogether. The only bees I see nowadays are small bumblebees, the ones that live in underground burrows, carpenter bees and, on rare occasions, another large bee resembling the carpenter bee.
The Aug. 19 edition of Time Magazine contains an article titled, “The Plight of the Honeybee,” that deals with the decline of the bees and how valuable they are in food crop production. It reports on studies by the USDA that reveal one-third of the food in our diet depends to some extent on bee pollination.
It also depicts the crops that bees pollinate and the extent to which each depends on bees for production, twelve of which are in the range of 65 to 100 percent reliant.
The statistics are shocking, as is the extent to which beekeepers are observing “colony collapse” in their bee yards. Since 2006 an estimated 10 million beehives have been lost, at a cost of $2 billion to the keepers.
The reasons for the decline in honeybees are debatable. Varroa mites, imported accidentally from South America, parasitize honeybee colonies, and fungal infections are believed to be a factor.
A new class of insecticides, neonickotinoids, introduced in the mid-1990’s and now in widespread use, are believed by some to be a major cause of the decline. These chemicals are systemic. When seeds are soaked in the chemicals prior to planting, they are translocated to all parts of the plants, including the nectar and pollen, and remain for much longer than other insecticides do.
The article states that bees seem uniquely sensitive to neonickotinoids, which attack their nervous system, interfering with their flying and navigational abilities without killing them immediately.
France has restricted the use of neonickotinoids since 1999 but continues to suffer loss of bees. The chemicals are used in Australia but beekeepers there have reportedly been spared from colony collapse. Whether or not the chemicals are seriously affecting bees remains under investigation.
Some good news from Georgia reported by the Southeastern Environmental Law Center: Georgia Power Company, the state’s largest energy provider, will retire 15 aging coal- and oil-fired power units, add 525 megawatts of new solar energy (enough to power nearly 20,000 homes), increase energy efficiency savings by 10 percent, and develop a wind demonstration project.
Katie Ottenweller, attorney and leader of SELC’s new Solar Initiative, said, “Georgia Power has finally acknowledged that not only does solar ‘work,’ but its adoption can also save customers money and bring myriad environmental, economic, and social benefits.”
Reportedly, this win is the result of SELC’s participation on behalf of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in months of proceedings related to Georgia Power’s long-term energy plan, which was approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission on July 11.
Don’t expect anything as beneficial as this to happen in Alabama until and unless Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh is replaced as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission by someone who considers the best interests of the residential and business consumers to be paramount. Birmingham News columnist Joey Kennedy accurately portrayed Commissioner Cavanaugh as “the little mule for the Big Mules.”
Yellow jacket season has officially begun. Two of my dogs showed up the other day with numerous yellow insects clinging to their heads and bodies. They had obviously suffered several stings and were distressed by the ordeal. I doubt they will revisit the site of the nest they disturbed.
Be watchful and be careful are words to the wise, and if you are allergic, keep a bottle of Benadryl handy in case you get stung.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.