Human society is extremely
complex and fragile, built upon various pillars. One of them is the honey bee. One out of three meals eaten by humans
is made possible by honey bees. They are so important that if all the
honey bees were to die out, thousands of plants would follow, which could lead to millions of people
starving in the following years. On top of that, honey bees have
a huge economic impact. The dollar value of plants
pollinated by them each year is around $265 billion. Food we take for granted would just
stop existing without them, or there would be a massive
decrease in productivity. Food including apples, onions, pumpkins,
and also plants used for feeding livestock and thus extremely important
for our milk and meat. Einstein is often quoted as having said, “If honey bees die out, humans
will follow a few years later.” Actually, he probably didn’t say that, but there might be some
truth in the statement. It’s unsettling, but honey bees
have started to disappear. Millions of hives have died
in the last few years. Beekeepers all over the world have seen an
annual loss of 30–90% of their colonies. In the US alone, bees
are steadily declining.>From 5 million hives in 1988
to 2.5 million today. Since 2006, a phenomenon called
“colony collapse disorder” has affected honey bees in many countries. And we’re not entirely sure
what’s causing it. All we know is that it’s pretty serious. Over the last few decades bees have seen
an invasion of very dangerous foes. Parasites straight out of a horror movie,
like Acarapis woodi, microscopic mites that infect the tracheae
(that’s the breathing tubes) of bees. Here, they lay their eggs and feed from
the fluids of their victims, weakening them considerably and spending
their whole life inside the bees. Or Varroa destructor, a fitting name
because they can only reproduce in honey bee hives and are one of
the bees’ greatest enemies. The female mite enters a honey bee brood
cell and lays eggs on the bee larva before it’s about to pupate and before the hive bees cover the
cell with a wax capping. The eggs hatch and the young mites and
their mother feed on the developing bee in the safety of the capped cell. The bee is not normally killed
at this stage, just weakened, so it still has enough strength to chew
its way through the wax capping and release itself from the cell. As it does, it releases the mother mite
and her new offspring from the cell, and these are free to
spread across the hive, starting the process over again
in a cycle of about 10 days. Their numbers grow exponentially,
and after a few months, this can lead to the collapse
of the entire bee hive. Once outside of the cell, adult mites
also suck the bodily fludis of bees and weaken them considerably. To make things worse, they also transmit
viruses that harm the bees even more and can lead to birth defects
like useless wings. But there are other threats too,
such as viruses and fungi. Under normal circumstances, these
phenomena should be manageable and are not enough to explain the horrendous amount of
dying going on in bees. Over recent years new insecticides
have been introduced that are deadly to bees. Neonicotinoids, a chemical family
similar to nicotine, was approved in the early 1990s
as an alternative to chemicals like DDT. They attack insects by harming
their nervous systems. Today, they are the most widely
used insecticides in the world. Globally, they saw sales
of €1.5 billion in 2008, representing 24% of the global
market for insecticides. In 2013, neonicotinoids were used in the
US on about 95% of corn and canola crops, and also on the vast majority
of fruit and vegetables, like apples, cherries, peaches, oranges,
berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, potatoes, cereal grains, rice, nuts,
grapes, and many more. Bees come into contact with the toxin while collecting pollen or
via contaminated water, often bringing material into the hive, where it can accumulate and
slowly kill the whole colony. The toxins harm bees in a
variety of horrible ways. In high enough doses, it quickly leads
to convulsions, paralysis, and death. But even in small doses, it can be fatal. It may lead to bees forgetting
how to navigate the world, so bees fly into the wild, get lost, and
die alone, separated from their hives. If this happens often enough, a hive
can lose its ability to sustain itself. We know that neonicotinoids
are harmful to bees and that we urgently need
an alternative to it, but there are billions of dollars
to be made in delaying this. Studies sponsored by the chemical
industry magically appear to prove a much lower toxicity to bees, compared to
those produced by independent scientists. There are even more factors
contributing to the demise of bees, like too much genetic uniformity,
crop monocultures, poor nutrition due to overcrowding,
stress because of human activities, and other pesticides. Each of those factors on its own is
a major problem for bees, but together, they probably account
for colony collapse disorder. With parasites upping their
game in recent decades, the honey bees are now
fighting for survival. It would be a catastrophe
if they lost this fight. This is a conundrum we have to solve
if we want to continue living with a relative abundance
and diversity of food. Humanity is deeply interconnected with
Earth and the other lifeforms on it, even if we pretend that we’re not. We have to take better care
of our surroundings, if not to preserve the beauty of nature,
then at least to ensure our own survival. This video is supported by the
Australian Academy of Science, which promotes and supports
excellence in science. See more at . It was a blast to work with them,
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