Honeybees and Colony Collapse Disorder – Should We Care?

Our bird expert talks about the bees

Living in Balance
By Jenipher Appleton

An unexplained phenomenon has been affecting some of the North American honeybee population. Colony Collapse Disorder is the term being used by scientists to generally describe the dying off of honeybees. Producers in the Ottawa area lost over 50% of their hives over the past winter. Some think the collapse could be caused by viruses, fungi, or long-term effects of pesticide use. Others support the theory that the late onset of this winter caused the bees to produce extra broods; they may have been killed when the cold finally hit as they tended their larvae and pupae. One beekeeper in the Embro area reported finding an empty hive this spring. Finding a hive with dead bees is one thing; a mysterious disappearance is quite another. A University of New Brunswick microbiologist suggests that mites could be a culprit and is researching to develop fungi to fight the tiny mite parasites.

Going to the source
Jim Bender has been a beekeeper in the village of Nairn for the past ten years. He was kind enough to give me a tour of his hives and to explain much about the life cycle of bees and the development of the brood. His wife, aptly named Bea, is the librarian in the school where I teach. When I asked Jim how he had learned the craft of beekeeping, he wisely replied, “I went to the library.” Jim’s hives seem to have survived the winter reasonably well but his friend has reported a decline in population. Jim notes that last fall was extremely wet, which may have caused a decline in available food for the bees to have stored enough away for the winter months. They subsequently may have starved to death.
Whatever the explanation, the importance of honeybees is not to be disputed. Bees are natural pollinators. We actually depend on them for much of our daily food. Without them billions of dollars worth of crops, especially fruits and vegetables, would not develop on this continent. Some Ontario beekeepers provide pollination services to farmers, trucking their own hives to farms in Quebec and New Brunswick. This can cause stress on the bees, which could contribute to the decline in population of the individual hive.

Health benefits of honey
A recent University of California study shows a rise in the antioxidant levels of participants who regularly consumed honey. It contains as many antioxidants as spinach, apples, oranges and strawberries. The darker the honey, the higher the antioxidant level.
Honey contains magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron and phosphate, along with several B vitamins. It can even be used on cuts and burns as a natural antiseptic and healing booster. It is anti-bacterial and draws body fluids and nutrients to the affected area to assist in cell growth and reduce scarring. According to Bea Bender (remember the beekeeper’s wife?) honey needs no special storage because it virtually never goes bad. “It has even been found in ancient pyramids and was still edible,” says Bea.

Honeybee facts
Canadian Honey Council
• one colony can produce over 100 pounds of honey
• one colony can pollinate an acre of fruit trees
• bees can fly at 15 mph with wingbeats of 200 times/second (much faster than the hummingbird)
• the queen bee may lay 2000 eggs per day
• it takes 556 worker bees to gather a pound of honey
• the average life span in working season is six weeks
• the value of pollinating fruits, vegetables and legumes is ten times the value of the honey produced (1 billion dollars in Canada)
• honey is one of the safest foods (harmful bacteria cannot live in it for any length of time)

The bottom line
Bees pollinate 25% of all fruit produced for human consumption and many of the vegetables and legumes we need to survive. Bees create a natural healthy food called honey. Bees are an integral part of nature’s delicate chain. So… should we care about honeybees? The answer is a resounding “Yes!!”

To contact nature writer Jenipher Appleton, send mail to nature at grandbendstrip.comAttn: Jenipher.