Our View: If you feed a bee, you feed the world

A bee gathers nectar on an aster.

Most of us head the opposite direction when we hear the familiar buzz of a bee as it hovers nearby.

Most bees are indifferent to people's presence as they zigzag between garden flowers, so you shouldn't fear them unless you're allergic. Unfairly typecast with wasps and hornets, which are much more aggressive, bees tend to be gentle and usually don't sting unless provoked.

Your encounters with bees have been diminishing every year for the last decade because of a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder , which has caused the bee population to plummet by one-third since 2006. But the most recent national survey suggests the problem is becoming more severe as honeybee deaths were recorded at 42 percent from April 2014 through April 2015, but significantly worse in Minnesota, with reports exceeding 50 percent losses.

James White, president of the Southeast Minnesota Beekeepers Association , said his survey results are similar to the national numbers. "We take surveys in the club every year," he said. "We saw 50 percent death, and fear it will be a bit higher when the next results come out."

What was most surprising to entomologists who analyzed the responses was that for the first time, bees were dying more in the summer than the winter. The study's co-author, Dennis vanEngelsdorp of the University of Maryland, compared it to "a higher rate of flu deaths in the summer than winter. You just don't expect colonies to die at this rate in the summer."


Why should we care? The U.S. Department of Agriculture says bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in crops every year. The USDA says that one mouthful in three of the food we eat directly or indirectly depends on pollination by bees.

Researchers attribute the decline to several factors, such as harsher winters, the spread of a parasite called the varroa mite , the use of pesticides and the loss of habitat. While it's difficult for an individual to combat the first two factors, there's no reason why a person can't make a difference with the last two.

Check the labels on your lawn and garden products and voluntarily stop using neonicotinoids , a class of insecticides that are banned in Europe, but still are used widely in the United States. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency placed a moratorium on new uses of neonicotinoids until a study of its effect on pollinators has been completed.

You can provide habitat by adding flowering plants to your backyard. If you're uncertain what to plant, ask a beekeeper or someone from a garden club. They're likely to recommend bee-friendly varieties such as coneflowers, catnip, hyssop, black-eyed Susans and sunflowers.

Bees have a short flying range of about 500 yards, so increasing their habitat is vital to their survival. One bee can visit up to 2,000 flowers per day, but she can't carry pollen from that many flowers at once, so she'll stop at 50 to 100 flowers before heading back to the hive.

It takes 12 bees a lifetime to produce a teaspoon of honey. Worker bees have a lifespan of just a few weeks, so the plummeting population is especially devastating to the health of the hive and ultimately our crops.

Most of us have been taught mistakenly that insects, like mosquitoes, are pests that should be exterminated. The collapse of bee colonies has forced us to reconsider that notion.

Instead of being wary of bees, we should be welcoming them to our backyards.

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