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Where have the honeybees gone?

By Lacy Hilliard
Apples, alfalfa hay, broccoli, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and blueberries are just a few of the crops that honeybees are responsible for pollinating. The multi-functional honeybee is not only responsible for plant reproduction but is also the only insect that produces food for human consumption. It’s difficult to believe that such an important part of our ecosystem could be disappearing at such an alarming rate, but scientists have estimated that nearly one third of the honeybee colonies in the United States have completely vanished.
The vanishing phenomenon is being referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD and with a potential 15 billion dollar loss in crop value, researchers, farmers, and government agencies are taking this mysterious disappearance seriously. CCD is defined by the absence of adult honeybees in a hive that still contains a live queen. The hive will contain no dead insects and it is often reported to still contain honey and immature bees or ‘brood.’ Johnson County has not been immune to the effects of Colony Collapse Disorder; local farmers and beekeepers have reported the loss of several long established hives.
The absolute cause of Colony Collapse Disorder is unknown; however several speculations have been made. One common theory used to explain the disappearance of honeybees in rural areas is the overuse of pesticides. Neonicotinoid is a neuro-active insecticide and just one of many pesticides being blamed for the disappearance of honeybees. Beekeepers were the first to notice that shortly after cornfields were planted with neonicotinoid coated seed, bees began to disappear. Food crops derived from genetically modified organisms or GMO’s could also be to blame. While researchers agree that the Bt toxin found in the pollen of genetically modified corn crops is unlikely to be the sole culprit of CCD; the toxin has been proven to be harmful to honeybees that have a weakened immune system. The weakened state of the honeybees’ immune systems is due to several factors such as a lack of crop diversity, causing malnutrition and exposure to environmental toxins caused by chemically treated water sources, the use of industrial chemicals, and air pollution. Erratic weather patterns due to global climate change have also been blamed for honeybee loss.
Though limited research has been done to solve the mystery of the disappearing honeybee, helping to promote a honeybee friendly environment is certain to help the problem. Johnson County residents can do their part to promote bee friendly ecosystems by adding a diverse array of native flowering plants to their gardens. By doing so, you are directly promoting the health of local honeybee populations. Another way to help ensure the health of the honeybee population is by limiting, or better yet, eliminating the use of pesticides in your garden. You might also consider the use of heirloom seed as opposed to GMO seed. If you’re adventurous you can also consider starting your own hive.
Honeybees are essential to the health and future of our ecosystem. Unless companies and individuals change their practices, the complete extinction of the entire honeybee population is an unfortunate possibility for future generations to endure.