The ever-growing list of ways we are inadvertently killing off honeybees has gained a new entry in the past few days. In addition to everything else arrayed against them, a new study has implicated the fungicides we are applying to crops in making the bees susceptible to infestation by deadly parasites.
The world's population of honeybees is in serious trouble these days, as a condition called 'Colony Collapse Disorder' claims hive after hive. The disorder is characterized by a sudden disappearance of the worker bees from a colony, which causes the death of the hive (since the workers bring back the pollen the bees feed on). All indications are that we're the ones responsible for it, mainly due to the use of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which impact on the bees' immune system.
In addition to that, since neonicotinoids are now used to coat corn seeds, the insecticide gets into the different parts of the plant as it grows, and some beekeepers have been using high-fructose corn syrup from this very corn to feed their bees during the winter months. Therefore, by the time the bees are exposed to the pesticide again in corn crops, come summer, their immune system has already been weakened by what they were eating and they are even more susceptible to the insecticide.
Now, a new study has come out, published in PLOS ONE, that says the situation is even worse. It's not just the insecticides on the crops that are doing damage to the bees, it's also the fungicides on the crops and even the insecticides that are used to control mites that sometimes infest beehives. Both the fungicides and miticides are making the bees vulnerable to a parasite called Nosema ceranae. This parasite causes the illness called Nosema, which makes it harder for the bees to digest pollen, therefore drastically shortening their lifespan.
Just to add to the complexity of the problem, the study also found that bees aren't always collecting pollen from
So, it seems the bees just can't catch a break!
We're not only putting harmful pesticides on their crops, but in an effort to make those pesticides as effective as possible against the other insects, we're putting them where they'll do the most damage to the bees... in their food. Furthermore, we're turning those crops into food to sustain the bees over the winter, and on top of that, we're even spraying the bees' very homes with pesticides that, admittedly help them against one kind of pest, but make them vulnerable to another kind of pest at the same time!
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All of these studies are revealing a very dangerous situation that we've put ourselves in. There are nearly 100 different food crops that honeybees pollinate, thus ensuring that these plants grow properly and produce seeds that we can use to grow crops the following year. Some of these crops are pollinated by other insects, but bees are, by far, the most common and honeybees the most numerous, and it's doubtful we'd be able to feed the world on what crops would grow once the bees were gone. Thus, by carelessly causing the deaths of honeybees, we are carelessly threatening our own existence.
There are enough ways for the human race to go extinct that we would have little to no chance of preventing (asteroids, gamma ray bursts, etc). Let's not go out on account of something that we have 100% control over.
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