“In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: It Goes On.”
Robert Frost

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why Should We Care About Honey Bees?

"Because 1/3 of the human diet comes from 
insect-pollinated plants---the humble honey bee 
is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination."  
Defenders of Wildlife 2013

Memories of summer

Have you ever had days where one thing just leads to another and then another? Well yesterday was one of those days.  I don't normally write about this sort of thing on my blog, but I just couldn't let it go. I had to get these stories out there and see what some of you think about all of this.

I have been worried about honey bees and bees in general for several years.  I have noticed a huge decline in their numbers in my own garden. It seems that a few people are starting to jump into action to save them, so when I heard a report about a bunch of  bees in Saint Paul Minnesota being killed a few days ago, I could hardly believe it. I checked the story on my online newspaper thinking somehow I had not heard it correctly on the evening news. But to my dismay, it was true.
Below is part of the story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, click here for the full story.
  St. Paul fire crews killed honeybees  

  • Firefighters had been called to eradicate the swarm, estimated to contain 25,000 to 30,000 bees.  

  By KEVIN DUCHSCHERE kevin.duchschere@startribune.com   
      The mystery of what killed thousands of honeybees bivouacked in two oak trees in downtown St. Paul was solved Wednesday, when an official said that fire crews had sprayed the bees with fire retardant foam in response to a police call for help. 
   “During the day we might have called animal control or other resources, but it was just a few minutes before midnight on a Sunday night,” St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said. “We were trying in good faith to avoid injuries or panic.” 
   The foam caused the bees to drop dead to the sidewalk below the trees, creating dark-colored mounds that one pedestrian the next morning likened to “small snowdrifts.” 
    It was a bittersweet resolution for Marla Spivak, a University of Minnesota entomologist who feared that insecticides had been used. Using foam on bees is “what fire departments have been instructed to do nationwide,” Spivak said. “If you’ve got a bee problem, it’s a good way and a fast way to get rid of it. It’s a much better way to do things than insecticide.” 
   Still, she said, it would have been better had officials contacted a beekeeper to move the swarm, which she estimated contained 25,000 to 30,000 bees. 
     “A colony of bees grows just like a plant, and they normally get to their maximum size in Minnesota in early June, when half would take off looking for a new place,” she said. 
   That's likely what this swarm was doing — camping in trees while waiting to find a new home — when they were killed. 
   “This was an unfortunate situation,” Paulos said. “Bees are cool. They help pollinate and they are a necessity to nature. But in this case, it was a public safety issue.” 


OK, so here is my two cents worth!  Really now, they really couldn't just pick up the phone and call a beekeeper??  The police just call the fire department and the fire department blasts a bunch of sleeping bees!!! It's not like they called a beekeeper and the guy or gal says, "Nope, can't help you, that's just too many bees. blah-blah-blah".  They didn't even try!!  Were the police so busy on a Sunday night around midnight that they didn't have time to think of anything else?? I'm sure they were just following procedures.  Oh, and the fire department did say it was a "shame", but the bees were a public hazard.

I probably wouldn't be so irritated by this except it seems that every time a moose, or bear, or some other form of wildlife wanders into town, the only thing they can ever think to do is to kill it. Other places that come to mind like Wisconsin and Michigan, seem to use tranquilizer guns and other non-lethal methods to handle wild things.

But back to the subject at hand. The even weirder and equally disturbing part of this story is that they left the dead bees just lying there on the side walks. The images appeared as dark colored mounds akin to "snowdrifts" to passing pedestrians, who obviously reported this weird phenomenon to the newspaper, thus the article. The saddest part about this story, the bees were moving to a new colony and would probably have left as peacefully as they came. There was not one report of anyone being stung by the wayward bees.

senza titolo

And if that wasn't enough, the next day I read this article!
I just read in the summer 2013 edition of Defenders of Wildlife a  story titled:
WildMatters --- Talk About a Buzzkill

It turns out that back in the early 1970's, some beekeepers were looking for a cheap alternative to honey to feed their bees. I mean, why let the bees eat their own honey which was so expensive, when they could feed them cheap corn syrup!  Does that sound like a good idea to you?  Here is what they didn't know at the time:

"High-fructose corn syrup is not itself toxic to bees, but with honey removed from their diet the bees miss out on important nutrients that help the bees fight off pathogens and the toxins found in pesticides.

