Are Honeybees Endangered & What Can Be Done?
Honeybees are a species of flying insect known for their role in pollination and, in particular, for producing honey and beeswax. They are a type of social bee and live in colonies or hives consisting of a queen bee, male drones, and female worker bees.
The queen bee is responsible for laying eggs, while the drones’ role is to fertilize the queen’s eggs and the worker bees’ role is to forage for nectar and pollen, as well as to care for the young bees and maintain the hive.
Honeybees prefer a temperate climate with mild winters and warm summers. They are able to survive in a wide range of temperatures and can be found in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. In North America, honeybees can be found in most of the continental United States and southern Canada. They can also survive in tropical regions, but may not be as productive in terms of honey production.
The ideal temperature range for honeybees is between 57 to 93°F (14 to 34°C) during the day and between 44 to 77°F (7 to 25°C) at night. High temperatures and humidity cause stress on bees, which can lead to reduced productivity, disease and in extreme cases death.
Honeybees also require a consistent water source, ideally near the hive and not too far from it, as well as access to a variety of flowering plants for foraging. Ideal conditions are when diverse plants flower at evenly split times of the year to provide enough foraging sources for bees even in the late fall, for example.
Honeybees are important pollinators for many crops and wildflowers, and their decline in recent years has raised concerns about the potential impact on food production and biodiversity of ecosystems.
Are honeybees native to North America?
Honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought to the continent by European settlers in the 17th century. The honeybee species that is most commonly kept by beekeepers is the Western honeybee (Apis mellifera), which is believed to have originated in Africa or Asia and then spread throughout Europe and Asia.
The honeybee was brought to the Americas by European colonists who used them for honey production and crop pollination . There are also other honeybee species, such as the Eastern honeybee (Apis cerana), which is native to Asia.
Further reading: Fun Facts About Honeybees
Are honeybees considered livestock?
Honeybees are considered livestock, in the sense that they are domesticated animals that are kept by humans for a specific purpose, which in this case is mainly honey production and pollination of crops. These hard working insects are also considered essential pollinators for many crops and wildflowers, as well as for maintaining biodiversity of ecosystems.
They pollinate a wide range of crops, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Many of the foods that we eat daily are dependent on pollination from honeybees and other pollinators.
In fact, it is estimated that one-third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, and honeybees are responsible for pollinating a large proportion of the crops that feed the world.
Some of the most common food crops that are pollinated by honeybees include:
- Fruits: Apples, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, melons, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, raspberries, and strawberries
- Vegetables: Some of the vegetables that rely on honeybee pollination include alfalfa, almonds, avocados, cucumbers, pumpkins, and sunflowers
- Nuts: Almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans
- Seeds: Canola, cotton, and flax seeds
Bees are also important for honey production, which is a valuable source of food and income for many people around the world.
You should know that honeybees are not the only pollinators out there. Many other insects and animals such as bumblebees, butterflies, moths, beetles, hummingbirds, and bats play a role in pollinating different plants and trees. The reason why honeybees are considered to be one of the most important pollinators in the world is due to their ability to travel long distances and their efficiency in pollinating large areas of edible and valuable crops.
In addition to their role in food production, they also play a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity. They pollinate wildflowers and other plants that provide habitat and food for other wildlife. The decline of their populations has been a cause for concern in recent years, as it could have significant impacts on food production and the health and natural resistance of ecosystems.
Why are honeybees endangered?
Honeybees are facing a number of threats that have led to declines in their populations in recent years.
Some of the main factors contributing to honeybee endangerment belong:
Pesticides: Exposure to certain pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, has been linked to declines in honeybee health and survival. These pesticides can weaken bees’ immune systems and negatively affect reproduction success. Neonicotinoids and other pesticides make bees more susceptible to disease and parasites. Neurotoxic pesticides disable bees from recognizing their nests or navigating during their foraging trips.
Habitat loss: The destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats, as well as the conversion of land for agriculture and urban development, has reduced the availability of food and nesting sites for honeybees.
Climate change: Changing temperatures and weather patterns can disrupt the timing of plant blooms, making it more difficult for bees to find food. Additionally, weather becomes less predictable, with temperatures changing too rapidly, which means that sudden freezing temperatures may surprise them even at the peak of the spring blossoms.
Disease and parasites: Honeybees are susceptible to a number of diseases and parasites, such as the varroa mite and the Israeli Acute Paralysis virus, which can weaken and kill bees.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD): This phenomenon, first identified in 2006, is characterized by the sudden disappearance of most of the adult bees in a colony, leaving behind a queen and a small number of young bees. The cause of CCD is still not completely understood, but it is thought to be related to a combination of factors such as pesticides, disease and stress.
Transport: Honeybees are frequently transported for pollination services to different regions, which can expose them to new diseases and parasites, and can also weaken their immune system.
Poor nutrition: Poor nutrition negatively affects the health and survival of honeybees. A lack of diverse and readily available food sources lead to malnourishment, which makes bees even more susceptible to disease and makes it difficult for them to perform vital tasks such as foraging and pollination. As natural habitats are destroyed or altered, bees have a harder time finding diverse and abundant food sources.
