Bees are mysterious, smart and indispensable beings. They have stood the test of time for a 100 million years on this planet. Bees are in dire trouble today, and we know the main culprit all too well – many, many dozens of billions of pounds of man-made nerve poisons.
There are about 400,000 kinds of flowering plants that depend upon pollinators in order to successfully reproduce. Bees, hoverflies, moths, butterflies, beetles, bats, lizards, primates and birds pollinate the plants. About 20,000 bee species undertake the lion’s share of cross-pollinating the plant kingdom.
Bee pollination accounts for 85 percent of food crops (including fruit) that daily feeds eight billion people. While the plight of the domesticated honeybees have attracted much public attention and research dollars, the lesser known native solitary bees and, in some parts of the world, the much larger and social bumblebees are the key to feeding the world. The unsung and much smaller native bees out perform the social honeybees.
Last month, a team of insect scientists (entomologists) led by the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. revealed that 5,000 bee species, or, a quarter of the bee world, hasn’t been seen since the 1990s. Oh dear gawd!
Every continent is getting battered except Antarctica where there are no bees, and Australia where long-term native bee data is lacking.
Once upon a time from dawn to dusk, the large indefatigable American bumblebee was regularly heard rumbling across grasslands in 47 states. Today, those remarkable gentle sistren are missing in eight states. Elsewhere, they have declined by 89 percent, coast to coast. Those grand gals perform buzz pollination. They create sonic vibrations and use both acrobatics and electrostatics to attract pollen grains, en masse. See The Incomparable Honeybee for exquisite details. If you enjoy raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, lentils, peas, tomatoes, chilies and all potato species then you ought to be very concerned.
Populations of solitary bees, for instance the sweat bees that are attracted to human sweat, pollinate alfalfa, sunflowers and cherries. Their numbers have dropped by 17 percent.
Other tiny native bees (about 200 species) belonging to the Melittadae family pollinate blueberries, cranberries and orchids. Melittad populations have plunged by 41 percent. This crash in populations extends across much of the seven bee families.
Life on this planet cannot exist without the breathtaking diversity and bulk of the astonishing insects – and in particular its hallowed bees.
Habitat loss, the climate in crisis, diseases and competition from the non-native honeybees have all collided. However, there is one contributing factor that stands head and shoulders above them all, pernicious nerve poisons, more specifically neonicotinoids (neonics).
Since the early 1990s, these horrible, long-lasting poisons have become the fastest growing insecticide class. Big Chem has made big bucks while at the same time undoing 1.1 billion years of reproductive evolution. Big Chem is simplifying nature and hastening the man-driven Sixth Mass Extinction. It’s occurring at a dizzying rate, outstripping the five previous others by many fold.
At less than a couple dozen parts per billion, neonics cause bees to lose their minds and shake to death. It is analogous to a person getting both advanced Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, all at once. Hideous.
Neonics kill soil organisms, which in turn rob the ground-feeding birds of their food. Goshawk populations that feed on those birds have plummeted. See The Gen Z Emergency for more details. Nature’s tapestry is quickly unraveling. No soil life. No life.
In Japan, neonics have caused the collapse of a lucrative fishery. On the eastern side of the Pacific, run-off from oil seed crops, e.g., canola and rapeseed, have contaminated 80 to 90 percent of western Canadian wetlands. Just a few seeds treated with neonics significantly reduce the weight and breeding success of migrating prairie birds. Already, North America has lost three billion birds.
Neonics lower sperm count in rats and cause skeleton abnormalities. Neonics suppress the immune response of mice and damage the sexual appetite of male Italian wall lizards and tadpoles, as well. By the way, mice are used extensively for testing the latest pharmaceutical COVID-19 drugs. Moreover, neonics increase miscarriages in rabbits and dramatically shorten the life span of both red-legged partridges and deer.
Each year across America about 150 million acres are planted with corn and soybean seeds coated in neonics. Those crops are fed to cattle and then consumed on dinner plates. Neonics are now turning up in people. They are suffering from rashes, headaches, wheezing, memory loss and kidney failure. In 2019, the National Institutes of Health examined urine samples from 3,038 people. Forty-nine percent of those people had neonic nerve poisons in their bloodstreams.
Clearly, it’s time to switch to healthy plant-based diets. In America, less than four percent of the arable land currently grows vegetables, nuts, fruits, herbs and seed-bearing plants.
Oh incidentally, about two decades ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency greenlighted the use of neonics in building products, such as wood decking, vinyl siding, adhesive glues, caulkings and polystyrene insulation. Neonics are inside and outside millions of homes. Egad.
Quite simply, the more deadly nerve poisons that Big Chem is allowed to thrust annually into the biosphere, the less likely the human race will survive this century.
It’s a no-brainer, ban neonics globally. We must begin in earnest to farm in a biodiversity-friendly way. That means protecting all remaining pockets of nature, especially the old-growth forests, and embracing less invasive water-smart farming and ‘smart’ biopesticides. These natural biopesticides confer incredible pest resistance to the plants. They do not kill the insects, but rather allow them to coexist in the fields.
Insects comprise two-thirds of all the land species on Earth, and outweigh humans by 17 times! Life on this planet cannot exist without the breathtaking diversity and bulk of the astonishing insects – and in particular its hallowed bees.
Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster, distinguished conservation biologist and author.
Dr Reese Halter’s latest book is now available!
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