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Why Honey Bees Are Disappearing



Because of their economic importance in the agricultural industry, honeybees or apis mellifera are thought to be the most researched among all insects. The results also indicate that honeybees have complex behaviors and a fascinating population. Apart from producing honey, they are most important as a medium of pollination.  Their role as producer and service performers as insects are seen to be their economic importance. Different from other insects, they look for pollen and not nectar (USDOA).

Usually, honeybees pollinate different agricultural crops including melons, apples, almonds and cherries. Large farms even hire beekeepers to increase the number of  bees  that will make pollination faster. Honeybees are also important in producing wax that is used in the production of candles and polishes. Such facts, however, are not new discoveries. Pictures of bees were found drawn in old walls and caves, thought to have been created thousand years ago. (USDOA).


Amusingly, while honeybees play important roles in agriculture industry of the United States, they were brought to United States by European colonizers during the early days and not really native of the country. Honey bee is a highly adaptable insect capable of living in a wide range of environments and geographical locations. It is indigenous and able to adjust to a wide variety of climes and geographic regions. Honeybees are the natural habitat from Southern Africa to somewhere in Southern Scandinavia, and from continental Europe to Western Asia. (USDOA).

Why Honey Bees Are Disappearing

It is the southwestern part of United States and northern Mexico where honeybees are most likely abundant and of different variety. Carl Hayden of the Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, said that there are between 1000 and 1200 species of bees within a 100-mile radius of Tucson. However, it was found out that neither one is native honeybee. About 25,000 species of bees have been described and nearly 40,000 are waiting to be reported.  Placing them to specific genus takes time for the entomologists. Unluckily, out of  25,000,  8 to 10 species believed to be honey bees. This number is still growing though because there are lot of identified species already (USDOA).

It is interesting to note that honey bees are categorized by strain rather than by genus and species. It means place of origin if we say stress. Apis mellifera ligustica, Italian bees and Apis mellifera carnica, Carniolan bees are the most common strains of honey bees currently found in the United States. But science learns to discover on how to interbreed. This practice is brought about by the need to produce more honey and enhance pollination. The convergence of the European and African lines was one of the most famous attempts to create such a hybridized line. (USDOA).

Mating the unassuming but high honey producing European bees to the aggressive African counterparts is the goal of crossing the lines of African and European. It was in 1956 when the test was done by Brazilian researchers hoping that a more hardworking bee will be the result. However they did not succeed.  Test results showed that the aggressive characteristics dominated and concealed the characteristics of European bees in essence. The test carried out became popular when a laboratory worker where the bees were located accidentally removed the screens that kept the queens in their hives. (USDOA).

Accordingly, around 26 group of the Africanized bees flew. Ever since, the descendants have been moving northward. After 40 years later, African honey bees are found in the southwestern United States. This raises concern because of their aggressive nature and their ability to replace the well-known colonies of European competitive lines (USDOA).

There is a caste system among colonies of bees. The queen ranks at the top of the caste which primary duties are to populate the colony by mating with male honey bees. Directing activities to the workers is another duty of the queen. The queen mates on the onset of summer months and if her egg-laying capacity is poor, or she is insensitive to the needs of the colony in some way, she may be attacked by the workers and replaced.  Second in the caste are the workers which perform many important tasks within the hive. They are in charge for looking after the queen by bringing to her a special food and grooming her. Other duty of the workers is building comb, taking care of the brood, sealing  and capping the comb cells containing either honey or bees, removing remains from the hive, storing pollen, ripening and storing honey, and guarding the hive. The male bees are the third caste in the colony. They are accountable for mating with queens coming from other colonies. They die after mating due to rupture of abdomen and genital parts (USDOA).

Facts show bees are really significant to agriculture. More than $15 billion worth of US crops are  reliant on honey bee pollination. But today, the honey bee experts and beekeepers are trying to find out what exactly have caused disturbance with the bees.


Studying the bees is a worthy task as they are both economically and ecologically important.  It is through understanding their performance, morphology, and population dynamics when farmers, scientists and beekeepers can develop approaches in enhancing the yield of agriculture industries.  Man could not make honey artificially despite the modern technology and know-how. The process of honey making starts in the crop of bee where the nectar is changed into honeybee decreasing the amount of water and becoming chemically altered. Then the salivary enzyme converts the complex sugar of nectar into the simple sugar of honey. Man and animals are benefited by honey as it becomes food. There is a presence of an anti-bacterial agent said to be natural antiseptic and also prevents honey from spoiling. Honey helps prevent infection if placed on a wound. In prehistoric time, the Indian tribe of Central America put honey on the base of amputated arms or legs.