The scientists found that consumption of the compound p-coumaric, for example, turns on "detoxification genes" in bees.  This nutrient is found in pollen, not nectar, and makes its way into honey inadvertently by sticking to bees' legs as they visit flowers.  The genes amplified by p-coumaric help bees to safely digest a common insecticide used by beekeepers to kill mites." from Defenders of Wildlife

The entire article is not posted online yet but should appear in the next month or so. Here is their link.

Monarch Butterfly

And then there's this.....which explains why I haven't seen a Monarch in my garden....

Monarch butterfly numbers down sharply (full story here)

  By BILL McAULIFFE  bill.mcauliffe@startribune.com
Minnesota’s state butterfly is scarce again this summer, a victim of two bad weather years in a row and the decline of caterpillar-sustaining milkweed in the landscape, experts say. 
Counts of caterpillars, which transform into monarchs during the summer, are “the lowest we’ve ever seen,” said Karen Oberhauser, a University of Minnesota professor who runs the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project.    But it’s not just a problem in Minnesota.       “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as low as it is this year,” said Chip Taylor, an ecology and biology professor at the University of Kansas who is also director of Monarch Watch, a research and educational organization, speaking of the monarch populations across North America.    

Indeed, an estimated 60 million monarchs spent the winter at their customary migration site in Mexico, but 350 million would be customary, said Elizabeth Howard, director of the tracking site Journey North. That’s an 80 percent decline.      

Ordinarily, the distinctive butterflies, with gold-and-black wings trimmed with white specks, are common across the Minnesota landscape this time of year.  Aggressive suppression of milkweed in corn and soybean fields has removed a key piece of the monarch life cycle across much of North America, Oberhauser said.    “There’s a strong correlation between the loss of milkweed habitat and loss of monarch numbers,” she said.       

Krischik, who is researching ways to blunt the declines under a grant from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, said linden trees, which are in bloom this time of year, should be buzzing with pollinating insects.    She said she was “stunned”   when she checked 30 trees Wednesday and found only a single painted lady butterfly.    “It’s not just that there aren’t monarchs. There’s nothing there,” she said.      

 “We have met the enemy, and he is us,” Krischik said.      “... we’re never going to see monarchs like we did, say, in the 1990s,” Taylor said. “We’ve lost too much habitat.”    

So friends, what do you think?


  1. This is all so heartbreaking. These stories are so similar to an incident we just had about three weeks ago here in Oregon in Wilsonville. I won't link it here, but if you google, it's as horrifying a story as the ones you have listed here. 50,000 bees were killed in a mall parking lot by a pesticide that was used by landscapers on the plants and trees there. One morning, there were just dead bees all over the parking lot. I cried for quite awhile. So very heartbroken! I just don't understand people. Those pesticides are so dangerous to humans, animals.. like dogs cats and wildlife, and to the beneficial insects without which the plants and flowers would not even exist! Sooooo frustrating and it makes me soooo angry. Most of this seems to happen out of ignorance. I don't mind posts like this at all. I like to read them, as much as the subject upsets me. You pay attention, and that's important! When will people wake up?? That's what i want to know!

    1. Mary, in the original article, the incident in Oregon was also mentioned. Wouldn't you think that these cities would start figuring out a better way to deal with this! My heart really aches for all of us. I have always had a love and admiration for nature and these stories really make me sad. I'm beginning to wonder which upcoming spring will be the "silent" one, and will it happen in my lifetime?

  2. Bees are our good (but distant) friends in nature. Wasps and hornets are their very mean and worthless cousins.

    1. While wasps and hornets are not my favorite insects, they are not completely worthless and do contribute to pollination and other things, but they are definitely harder to live with. It really drives my crazy though, when people can't tell the difference between a bee and a wasp like a yellow jacket! They lump all of these insects into the 'bee' category as if they are all bad!

  3. What a tragic story. Why wasn't a beekeeper called in to remove them I wonder? Great post. We need to keep this conversation going at a grass roots level to educate people on what is happening. So many people just don't pay attention to what is going on around them.

    1. I so agree with you! I guess it was late at night and they just followed their protocol which was to call the fire dept. According to the full article, this is something that almost all cities in the USA are instructed to do. As Mary wrote, something similar happened in Oregon just a few weeks ago.

  4. I think it's a crying shame and I wish these stories were told more prominently. Bees and monarch butterflies urgently need a publicity campaign to help educate and stop unnecessary further loss of their numbers and habitat. I had not heard that corn syrup connection to today's diseased bees. What a kicker.

