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“Bumblebees are important because they pollinate things we really like to eat.” -Dave Goulson [Photo Credit: Lisa Bell]

A Sting in the Tale – The Wonder of Bumblebees

By Jules Marie, Official JLF@Boulder Blogger

Bee charmer Dave Goulson is zealous about educating everyone about the decline of bees, particularly bumblebees. “Bees are in trouble because of what we’ve done to them and we all need to do something to help ensure their survival. We need to look after all life on Earth,” he says.

Goulson founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust—a charity devoted to reversing bumblebee declines—and authored A Sting in the Tale and A Buzz in the Meadow. Bumblebees prefer cool climates and places where it’s too cold for other insects to fly. They produce heat internally and regulate their own body temperature enabling them to hibernate through winter and re-emerge in the spring in search of food.

Why the Decline in Food?

The lack of food for bumblebees and all pollinators has declined to historically low levels. More than 10,000 flowers are needed daily to sustain the life of a bumblebee, provide food to fuel their activity and feed their offspring.

Goulson cites four primary reasons for the decline of wildflowers.

  • Agricultural intensification: Wild grasslands, fields and meadows were once populated with infinite wildflowers and, according to Goulson, Britain once had 7 million acres of flowers but has lost 98% due to development or huge monocultures causing all forms of wildlife to lose their habitat, even nesting bumblebees.
  • Climate Change: Bees like cold weather and global temperatures are changing to such a degree that it’s become too warm for some bee species to continue living.
  • Disease: Colony-collapse-disorder (CCD) has been the primary reason for a loss of hives. This happens when an entire hive is infected, leaving plenty of food but no one to care for the queen. It’s unknown what causes CCD but several causes have been bandied about: mite infections, malnutrition, pathogens and loss of habitat. There is also widespread speculation that neonicotinoids cause CCD.
  • Pesticides: Goulson says this is the most controversial aspect of what bees face. In one study he found that 22 different chemicals were used on a canola seed field in Sussex, England in one growing season and that this practice was typical among the majority of farmers.

The most controversial chemicals are Neonicotinoids. They’re neurotoxins and are enormously popular. Most crops are treated with neonicotinoids, which are systemic in the seed. If the plant flowers, the neurotoxin goes into the nectar and pollen.

“1 tsp of Neonicotinoids is enough to kill 140 million honeybees.

Neonicotinoids are more toxic to bees than DDT.”-Dave Goulson

 Goulson reports the fact that in Southwest China, people are hand-pollinating apples and pears as bees are extinct in this part of the world. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen in the rest of the world.

What Can Be Done about the Decline of Bees?

  • Restore or create a meadow full of flowers and turn it into a bumblebee nature preserve.
  • Engage children from an early age.
  • Be a citizen scientist and get involved identifying bumbles in your neighborhood.
  • Promote wildlife-friendly gardening and avoid chemicals.
  • Sow wildflowers in your neighborhoods and open fields.

Dave Goulson asks us to think very carefully about this question: Would you be comfortable putting 22 different pesticides on your garden and feeding those foods to your children?

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