Honeybees produce beeswax which is secreted in the form of small flakes by five pairs of ventral abdominal glands. A 10kg of honey is used to make one kg of wax.  Mostly used in manufacturing  of slaves, varnishes, polishes and various waxes, beeswax is also used for medical purposes. In pollination process,  honeybees are possible of greatest importance of agriculture in the pollination of plants. A very little weakness for honeybees could be said.  This is the sting it has which annoys people.

The Issue

Honeybees are becoming extinct these days.  Several reports and news show that not only in the United States but also in other parts of the world honeybee is disappearing.

The drop in honeybee population by around 70 percent makes biologists to nick their heads and think deeply as to why and what to do about the problem. But what really is the reason of their disappearance? Does the government do something about it?

Experts in Britain expressed concern about the possible dying out of honeybees in the country within ten years because of active diseases and parasites spreading on their hives. With today’s method of pest control, large colonies of bees are already being wiped out.  In fact the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) stressed that this current situation, by 2018 honeybees in Britain would completely disappear. This will eventually cause economic and environmental problems. The association asked the government to fund and support the research programs to save the honeybees.  President of the association Tim Lovett pointed out that the situation that they are not getting support and the government is not willing to make moves on how to avoid tragedy. He added that his group can no longer cope with the threat as they come to increase (Copping, 2008).

In 2007, wiped out bees were more than 11 percent and losses were even high in some areas. About 4,000 hives – two-thirds of the bee colonies in the capital – were estimated to have died over last winter in London. This year, all have been wiped out of the eight colonies inspected. Colony Collapse Disorder which is  a disease that has harshly affected bee populations in America and Europe, and also a resistant form of Varroa destructor which is  a parasitic mite that affects bees are said to be the cause of all this. Sustainability of the home-grown foods is at risk with this decline in numbers of honeybees. These insects pollinate more than 90 of the flowering crops that people are relying on for food. Honeybees are estimated to contribute more than £1 billion a year to the national economy. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is spending an average of only £200,000 per year on research to protect them so the government gets a lot of benefit (Copping, 2008).

Possible Causes

  • Radiation from Cellphones

A study done in Germany is linking the cellphones in dropping the number of honeybee population. Scientists believe that honeybees were caused by mysterious extinction by the radiation from the handsets. In the quote from Albert Einstein, humans can no longer live four years after the bees have died because of their vital role in pollination. Plants will stop multiplying if pollinating will not take place (Silvers, 2008).

The research was found to be not significant as the result says electromagnetic fields like the ones being used for cordless phones can disrupt the intrinsic ability of bees in finding their way to the hive. Disappearance of bees is known as colony collapse disorder or CCD. A professor in the physics department at the University of Koblenz-Landau in Germany, Jochen Kuhn said that it is hard to explain the CCD theory and want to remain speculation as things develop. Their study he added could not include electromagnetic radiation as one of the causes of CCD (Sylvers, 2007).

Report in the US indicates that it has lost 30 to 60 percent on the West Coast part and about 70 percent in parts of the East Coast and Texas. This is in contrast to how much  beekeepers consider the normal number which is  losing about 20 percent only of  bees during off-season while bees are in hibernation. Stefan Kimmel, graduate student who co-authored Kuhn and other professors in a study last year said that Americans must look at their herbicides, pesticides and think about genetically modified drops if they want to find out why colony collapse disorder happens. Assumptions about the relationship of bees and cell phones was stressed and focused when the news about colony collapse disorder had reached to Britain and several other European countries. Abbie Sampson, a senior press officer with the DEFRA stated that mortality rate in Britain this year among bees has been 22 percent. It was only 15 percent last year and considered not yet significant as only 2,000 colonies have been studied out of around 25,000.  (Sylvers, 2007).

  • Chemicals

Others consider that the massive use of herbicides and chemical pesticides cause why honeybees disappear. They may be ingesting the chemicals during pollination. This is also the case in commercial beehives which are also subjected to direct chemical treatment regularly to fumigation at regular intervals to fight off destructive mites. Genetically modified crop is also a suspect as it may produce pollen with compromised nutritional value.  It could be that made-up of synthetic chemicals and genetically modified crop pollen has arrived at a point of bee populations’ collapse. According to Organic Consumer Association, the organic bee colonies avoiding chemicals and genetically modified crops do not experience the same kind of disastrous collapses.  So this theory might be true (West, 2008).

  • Global Warming

Global warming according to biologists may be exaggerating the growth rates of pathogens such as the mites, viruses and fungi that are known to take their toll on bee colonies. The changing weather which is unusually hot-and-cold during winter may also be bringing disaster on bee populations which are accustomed to more consistent seasonal weather patterns (West, 2008).

Things to do to Help Honeybees in your Area

There are some simple ways on how people can help the honeybees from their complete disappearance on earth.

