| May 15, 2008

Outdoors - May 15, 2008

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Outdoors in the LandO'Lakes - May 15, 2008 Plight of the Humble Bee Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes by Lorraine Julien

For the past couple of years, I’ve been really concerned about news that our bee population is in decline, in particular, honey bees. I’ve read that the honey bee population has been severely depleted in most areas of the world including the United States and in some areas in Canada.

It seems there are many possible reasons for the decline of the bees but no one cause has been positively identified:

Parasites (tracheal and varroa mites which suck blood from the bees)

Spraying of pesticides on crops

Climate change

Genetically modified crops (bees seem to avoid them)

Development (lack of natural habitat and wild flowers)

Use of antibiotics

World events such as wars (e.g. burning of oil wells during the Gulf War wiped out most of Iraq’s bee population)

Natural predators

Colony collapse disorder (CCD).

The tracheal and varroa mites were introduced to North America during the 1980s and spread quickly. Tracheal mites, as the name suggests, live inside the trachea of honey bees and suck blood from the inside. Varroa mites are external parasites that live in hive cells where young bees are raised.

I was surprised to learn that swarms of giant hornets can wipe out thousands of bees in a matter of hours. According to reports, incidents such as this have happened in Eastern Europe and the Far East.

In the case of CCD, adult bees may leave the hive and vanish – never to return. They seem to get confused and can’t find their way back. Young bees left in the hive end up dying because the adult bees aren’t there to feed them. Scientists are studying this disorder but, to my knowledge, have not decided on a defining reason. To date, CCD has only appeared in some localized areas in Canada but is apparently not yet a major problem here in Eastern Ontario.

This is depressing news but I was heartened after I read an article last spring in a local newspaper where the president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association was interviewed. According to the article, there are all kinds of problems for beekeepers in Eastern Ontario but, so far, they have not experienced the extreme colony decimations suffered in many other countries. On the good news front, I have seen a few bees in my garden the past couple of weeks.

In researching information for this article, and although honey bees are the prime pollinators, I’ve learned that there are a lot of other pollinators which could also be in trouble. Butterflies and hummingbirds are two common pollinators that come to mind; however, there are many other species of birds and insects and, surprisingly to me, some mammals. This could be the subject of another column.

If you are as concerned as I am, and want to know more, there is a lot of detailed information on the internet. Website examples: The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association which provides lots of general information. Another good source of information is the Ontario Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

In the meantime, what can the average person do? We can certainly try to buy locally produced honey wherever possible. Apparently, honey may be imported from countries as far away as China and it would be a shame not to support our local apiarists. It would probably also help to plant as many flowers as possible, in particular, wild flowers.

Please feel free to report any observations to to Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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