Where are the bees?
Dave Lindorff – Philadelphia Inquirer April 26, 2007
As an unwilling and disgruntled suburbanite, I take great pride in my dandelion crop. Over the decade that I have owned my 2.3-acre lot in Maple Glen, just north of Philadelphia, I have watched as the dandelion population in my lawn has grown year on year.
One reason I've enjoyed the display is that I know these bright-yellow-flowered plants, which bloom early and continue blooming well into fall, are popular with honeybees. Given all the problems the bees have been having with insecticides, destruction of natural habitat, and the like, I'm happy to give them some help.
I remember that when I was a kid growing up in rural Connecticut, getting stung by a honeybee was almost a weekly occurrence that went along with going barefoot in the lawn. (My parents liked dandelions, too.)
Today, though, you could walk all day barefoot around my yard and never get stung. There's not a honeybee to be seen.
I walked two miles recently around the neighborhood, past plenty of dandelions, including through a feral field full of them, and didn't see a single bee. Not one. This is particularly strange because in the first warm days of spring, the hives are usually out in full force trying to replenish supplies after a long winter and in anticipation of a big period of egg-laying and hatching of larvae.
And it's not just dandelions.
Behind my house is a wild cherry tree. A few days ago, it was in full bloom. Ordinarily, this would be an occasion for a true bee fiesta. The tree at this time in prior years was virtually a cloud of buzzing insects, all zipping from flower to flower.
This year, there was not a bee to be seen on the entire tree.
This is beyond strange. It's downright scary.
When you consider that perhaps half the plants in nature depend upon pollinators like bees to reproduce, you have to wonder what a future without bees holds - not just for the animals that live on those plants, but for human beings.
And it's not just honeybees that are missing. Honeybees, after all, are immigrants from Europe, and the Americas survived quite nicely without them before their arrival with the colonists. But the native bees - ground bees and bumblebees, for example - are gone, too. The only bees I've seen since the spring began are wood bees - large, clumsy-looking, bumblebee-like creatures that bore neat circular holes into the wood of the house and lay their eggs in solitary nests. Thank heavens for them, or there wouldn't be a bee on my property.
But even several hundred wood bees can hardly compensate for the total absence of other pollinators.
What's happening here?
There are a lot of possible culprits: climate change, ubiquitous microwave radiation, overuse of herbicides and pesticides, stress, and lowered immunity to fungal, viral, bacterial and mite infections, or perhaps a combination of all of the above.
My feeling, though, is one of dark foreboding.
When something as basic as bees vanishes from the scene as quickly as this, you know we're in Big Trouble.
Dave Lindorff's is an investigative journalist living in Maple Glen. His most recent book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
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Last updated 04/05/2007