Pesticides once again affect bees by killing off the plants and insects that bees rely on for food, or make them toxic for bees to consume. Large-scale agriculture often involves planting a single crop over a wide area, which can limit the variety of food sources available to bees.
Human-made pollution: Pollution damages the environment and makes it more difficult for bees to find food, or for diverse flowering plants to grow healthy and abundant.
The problems on this list do not have an easy fix. They are serious and complex with possibly worsening consequences that cannot be predicted. The reduction of honeybee populations to these causes is concerning as it could have significant impacts on food production and biodiversity. Efforts are made to protect honeybees, and more of public involvement is needed as well.
Further reading: Why Are Honeybees Disappearing?
When did honeybees become endangered?
The term “endangered” is typically used to describe wild species that are at risk of extinction. While honeybees are not considered an endangered species, their populations have been declining in recent years due to a dangerous combination of factors that unfortunately sustain our modern lifestyles and industrial way of producing food. One of the dangerous phenomena that has appeared and affected bee populations is a Colony Collapse Disorder.
The phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) first identified in 2006, is characterized by the sudden disappearance of most of the adult bees in a colony, leaving behind a queen and a small number of young bees. The cause of CCD is still not completely understood, but it is thought to be related to a combination of negative impacts of pesticides, disease and stress.
Since the first reports of CCD, honeybee populations have continued to decline. The number of managed honeybee colonies in the US dropped from around 5 million in the 1940s to around 2.5 million today . According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of honeybee colonies in the US has dropped by about 40% between April 2018 and April 2019 .
In Europe, the number of managed honeybee colonies has dropped by about 50% over the last 50 years. Honeybee populations have been reported in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the average annual loss of honeybee colonies in the EU was around 15% during the period of 2010 to 2018 .
In Canada, honeybee populations have also been declining, with the number of honeybee colonies dropping from around 600,000 in the 1980s to around 400,000 today.
Honeybee populations are not disappearing completely, but they are at a risk of rather experiencing a significant decline due to many combined factors.
How likely will honeybees go extinct?
Honeybees are not considered to be at risk of extinction yet. However, their populations have suffered a drop in numbers in recent years and things need to change to assure that we do not reach the threshold from where they wouldn’t be able to recover.
Efforts are being made to protect honeybees. This involves measures such as reducing the use of harmful pesticides, promoting sustainable beekeeping practices, and preserving wild habitats. Research is also being conducted to better understand the factors that are contributing to the declines in honeybee populations and to develop strategies to mitigate these impacts.
It is unlikely that honeybees will go extinct globally, but the decline in their population is a major concern for individual bee keepers in certain areas. It is crucial that efforts are needed to ensure their survival and the continuity of their ecological role in pollination and honey production.
Are honeybees protected now?
Honeybees are not officially protected as an endangered species, but there are efforts in place to protect their populations.
In the United States, the Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit organization, works to protect honeybees and other pollinators through education, conservation, and research programs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also regulates the use of pesticides that can harm honeybees. EPA works with other federal agencies and state governments to protect pollinators.
In Europe, the European Union has put in place regulations to restrict the use of certain pesticides that are harmful to bees. In addition, the EU has also adopted a “Strategic plan for the protection and conservation of bees” which includes measures to promote sustainable beekeeping, research and monitoring, and the conservation and restoration of habitats for bees.
At the international level, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has included pollinators, including honeybees, in its Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which aims to protect and conserve biodiversity worldwide.
In addition, many organizations and individuals work on local and regional level to protect honeybees and their habitats. The initiatives involve promoting urban beekeeping, planting pollinator-friendly gardens and protecting wild habitats where possible.
What can you do to help bees at an individual level?
Everyone can take a number of steps to protect honeybees and other pollinators at a personal level. Your impact matters and can make a difference at local level, additionally, you may also inspire others through your actions.
Some great ways to help honeybees are:
- Planting a pollinator-friendly garden: Planting a variety of flowers, shrubs, and trees that bloom at different times of the year can provide a consistent source of food for honeybees and other pollinators.
- Avoiding the use of pesticides: Pesticides harm honeybees and other pollinators. If pesticides must be used, choose ones that have the least toxic impact on pollinators and apply them at night when bees are not active.
- Providing a water source: Honeybees and other pollinators need water to survive. Providing a shallow dish of water with pebbles or rocks for bees to land on can help them stay hydrated.
- Supporting sustainable beekeeping: Supporting local beekeepers who use sustainable practices can help ensure the health and survival of honeybee colonies.
- Educate others: Spread awareness of the importance of honeybees and other pollinators and the threats they face, and encourage others to take action to protect them.
- Support conservation organizations: Support conservation organizations and initiatives that work to protect honeybees and other pollinators.
- Eat organic food & use organic products in your household: Choose organic fruits, vegetables, and other products that are grown without the use of pesticides that can harm bees.
- Create a bee-friendly environment in your community: Encourage your community to create bee-friendly spaces by planting wildflowers and reducing the use of pesticides in public areas.
By taking these steps, you can make a positive impact on honeybee populations and support the conservation of pollinators, which play a vital role in maintaining biodiversity and food production.