Becoming a beekeeper is one of the ways. This is an enjoying and fascinating hobby aside from the fact that one can get free honey. Courses, trainings and other programs are conducted to help new people become knowledgeable about beekeeping.  One can also help protecting the swarms.  This is a natural process when colonies of honeybees can increase their numbers. Contact the local authority or the police if one sees a swarm.  They will in turn contact a local beekeeper who will collect the swarm and take it away. Honeybees in a swarm are not so dangerous instead they are very gentle. When planting, have plants which are bee-friendly usually flowering and vegetables. You may also want to try the allium family, all the mints, all beans except French beans and other flowering herbs. Bees such as daisy flowers-asters and sunflowers, as well as tall plants such as hollyhocks, larkspur and foxgloves. They also need a lot of pollen and trees as good resource of food. Buying local honey can help the beekeepers to cover the costs of beekeeping which help them to continue tending the bees. Additionally, local honey conforms with all food standards requirements but is treated to give it a long shelf life. It also tastes quite different from foreign supermarket honey with a flavor that reflects the local flora. Help in asking the leaders to improve research into honey bee health. Write to them in support of the bee health research funding campaign. It is true that honeybees help the economy but government is allocating a small amount only for research on why their number continues to drop (Aldred, 2008).

It is a help too if one finds a place in his garden for a bee colony. The only need is to contact the local beekeeping association and they will find a beekeeper in need of a site.  Your plants then in the garden will be amazingly better.  It is believed that honey bought from other countries contains spores and bacteria which are very harmful to honeybees. If the honey jar is left outside, honeybees are encouraged to feed on the remaining honey. A most possible thing to happen is that this will contaminate bee which took the honey and will spread to the rest of the bees in the colony.  Another way is to persuade authorities in the locality to use plants in public areas which are bee friendly. Be a bee friendly yourself (Aldred, 2008).

Government’s Action

Until now, scientists are still looking for the cause of colony collapse disorder or the disappearance of honeybees.  Recently, bee biologists gathered and discussed about the issue.  They were not able to arrive at exact conclusion though. However, everyone agreed that most likely the all those different factors are the probable causes.

University of Maryland entomologist Galen Dively and one of the nation’s leading bee researchers said that his group is going to see a lot of money poured into this problem. Federal government planned an allocation of $80 million to fund research in connection with CCD.  They are only looking for some cohesion which can lead them to a cause (West, 2008).

Last January 2008, British Beekeepers Association or BBKA launched a campaign aiming at asking the ministers and country leader to take the plight of the bee more seriously. They included that the government should allot £8 million over the next five years for the program which is crucial to guarantee honeybees’ survival. They claimed if nothing will be done, chances are in 10 years’ time, no honeybees are still around. A professor in Sheffield University and a bee expert, Francis Ratniek, said the effect in Britain will be huge if there will be a bee collapse. He added that in Britain they have not had their fair share of bee research funds and research into bee disease has decreased just like the threat to colonies is increasing. A worst case scenario is the complete die-off of honeybees (Copping, 2008).

Work Cited:
  • Aldred, Jessica. “Ten things to do to help honeybees”. (2008). Retrieved 15 June 2008. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/13/wildlife.endangeredspecies>
  • Copping, Jasper. “Honeybees may be wiped out in 10 years”. (2008). Retrieved 15 June 2008. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml;jsessionid=MDPID0120U0QJQFIQMFSFF4AVCBQ0IV0?xml=/earth/2008/01/20/eabees120.xml>
  • Mc Carthy, Michael. “The Big Question: Why are honey bees disappearing, and what can be done to save them?”. (2008). Retrieved 15 June 2008. <http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/the-big-question-why-are-honey-bees-disappearing-and-what-can-be-done-to-save-them-813971.html>
  • Sylvers, Eric. “Case of the disappearing bees creates a buzz”. (2007). Retrieved 15 June 2008. <http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/22/news/wireless23.php>
  • USDOA. “Introduction to the Honey Bee”.<http://gears.tucson.ars.ag.gov/beepop/intro.html>
  • West, Larry. “Why are Honeybees Disappearing?” (2008). Retrieved 15 June 2008. <http://environment.about.com/od/biodiversityconservation/a/honeybees.htm>

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1 comment

Deb April 16, 2021 - 3:19 am

I took a walk this evening on a road that is surrounded by avocado and orange trees. The orange blossom smell is divine in my little corner of California right now. I saw at least five honeybees on the white reflective lines on the edge of each side of the road that indicates there is no shoulder. The bees didn’t move when my foot got close. It was chilly out but it didn’t seem like normal behavior. They were still – perhaps drunk or dying.

Interestingly enough, Edison just updated the powerlines that run right above and parallel to those white lines.


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