Pollination Crisis: Why Are Our Bees Disappearing?

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Last week I received a frantic email from a teacher in Puducherry. The school principal had decided to remove all the beehives on the trees and cut down all the lower branches so that they would not get any more. The real culprits were two children who had thrown stones at the beehive and had been bitten. I spoke to the principal and explained that she should give a lecture to the school on the importance of beehives and ask children to stay away from them.

There are so few bees left in India that we are on the brink of a major pollination crisis. Our lives, as we know them, are about to change – and yet the most important beings on the planet, bees, are not protected by law. Bees pollinate one sixth of the flowering plants all over the world, which feed insects and birds, and 400 different kinds of fruit/ food plants. Basically, one third of everything you eat. All of which will become extinct within five years if the bees disappear. And don’t let’s have any smart answers about “people can eat meat”, because the animals grown for meat also eat only plants so you will not have meat either.

There are 25,000 different species of bees in just 9 families, of which the Apidae family, with the honeybee, the bumble bee and the carpenter bee, is the most common. All bees have stiff hair and pockets on their legs, allowing them to collect more pollen and be more efficient transporters of it between plants.

What is pollination?

It is the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower, the anther, to the stigma, which is the female part of the flower. When this happens, a plant’s seed, nut, or fruit is formed.

Bees focus their energies on one species of plant at a time. By visiting the same flowers of a particular species in one outing, much higher quality pollination occurs – rather than spreading many different pollens to different plants, all plants of one species get an even distribution of vital pollen from others of its same species.

The bees are disappearing for one major reason: the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. I have repeatedly asked the government to ban these, but they refuse because they need these terrible pesticides for the GM Cotton crops which Monsanto forced on India by promising that these cotton crops would not need any pesticides at all. This turned out to be a lie – in fact, GM cotton needs many more vicious pesticides which are now killing off pollinators and people.

The other reason is people getting rid of beehives, and trees being cut. This is where you need to step in.

Honeybees live in groups and they work extremely hard to make their hive. The hive contains a queen bee who produces all the baby bees, thousands of workers who get all the pollen that makes the honey that feeds the babies.

For the most part bees are totally harmless. If you ignore them they will ignore you, as they are far too busy with their own lives. After all, making one spoonful of honey

requires thousands of round trips. If you have a hive in your vicinity you should be happy, because it means that everything around will get greener and there will be far more things to eat. Just letting the hive be means that you are doing your bit for nature. In fact, if you have a hive in the vicinity, try and plant flowers or flowering trees so that they get more to eat.

But if you throw stones at them, or shake the tree for no reason, then the bees get very agitated and may attack. They do this in desperation and fear to defend their babies and home. They may sting a group of people. But remember, the bee stinging is an act of suicide because the stinger is part of her abdomen and when she stings the stinger breaks away and she dies. So you have to do a provocation to get them to bite.

If you absolutely have to remove the hive – which means destroying all the pollination of every flowering plant around 10 kilometres – then don’t burn it or smoke it, because thousands of larvae and the queen bee are destroyed. It will take several years for the workers to find a queen and to regroup – if they live. Don’t spray it with a soap and water mixture. People spray all the plant around with vinegar so that the bees die while collecting pollen, but this is a totally rabid and anti- environmental thing to do as you lose all the plants, and these may not even be the ones the bees are feeding from. Do not use insecticides.

The best way would be to encourage them to shift. This may take months, but at least you will not be murdering important beings – far more important than even you.

You should make every effort to relocate honey bees instead of exterminating them.

Here are some suggestions. Try them all.

a) Hang some mothballs inside of an old nylon or thin sock close to the bee nest.

b) Bees will often relocate to be closer to their food source and are attracted to strong, sweet smells. Cut soft, ripe pears or mangoes into chunks and place them into an open sandwich bag. Place this 15-20 feet away from the hive. After a few days, move the bait a few feet further away from the hive. Continue this process until the bees stop visiting the original location and have set up a new hive closer to the bag.

c) While bees are attracted to sweet smells, they are equally repulsed by pungent smells. One of the simplest methods to repel bees is to liberally sprinkle garlic powder in places where the bees congregate. They will start avoiding the area and slowly relocate.

d) Citronella candles will not harm bees and they will avoid any areas containing the smell. This helps protect some areas if you have a hive in your yard, and may prove partially effective in forcing a colony to relocate if the candles are being burned close to the hive.

e) Scatter a handful of cucumber peels as another natural form of repellent. The peels give off a scent that bees, and many other insects, find repulsive.

If you have access to, and are expert in, beekeeping and beekeeping equipment, take the big hive clump into a cardboard box (queen included) and then transfer the bees into a hive super-box with some frames. This can be put a distance away in a wooded area and slowly the bees will start to relocate themselves.

 

 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Maneka Gandhi is an Indian MP, animal rights activist, environmentalist and former model. Maneka Gandhi writes weekly column Heads & Tails for the Kashmir Observer. To join her animal rights movement contact gandhim@nic.in

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