The New Yorker On Beekeeping

By

Hat tip to JenT for pointing me to an article about bees from the New Yorker.

The following paragraph in the article stands out because it is an observable fact that points towards asking for an explanation:

What really worried him were the bees. Something was up. “Very up,” Patterson said. Since the early nineties, he had noticed that his queens could not lead their colonies for as long as they used to. In the past, Patterson’s queens had lived for five or six years. Now they were being superseded—deposed by the colony—within a year or two. Patterson hadn’t changed his beekeeping techniques much since 1963. “It is a massive problem,” he said. Some of the queens seemed fine. Others had misshapen wings. Patterson’s theory was that something was interfering with the bees’ pheromones in the hive, their Nestduftwärmebindung. But he didn’t know what.

The Patterson referred to is

Roger Patterson, who maintains dave-cushman.net—a Web site built by a fellow-beekeeper who died in 2011—which is regarded as one of the world’s best sources of apiculture information. Patterson started keeping bees sixty summers ago. He served for eight years as a trustee of the B.B.K.A., but he is better known as the president of the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association, a more radical outfit that has long opposed the importing of foreign bees.

And for the meaning of Nestduftwärmebindung

In the forties, a German beekeeper named Johann Thür used the term Nestduftwärmebindung—literally, nest-scent-heat-binding—to convey the heady fug of warmth, humidity, pheromones, and other mysterious signals that is essential to a healthy bees’ nest

Here is the link to the article in the New Yorker that is under the title Is Beekeeping Wrong? and covers the control or non-control of bees, the taking or not taking of honey, the design of hives and their placement – and the causes of bee losses.

It’s a good article that raises important questions. And if you follow the links in the article there is yet more information on the variety of approaches towards ‘what’s good for the bees?’

What gets little attention is pesticides. They are mentioned in the sub-heading and get a very brief one-word mention three times in the article with a list of problems facing bees. Yet we know that pesticides even in trace quantities disrupt the ability of bees to orient themselves.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that the cocktail of twenty-five or more chemicals present in trace amounts found in the system of bees disorients them.

So what does it take for bees to be exposed to pesticides even from fields away from their colonies – to be absorbed and to damage them?

I am reminded of the autopsies on polar bears in Svalbard. Their general health and specifically their reproductive capabilities are diminished and this has been traced to PCBs burnt off televisions and computers by reclamation workers in India trying to get at the rare earth elements inside.

The PCBs travel in the air, in the atmosphere, around the globe, and in this case to the far north of Norway to be absorbed by polar bears.