Our Honey Bee Crisis in 2019
Whether you’re afraid of bees or not, they are responsible for 1 of every 3 bites of food we eat. They pollinate our fruits and veggies like apples, almonds, broccoli, berries, tomatoes and all citrus crops. Bees are some of the hardest workers that Mother Nature has ever created. With such a large role on this earth for our health, bees are dying off at alarming rates. Since the 1990’s, we have seen as much as an 87% decline in bee population! Things have improved in the past few years but we are not in the clear just yet. There is some contradictory information published on the internet about the fallacy of this decline but the vast majority believe we are having a beepocalypse. It's estimated that free bee labor in the United States, if we were to pay them, is $11-$15 billion annually! Imagine the cost of an apple if we had to rely on humans (well, most likely drones) to pollinate, if bees went extinct? Human life would not end, but it would be directly impacted!
To understand the bee, we need an understanding of their life cycle, pre and post birth. They develop in 4 distinct stages - the Egg Stage, Larva Stage, Pupa Stage and finally, to the Adult Stage, which is about 21 days for worker bees. Each egg has the appearance of a poppy seed, but has a small opening for fertilization. Hatching usually occurs about 3 days after the Queen drops an egg into the worker bee cleaned and prepared honeycomb cell. If the cell is not cleaned to the Queen bees liking, she will move on to the next cell instead. Cell sizes are different, with the standard size cell for the worker bees (all female) and the wider cell for drone bees (all male). It's the job of the female worker bees to determine the correct ratio of workers to drones, which brings about the size and shape of the honeycomb itself.
Honey Bees have an average lifespan of only 40-45 days (about 6 weeks)! They are at work from the day they hatch, with a built in instinct for loyalty to the Queen and the hive. See the illustration below to see how quickly bees grow, become productive and work until the day that they die.
Honeycombs are so efficient in design. If bees made the cells in circles, there would be spaces between the cells. If the cells were square or triangle, there would be no open spaces but the growing bees inside the cells would be cramped and could result in malformation of the bee. The hexagons of the comb the bee builds are the only shape, even deemed by mathematicians, to be the most efficient construction for honeycomb cells. It is the only shape that will hold the greatest amount of honey while using the least amount of wax. They are uniform with straight edges that fit together without gaps so no vital space is wasted as they need every cell for storing honey, as well as the young brood. Honey is bee food which is eaten during winter months, or when no pollen sources are available on which to feed. A hive can contain 40,000 bees, although some hold almost double! As they fly around from flower to flower collecting nectar and water, the static cling of the hairs on their furry bodies attract pollen. The pollen flies off them as they fly over or touch down on the next flower, pollinating new life into what we know as our fruits and vegetables. They don't even realize that they are supporting a healthy human diet!
Perhaps the most detrimental issue we face globally in respect to bees are Pesticides. A new class of pesticides were introduced in the 1980's, called Neonicotinoids (neonics, for short). They have many names and are found in most agricultural and garden products. Specifically, they are Acetamiprid, Clothianidin, Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid, Thiocloprid, and Thiamethoxam. Neonics are nicotine derived chemicals that are usually coated or sprayed onto the seeds of new crops before they are planted. The chemicals grow into the plants roots, stems, leaves and flowers from the soil and groundwater. When unsuspecting bees feed on those flowers - even flowers in the vicinity of the those crops due to groundwater run-off, they are exposed to the neonics. The chemicals usually do not affect the bee immediately, but over the course of time. The pesticide is affecting the bees ability to reproduce, compromises their immune systems, sends their muscles into a devastating paralysis and death. In one European study, honey samples were tested for neonics and found that they were detected in 50% of the honey samples collected! While the European Union has banned the use of most neonics, the United States has not. However, Maryland is the first state to ban the use of neonics, so we need to get the momentum going! (Thanks Maryland!) One problem is that the E.U. and the U.S have different standards of measuring neonics. The E.U. has tighter regulations of toxicity levels while the U.S. standards are more relaxed, 500 to 1000 times less sensitive. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a complete risk assessment study on Neonicotinoids which will be ready in Spring 2019. Let's hope that the rest of the United States, and other countries, can follow Maryland's lead with the neonics ban!
