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To bee, or not to bee

May 25, 2012
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

When I took piano lessons, I loved, "The Flight of the Bumblebee," originally written for the violin, but I could never manage the frantic tempo pace quickly enough. If done well, it was exciting to hear. Now, though, I'm more concerned about the plight of the honeybee. We hear more and more about the disturbing pace of the dying and disappearing honeybee since 2006, creating international concerns about the future of our world food supply. Our world population is growing, so is the need for food.

Honeybees are responsible for pollination of 80 to 90 percent of our pollinated food supply. The staples of corn, wheat and rice are all pollinated by wind, so we'll always have bread, but I'm worried about the honey.

Recently, I commented to a friend that I was writing about the fact that honeybees were disappearing. She said, good! Fear of bees, or bee stings, brings out misguided efforts to combat them. Ordinary (non-phobic) fear of bees in adults is generally associated with lack of knowledge. They are not aware that honeybees only attack in defense of their hive or when accidentally squashed. An occasional honeybee presents no danger.

Apiphobia is a fear of honeybees; melissophobia is a fear of bees and is a specific kind of phobia. The majority of stings are caused by the similar looking yellow jacket wasps.

The docile honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought here in the early 1600s from Europe. The problem with the horror movie scenarios about bees came about when a Brazilian scientist was give the task of finding honeybees for South America where the heat did them in. In 1956, in his laboratory, he got the aggressive African bees (with their feisty attitude) that were able to withstand the tropical heat and produce large amounts of honey, crossing them with the docile European honeybees. The hope and plan was to breed the aggressiveness out of the African bees and keep their large honey production. In 1957, a few of the aggressive bees escaped and set up colonies in the Brazilian forests. Spreading to the United States in 1980, they began their filtration across the South. Not being able to stand the cold, they are pretty much contained in the South, and are now considered "killer" bees, because they have that potential. We have found them in Lee County.

When the collapsed, empty hives were discovered in 2005, this phenomenon was named "Colony Collapse Disorder" (CCD). Scientific research was started to find the cause, and combat the prediction that honeybees will be extinct by 2035. Honeybees are colonists in a community, which we don't completely understand, but it is an incredible phenomenon.

When some leave the colony, then realize they are infected, they don't return, or if they know the hive is infected, they don't return. Many are thought to be disoriented and lost due to atmospheric electromagnetic radiation from cell phones and their wireless towers. Causes, whether alone or in combination with other causes, are a threat to this crucial insect. In 1980, the Asian mite was found; also, viruses could be causing a decline in the bee's immune system, the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), loss of habitat and pesticides. All contribute.

Recently in Hawaii, they found bees to be doubly hit with mites in 2008 and now small hive beetles in 2010. The mites attach to the bee's abdomen and suck the life out of the bees. The beetles enter the hive and emit a pheromone that causes the queen to shut down her egg laying, which eventually turns the honeycomb to slime. Researchers agree that a combination of factors affect the honeybees lives. Which one is a major factor has yet to be concluded.

Beekeeping isn't just for the golden honey we love, but bees collect propolis, a sticky resin mixture bees collect to fill holes in the hives, giving it stability. Propolis is thought to have antibiotic and anti-fungal properties, and used in tinctures and balms. Koi fish farmers use it on their fish's tails to heal cuts. Beeswax is used to make candles and finishing woodworking. Surfers use it on their boards. The biggest buyers are the cosmetic industry, for facial creams, lotions, lip balm and lipstick. It is a popular ingredient in body creams be-cause it contains wax esters that help to increase moisture in the skin. You don't find any big gardens or orchards without hive boxes necessary to pollinate their crops. I used to go up Highway 27 and see the boxes lined up along the route. In California, 1 million honeybee hives, each containing up to 60,000 bees, are needed to sustain the almond crop. Beekeepers have a thriving business of renting their hives and bees.

In late 2007, "Bee Movie" with Jerry Seinfeld came out and was as much thought provoking as clever. I enjoyed it. The thought remains, could this become a reality? Many articles I've read quote Albert Einstein saying, "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than 4 years to live." Einstein died in 1955. His body of works is well publicized and found no record of him saying this. This comment came out in 2007 and Einstein's name lent an air of authority, but he was not aware of this problem. It does, however, contain a grain of truth at its core statement. I read, "If all 7,000-plus species of bees disappeared from the Earth, those ripples would grow into tsunamis, ruffling entire ecosystems."

And now we have a problem with our honey! Up to 77 percent of available honey in big box stores has no pollen in it. Farmer's markets, co-ops, Trader Joe's and organic stores have the full, proper compliment of pollen-there is fake honey out there.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, "To bee or not to bee" that's not a question. Plant wildflowers to attract bees.

And thank a tree!

Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council Arbor Day chairman and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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