Why are bees and other insects disappearing?

Have you seen any Christmas beetles this year? They are  just one of many insects slowly disappearing and it is  not sure why.

Over 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:

  1. Mites
  2. Disease
  3. Pesticides
  4. Light Pollution

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 rapid decline only happened since the introduction of insecticides, 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.

Man’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.  The moral of the story is:  THINK before you reach for the insecticide, fungicide or herbicide bottle!

Light pollution is a significant but overlooked driver of the rapid decline of insect populations, according to the most comprehensive review of the scientific evidence to date.

Artificial light at night can affect every aspect of insects’ lives, the researchers said, from luring moths to their deaths around bulbs, to spotlighting insect prey for rats and toads, to obscuring the mating signals of fireflies.

“We strongly believe artificial light at night – in combination with habitat loss, chemical pollution, invasive species, and climate change – is driving insect declines,” the scientists concluded after assessing more than 150 studies. “We posit here that artificial light at night is another important – but often overlooked – bringer of the insect apocalypse.”