Is the Bee-Pocalypse Real?

Should we be worried that a drop-off in the bee population will bring an abrupt end to humanity as we know it? We take a look at the truths and falsities surrounding the alarming phenomenon known as the bee-pocalypse.

CC image courtesy of Hamish Irvine on Flickr

Back in 2006, it was widely reported that there was a jarring drop in the bee population. Dubbed “colony collapse disorder” and colloquially referred to as the “bee-pocalypse” (or bee-mageddon, if you prefer) this news incited widespread fear because of the adverse effect that the decrease in bee population would have on our food supply. This sparked concern that humanity would be no more if this bee crisis was not rectified. Let’s try to sort out the fact and fiction surrounding this phenomena to evaluate the gravity of the ‘bee-pocalypse’.

 

True or false: Is the bee population really dropping at an alarming rate?

I’m afraid the answer to this question is far more complex than a mere matter of true-or-false.

When it was announced in 2008 that the number of functional hives in the United States was nearly half of what it was in 1980, jaws dropped and everyone prepared to face the end of days in the wake of this bee-pocalypse. And yet, the bee population has been on a steady climb since its late-aughts slump. In fact, 2017 saw a 3% increase in North American bee population. This was partly remedied by the good ol’ Obama administration’s decision to incite a national strategy to fix the honeybee situation, which led to the restoration of bee habitats as well as the provision of diverse flower types to encourage pollination. Beekeepers have also simply added more bees to their colonies, which has shown to improve numbers as well. So while the threat of depopulation continues to loom in the distance, so long as these measures are maintained, we should see a steady increase in bee population. Bee-pocalypse averted…kinda.

 

CC image courtesy of Chirs Cox on Flickr

True or false: Are cell phones to blame for colony collapse disorder?

The proliferation of cell phone use has undoubtedly had quite a drastic effect on the social aspects of human life, but has it also incited the colony collapse disorder that threatens our environment? Certain theories have suggested that the signals from our cellular devices are disorienting the bees, leading to a stifling of the pollination process. I’m going to say that this theory is most likely false, or at least not significantly culpable for the bee-pocalypse. After all, the experiments leading to the conclusion drawn between cell phone use and bee behavior was conducted in highly contrived scenarios, placing cell phone signals within direct vicinity of beehives for an uninterrupted period of three months. In actuality, the interaction between bees and cell phone signals would never be so sustained and intense, unless a beekeeper feels the need to livestream their daily practice. There is plenty of evidence suggesting that bees react to magnetic fields, but these theories have not concretized enough to draw a convincing link between cell phone use and colony collapse disorder.

 

CC image courtesy of Mark Teasdale on Flickr

 True or false: Can pollinating drones solve the problems posed by colony collapse disorder?

One of the solutions suggested to rectify the bee problem seems like it was taken straight from an episode of Black Mirror (no, seriously). Early this year, researchers modified a drone (the robot kind, not the male bee kind) so to function as a pollinating tool, ultimately meant to take the place of bees in the case of extinction, or better yet, to work alongside the bees. Yet there are a number of fairly obvious reasons for which these drones are an implausible alternative. First of all, they would have to be individually remote-controlled. Replacing a colony of bees with a colony of remote control-wielding humans sounds pretty inconvenient and expensive (I mean, actual bees do the pollinating work as a labor of love after all). Secondly, as Newsweek pointed out, these fake bees would almost certainly scare off or confuse actual bees, which sounds pretty counterproductive if you ask me. So I think we can confidently say that this theory is false.

As you can tell, colony collapse disorder, or ‘bee-pocalypse’, is a complex phenomenon whose workings we would better comprehend if only we had the shrinking abilities depicted in that beehive episode of The Magic Schoolbus. Until then, we can only hope for the continued increase in bee population, and thank our tiny furry striped friends for working so hard to keep us all alive.