Some unethical practices are still being used in commercial bee farms to increase profit margins. Clipping the Queen's wings is commonplace, so she can not leave the hive to start a new colony elsewhere. Often times, when honey is removed from the hives, it is often replaced with a sugar substitute. The bees are affected as this honey alternative lacks the nutrition for the brood, which affects the life of the bee. Also, selective breeding with native or imported bees may help with productivity but can often introduce disease to the hive.
There is also CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder. This is a problem affecting honeybee colonies which is characterized by sudden colony death and a lack of healthy bees inside the hive. The direct cause is still uncertain, but there are many possibilities. Many agree it's the longer term effects of the neonics such as ability to navigate when they leave the hive to find honey, and never return. There is usually evidence that there is still honey and pollen left in the hive, as is the brood - and sometimes the Queen or survivor bees too! In dead colonies, the honey left behind is snatched up by neighboring colonies or by the invasion of certain pests like moths and beetles. From 2006 to 2011, the U.S. beekeepers averaged about a 1/3 loss of colonies due to CCD.
There is also the issue of Mites! The Varroa Destructor mite and the Tracheal mite are causing serious problems. Varroa mites are external parasites that suck on the fat body of bees, causing genetic defects, viruses or fungi. A bee colony with a high mite infestation can cause death to an entire hive. Tracheal mites are internal that feed on blood from the tracheas, causing reduced capacity to breathe and reduces the amount of air flow to the wing muscles. This leads to weakened bees and when infestation is combined with other disease or lack of pollen or nectar, the entire colony can die.
So is beeswax and honey Vegan? No, it is an animal product and the beeswax is a byproduct that they create out of their glands to hold their young, to hold honey and to feed on during the winter months. Bees don't produce honey for humans. Bees are accidentally harmed in the honey gathering process. Honey and beeswax would be considered Vegetarian, as it is not animal flesh.
Things that YOU can do to help our bees in distress!
- Buy organic fruits and vegetables. No pesticides are used with organic growing and even the soil must be "clean".
- Plant an organic garden with lots of wildflowers, or a flower box if you don't have the space.
- Add a native flowering tree or plants to your yard. Bees love flowering herbs like thyme, sage and lavender.
- Leave a portion of your lawn unmowed in summer and unraked in fall. Bees need a safe place to build their nests. Don't pull all the spring dandelions to help bees eat to create the new honeycombs.
- For the extremely dedicated humans, learn and/or start your own backyard hive (with training!)
We have Lip Therapy available at coXistence soaps but we do not use beeswax or honey in any of our products. We choose to use Candelilla wax (Vegan Wax) which is derived from a shrub-like plant that grows in the arid regions of the south west U.S. and northern Mexico. The leaves and stems are boiled and a waxy resin floats to the top, which is is collected. Nearly 900 tons of candelilla are produced annually! It was used as an alternative in candle making and thus got its name, candelilla, which means little candle. It has a higher melting point than beeswax but can be more brittle, so a higher content of mango and kokum butters and jojoba oil are added for the highly emolliency and maximum hydration for lips. Candelilla wax is easily absorbed by the skin, rich in nutrients, won't block pores, very lip conditioning and softening while giving you a protective barrier to the elements of nature!
Now you know what it means "to be as busy as a bee"! :) Do you have any interesting bee stories? They are very social creatures who don't ask for much. Are we killing them off in the name of corporate greed? How far will it go, how do we stop it and where do we go from here? Perhaps the U.S. may follow the Maryland ban, or the strict E.U. regulations after the Spring 2019 EPA Study? Leave your comments below - what are your thoughts? We would love to hear them!