Why are the bees and other insects disappearing?

Posted by on September 9, 2013

honey-beesOver the last decade many insects have disappeared or the populations have decreased, especially noticeable with the honey bee populations.  It is very worrying as our biodiversity of ecosystems as well as the future of agriculture are at stake as 80% of food production depends on insect pollination.

There are several factors that are probable  causes for the decline in insect populations:

   *Mites

   *Disease

   *Pesticides

It is not surprising that Chemical companies put the blame on mites and diseases. But since mites and diseases have been around for a very long time it is noted that the rate of decline only happened since the introduction of  pesticides and herbicides.

A main reason for this problem is the chemicals used in intensive agriculture, domestic gardens and municipal parks. Neonicotinoids are the most toxic insecticides honeybees were every confronted with as the insecticide is present in pollen and nectar.  Therefore honeybees as well as other pollinators are directly ingesting the toxics.

A neonicotinoid is a molecule whose chemical structure is very close to the one of nicotine.  It targets the insect’s nervous system and can have a wide range of consequences: disorientation, behavioural troubles, learning and memory impairment and abnormalities.

Alone a honeybee cannot live.  It needs a family – the colony.  Bees are social insects and communication is fundamental to the well-being of the hive.  They communicate permanently as it is the basis of a social structure.  Without communication the different  tasks can not be fulfilled and thus weaken the colony.

Neonicotinoids are classified as systemic compounds, this means they are soluble in water and may be absorbed by the root of plants.  Seeds of plants are coated with neonicotinoids and once germinated and growing the entire plant is contaminated: sap, tissues, flowers, nectar and pollen. This contamination has far reaching effects as flowers attract insects by providing them with two rich sources of food – nectar and pollen.  Nectar contains sugars and provides insect with an energy source, while pollen grains contain proteins and oils.  Pollen and nectar provide the complete diet for both the adult bees and their larvae.  Other insects, such as butterflies, thrips, bugs and moths visit flowers to feed on pollen and nectar, they are predated by other insects, spiders and birds, all capable of picking up pollen on their bodies and bringing about pollination when they move from flower to flower.

honey-bees_00344491Man’s greed for bigger harvests, better profit margins, consumer’s demand for ‘perfect’ produce and, alas,  the domestic gardener’s obsession with a garden free from pests and diseases have put the future of all insect populations at peril.  This very short sighted approach can have dire consequences for the future of food supplies and biodiversity in plant and animal life.

In the Time of August 9th, 3013, Bryan Walsh wrote an article (p. 33) expressing his concerns. Walsh says: “The loss of honeybees would leave the planet poorer and hungrier, but what’s really scary is the fear that the bees may be a sign of what’s to come, a symbol that something is deeply wrong with the world around us.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this article. I think though, that it must be said, the bees in the Garden Route, and esp Knysna are a healthy and abundant population of bees. Do people know that the Cape Honey bee is a little different from other honey bees? They are very special, and are the bee population that has been living with humans harvesting their honey, for the longest time. They are a threat to other bee types as Cape Honey worker bees can lay eggs too, not just the Queen bee, so they are able to take over other honey bee hives. Most of the bee problems are being experienced where the honey bee is not a native pollinator of that continent. Still, it is of GREAT concern, that SA is welcoming Monsanto and Giant Agri business’ products which could very well lead to the decline of our bee populations also. Thanks again for highlighting this serious issue..

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