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Honey Bee extinction: What does that mean for us?

When we are kids taught about the circle of life. We have an admiration and fascination for the beauty of the world around us. There is a tangible love and respect. Somewhere along the way that is lost. We all have forgotten how imperative each living thing is to the next. From the West African black rhinoceros that is now officially extinct due to poaching to the very real disappearance of the honey bee.

Honey bees are generally given a bad rap for being aggressive and a nuisance by setting up their hives in inconvenient places for homeowners. There is also the issue of size, people seem to correlate importance of a species with size and with this thought process bees tend to fall pretty low on the scale of importance but in actuality this little black and yellow worker is extremely important to sustain our way of life. Yes the honey bee, an insect is just as important as something as large and beautiful as the West African black rhinoceros. I am sure there are many who would hear that statement and immediately disagree but let's assess the facts.

Bees contribute to a large amount of our food, flowers, livelihood. They are the only insects that produce food that humans eat. In fact honey is the only food that contains an ingredient called pinocembrin that is associated with improving brain function. Most importantly bees pollinate anywhere from ?-? of the food we eat, most of them our fruits and vegetables. The exact amount varies depending on which study you're reading. Regardless this creates an alarming decline in the foods available to us if or when the honey bee goes instinct. Whole foods depiction of their store without the help of pollinators is a good example of the impact.

That is only the beginning. We are looking at this decline of the honey bee with a very small lense. The ripples of change with each missing piece of the circle of life is going to have an impact on more than just our diet. We could very well lose some, or at very least experience a decline in the plants that other animals depend on, because there is less pollination in those plant species. Less access to food for the animal species leads to a decline in those species as well or a change in their diet which affects other plants and animals. With each loss of different species there will be lasting effects on the ecosystems around them.  

Last year the USDA reported a 42 percent loss in managed colonies. This was the first year that the summer losses outnumbered the winter losses which has left beekeepers very concerned and no one has seemed to point out a sole contributing factor. It seems there is some disagreement about what is happening. Every year small percentages of colonies are lost to cold winter weather. Fingers have also been pointed at viruses, fungi, pathogens, parasites and quite loudly pesticides. Many studies have linked pesticides with the loss of honey bees referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD.

Harvard School of Public Health did a study in 2010 and the evidence of pesticides like imidacloprid and its impact on the CCD phenomenon is undeniable. Imidacloprid is one of the most frequently used pesticides and showed drastic death tolls within the experiment. After 23 weeks of varying doses of exposure to imidacloprid 15 out of the 16 hives had died. That is a whopping 94 percent. Those exposed to higher levels died first. Even levels less than what they would be exposed to in crops caused the death of entire colonies.

Now that we have an idea of the factors at play here and seemingly the largest contributing factor outside of natural occurrences what have we done and can we do to keep from losing the rest of the honey bee population? There have been several lawsuits showing evidence that chemicals are killing droves of honey bees they generally end without a conclusive idea of who is at fault because of the many chemicals or combination of chemicals that have been found in the hives. There is a general consensus that the bees are suffering from many different factors.

Reminds me a bit of a grade school argument, children pointing fingers at the other when they all took part in the wrongdoing but nobody wants to deal with the consequences.

Outside of a lawsuit, there are things that can be done by the everyday person to help maintain the honey bee population. It seems fighting ignorance and greed with knowledge and numbers leads to successes. Here are some ways you can support honey bees.

Buy Organic

Seems simple enough right? By buying organic you are supporting farmers who don't use pesticides in turn supporting healthy bees.

Bee Friendly Yards

Stay away from use of any chemicals in your yard of course. Find natural alternatives to the usual weed killers and gardening chemicals that are rampant in every home and garden section, but you can also plant a pollinator garden.

Have A Voice

Most people tend to think this is just another "tree hugger" fallacy. The facts are there. The science is there. And yet nothing has changed. The more awareness, the larger the voice, the better the chance of change.

Stay Aware and Involved

Many people hear about travesties and want to help but when they leave their desk or the television and move on with their day the importance is lost with the hours of the day. Staying aware and involved in the conversation about things that affect all of our livelihoods and future generations is imperative. Being involved in things like representatives John Conyers (D, Mich.) and Earl Blumenauer (D, Ore.) bill is one way to help save the bees before it is too late. The "Save America's Pollinators Act" will stop the use of toxic, bee-killing pesticides until a review of the scientific evidence shows that they are safe and a field study determines they do no harm to bees and other pollinators.

Modern humans have only been on this planet for about 200,000 years, bees have been cultivating this planet for millions of years. Millions, and in our short time here we have contributed to the decline and potential distinction of the species. It is time we start realizing the impact we have on the world around us and the backlash that is inevitable if we don't do something very soon.