The European honeybee has continued to suffer a very steep decline around the world (particularly in the USA as well as the UK).
The main causes for the decline of the European honeybee in the UK are:
1) Colony Collapse Disorder
2) Varroa Mite
3) European Foul Brood
4) American Foul Brood (also known to strike be in North America)
5) Farmers spraying insecticides (chemicals) on their crops
(The honey bee has suffered horrific declines in recent years around the world, the bees seem to have been struck down by the mysterious disease ‘colony collaspe disorder’. Some scientists even think that mobile phones have contributed to this decline as the electrical signals could interfer with the bee’s navigation system).
1) Colony collapse disorder is an ‘unknown’ disease, which means bees fail to store enough food for the winter or many worker bees fail to return to the hive which causes enormous problems because without the large number of worker bees in the hive means that the few bees in the hive are unable to feed the rest of the hive members and as a result they starve.
2) The varroa mite is a parasitic invertebrate that is native to Asia and the Middle East. The European honeybee originated from India and lived along side their Asian cousins (the Asiatic honeybee). However, 8500 years ago the European honeybee migrated to Europe due to climate change, availability of food and the predators that lived with them. The European honeybee has not only survived but thrived in Europe for thousands of years, until recently. In the 1950s beekeepers from Asia introduced the Asiatic honeybee (Apis Cerana) into Europe and Britain however they could survive the winters and were out-competed by the European cousins.
Unfortunately the varroa mite started to infest European hives which has caused substantial problems as the bees have no immunity to them. The varroa mite mainly targets young bees, but will sometimes feed from adult bees’ particularly in autumn and winter. When the varroa mite feeds on a host (the honeybee) it ‘sucks’ out body fluids and injects a deadly virus into the bee meaning that it quickly dies within days of being infected.
3) European and American foul brood are very similar; however American foul brood is causing serious problems. European and American foul brood is caused by a fungus that grows and feeds on the bee larvae, causing them to die and rot while still developing.
4) Spraying insecticides (chemicals) on agricultural crops might be good at keeping pests away from the crops, but what good is it when it kills off most if not all the useful pollinating insects that is helping us to make money. An interesting fact is that the services provided by pollinating insects (including honeybees) is valued at over £600 million of trade each year in the UK alone.
Even if the insecticide is weak, it will build up inside the body of the honeybee, which the concentration reaches so high that the bee dies as the insecticide poisons its blood.
Another weakness in the European honeybee is that Africanised honeybees do something that is rarely seen in the insect world, they trick the bees guarding the hive into thinking they are part of the hive, once inside they will kill the queen exchange it with their queen (this only happens in the USA).
There is yet another very serious threat to the European honeybee is the introduction of the Asian hornet (Vespa Velutina). Although the European honeybee can repel the attack of European hornets they are quite unable to defend the hive from an invasion of Asian hornets. (The Asian hornet does not currently inhabit the British Isles, however there are fears that the hornet will simply fly over the English Channel from France). The Asian hornet is a major predator of pollinating insects and it’s favourite food is the honeybee. If this hornet arrives to the UK it is very likely that it will cause the numbers of pollinating insects to drop dramatically over a short period of time which will affect food production adversely.
(The Asian hornet orginates from Southern and Southeast Asia. It was accidently introduced into Europe by the importing of flower pots now it has adapted swiftly to the European climate and are spreading rapidly. They now inhabit much of France, Western Germany and parts of Northern Spain, where they wreck havoc by attacking the hives of honey bees. They is major concern that this species will be able to fly across the English Channel as they can now be found in the Northern coasts of France. This hornet could also arrive by importing plants and building materials).
The loss of honeybees is so vitally important because we heavily rely on bees to pollinate over 60% of our own food. We are very lucky that wildlife around the world (including honeybees) do many useful jobs for free because if we did everything artificially that wildlife does free we would not have a single penny to spend on anything else. Another interesting fact is that food (fruits and vegetables) that are pollinated by insects such as bees and butterflies are worth a staggering £50 billion of trade each and every single year, there is no way we can afford to lose this kind of trade.
Also if bees fail to pollinate fruit, vegetables and berries because of their dwindling numbers then many animal species will starve themselves into extinction. Many of Britain’s much loved birds are in a very serious decline partly due to limited food sources, these birds include: Siskins, bullfinches, song thrush and willow warblers are just a few of the species suffering from food shortages.
We can prevent the further decline of the honeybee in the following ways:
1) Farmers to reduced spraying their crops using insecticides (farm organically).
2) For beekeepers to breed hardy and disease resistant strains of the European honey bee.
3) For more people to start beekeeping.
Over recent years it seems that the decline of the honey bee along with other species of pollinating insects such as bumble bees and butterflies will continue. However honey bee numbers have recovered slightly. A third interesting fact is that there used to be 25 species of bumble bee in the UK, now 23 species remain, most of which are rare. Only 7 species out of the 23 are widespread. There has been a reintroduction of the short-haired bumble bee which was last seen in Britain in the 1980s, since the reintroduction it seems to be surviving well.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and please leave comments below if you wish.