  5. As the quote at the beginning of your article states the honey bee is responsible for 80% of the pollination of crops that supply 1/3 of our diet. In other words we are extremely dependent on this tiny insect. We moved to this area from the city about 10 years ago, it is a huge agricultural area. The people here know how important the bees are to their crops. I have seen signs along side roads saying do not spray (insecticides) because of the bees.

    Bee populations have also been declining in some parts of the country due to a disease. We can't afford to kill colonies that 'intrude' on our property. It breaks my heart to read stories of bees being killed. But education is the only way to change things.

    By the way, I love to photograph bees. I have had them light on my camera or hand while I was taking photos. For the most part they are very gentle insects.

  6. I so agree with Debra... we are constantly destroying everything and then we wonder why we have so many issues.

  7. Our grandson is absolutely terrified of bees; there is no reason for it. He just is. Barbecues, picnics and any other outdoor even used to be an absolute nightmare for him and anyone unfortunate enough to be anywhere near him! He is 21 now and the problem no longer exists – three just aren’t enough bees to bother him. The decline has happened so fast – it’s frightening. Why do we as a species kill first and ask questions later? It makes me so angry. Thank you for talking about this Diane.

    1. In response to your question, my take is that people do things out of fear because they lack knowledge!

    2. I agree, education has to be the way.

  8. This is so true Diane and something I think about all the time - especially when I also read articles that highlight how quickly the numbers are dwindling. I just hold on to the notion that because there is awareness of the issue there is hope!

  9. Humans can be such shits, can't they? We behave so badly, and we always have to learn the hard way. When we learn at all. Those stories about the bees break my heart. They are extremely beneficial, hardworking and peaceful. They generally do not bother anyone and go about their business. And we benefit from their hard work and disciplined lifestyle. When many of the foods we enjoy decline or disappear as the bees decline, and the prices skyrocket, people will moan and groan about it. And wonder what happened? Such a typical reaction from a species that (in my opinion) needs a swift kick in the ass more often than not.

    These issues bother me so much. I have not seen a single monarch this year, and barely any bees. This is frightening considering that my garden is overloaded with some of their favourite plants. We are going to pay a price for our disrespect and disregard for the world around us, and the critters we share it with. We truly are the enemy.

  10. Like you, I hate it that the knee-jerk reaction is to wipe things out, without any thoughts of the consequences to the ecosystem. Poor bees! And why didn't they just call a bee removal service? They exist and they are humane. Makes me mad.

  11. I think this is so sad! I noticed a big drop in bees in our area, around 5 years ago. You know, I find when I am in the garden, especially around my Russian Sage, the bees fly around me, I am gardening and they don't even bother me! They are buzzing around and I'm weeding. Why do we humans have the need to kill?????
    I feel so sorry for the monarchs! I have hardly seen any in the past 2 years!!! Keep building more houses!!! Pricks! The loss of these beautiful creatures is a tragedy! Unfortunately, more habitat will be lost!
    Big Hugs xoxox

  12. Well that is just disgusting behaviour, didn't they feel in the least bit shameful at killing those bees like that??? We all surely know how dependant on the bees we are.???We had a huge wasps nest in our loft, I'm not a fan, but we left them to run their course and they went and haven't been back. Butterflies are sadly lacking over here, but with the amazing sun we're having just now, I've seen a few more. Nature can heal in fantastic ways, I hope it does there. :)

  13. We keep some of our bees' honey from the hives to feed them in the time between Winter & Spring when they've eaten their reserves, it's just warm enough to be out & about but before anything is blooming. It is a scary, scary thing.....and these articles make me sad. The world has gone wild in the worst possible ways it seems.

  14. Dear Diane - these stories break my heart. A friend and I have discussed many times the decline of honey bees. As for the Monarch butterlies I only occasionally see them. It is so good of you to write about these things because it raises awareness and hopefully another incident like that of the fire dept. will not happen again. Take care friend and have a great day.

  15. Thank you friends for your wonderful responses. ~ Diane

  16. Reading these stories makes me sad. Only yesterday morning I was eating breakfast at a restaurant and was sitting at a window and watching a bee buzzing around the flowers outside. I marveled at how busy this bee was, and how beautiful he was, hard at work. He basically kept busy during my entire meal. Nature is beautiful and all of it serves a purpose on this planet. Once the bees die off, it wont be long until man will suffer the same consequence.


Thank you for leaving a comment! I do read them all and will try to respond if I'm able. Please know that all comments are appreciated, I love to hear your thoughts on my posts! ~ Diane