What Will Happen to the World If We Lose Bees?

Honeybees do more than make honey, though that in itself is a spectacular feat. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that “out of some 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated.” Like apples? Thank the bees for pollinating apple blossoms. Enjoy a steak? Thank the bees for that one, too, since bees pollinate the alfalfa that cows consume. Chances are, almost every food you eat exists because bees pollinated the plant they came from.

As important as honeybees are, their populations should be a priority for protection. Instead, honeybees are dying out in alarming numbers. RevealNews reports that, since 2006, the percent of bees dying in their hives has jumped from an average 5 or 10 percent a year to 30 percent. About 10 million beehives, worth an estimated $2 billion, have been lost in the last nine years.

Why? And what can be done about it? This two-part series will first, examine some of the reasons why honeybees might be dying, and then offer suggestions that could make a difference.

Why Are the Bees Dying?

Scientists and beekeepers have several theories about why honeybees are dying off.

Not Enough Sperm for the Queens - Bees live in colonies, with one queen and many drones and worker bees. During winter, the queen lays eggs within each cell inside a honeycomb. Fertilized eggs hatch into females that become the worker bees. Their job is to forage for food and take care of the colony. Unfertilized eggs become drones or honey bee males. For any colony to survive, the queen must lay fertilized eggs and those eggs must become worker bees. There is only one queen per colony. She mates once, but it counts when she does, as normally she collects more than 5 million sperm, enough so she can fertilize eggs throughout her life. When a queen can no longer lay eggs, new queens become responsible for mating and laying honey bee eggs. One theory behind the collapse of  honeybee colonies is that the queen is not getting enough sperm from the male bee that she mates with. Another theory is that the queen is dying earlier than usual, which means she has less time to fertilize eggs. Either way, fewer fertilized eggs give rise to fewer worker bees that can help maintain the bee colony. If the queen dies out and is not replaced by a new queen, the hive will die out.

Mites and Viruses – Many bee hives have been found to be infected by a tiny parasite called a varroa mite. Though these mites were once rare, they have gotten a foothold in many beehives and are wreaking havoc on bee colonies. The mites suck fluid from bees’ bodies, making the bees weak and compromising their immune systems. The mites also pass along viruses that can paralyze the bees. It is hard to kill off the mites without harming the bees, too, so this is a particularly vexing problem.

Not Enough Food or Water For The Bees – Like other living animals, bees need food and water to survive. In their case, food comes from the pollen they collect from a variety of fruits, vegetables, and trees. They also need unpolluted water sources. Urban sprawl and industrial development are taking the place of fields that used to provide the plant variety that kept bees thriving. And as more farms are devoting themselves to just one crop, bees are finding that their diets are being whittled down to fewer and fewer nutritious options. In regions suffering from drought, annual flowers aren’t blooming in abundance, and perennials aren’t producing as much nectar.

Pesticides – Neonicotonoids – Pesticides intended to kill other insects could also be killing bees. One type of pesticide, a neonicotonoid, is a systemic pesticide. It’s not sprayed on plants. Instead, seeds are treated with the chemical. As the plant grows, the pesticide infuses its plant tissue. If a bee nibbles on a plant grown from neonic-treated seed, it could be lethal.

There’s a good chance that several of these threats are working together to take their toll on our honeybees. The question is, what can we do about them to keep honeybees alive? We offer some solutions in Part 2 of this series.

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Lis T.
Elisabeth T3 years ago

We redid out front yard replacing the lawn with all drought tolerant plants that attract bees, butterflies and birds. It's fun to watch all the honeybees enjoying these plants.

Priscilla Laybolt

The scientists must wake up and tell the companies using sprays and pesticides that they are killing the bees and must stop or we will be on the endangered list , if not already.

Sara G.
Sara G3 years ago

We all need to start thinking of the health of our planet more than the health of our bank account.

Teresa W.
Teresa W3 years ago

The end of the world is approaching... unless we do something about it. Ban nicotinoids!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Warren Webber
Warren Webber3 years ago

Live long and prosper!

Mac C.
mac C3 years ago

Earlier in the day I was out in my yard weeding. Not a favorite pastime, but a necessary one in order not to use pesticides and to garden organically, so it seems like I'm always weeding. There are tons of flowers blooming now. This week, my rosemary plants are just gorgeous with blooms and I loved that I couldn't go near it to weed since there were lots of bees buzzing in that area. I know my yard is just a tiny help to the bees, but I gladly give this contribution.

There were so many good comments and concerned Care2 members, it was good to read all of them. Debbie S, nice that your husband is a beekeeper. I live near a garden store that raises bees and one of my health food stores are raising bees as well.

Lucy S.
Lucy S3 years ago

It's quite alarming that this problem has not been rectified yet!!!!!
When will the Global community wake up?

Sue R.
Sue R3 years ago

Honey is the only thing that never goes bad. we need bees for survival.

Janet B.
Janet B3 years ago