Bees are endlessly fascinating creatures.
They have been revered since the earliest civilizations of mankind. Throughout history they have provided people with honey, beeswax and other products. Today we rely on them for our very existence because without them one third of our food crops, namely fruit, vegetable and seed crops would not be pollinated, nor would the crops that feed our agricultural animals.
Honeybees have a complex social system within which there exists a rigid caste system composed of a queen bee, worker bees and drones. Members of a hive may number anywhere from several hundred to over 80,000 bees yet they all work together to fulfill the needs of the hive.
One way in which they communicate with each other is through scent. Another is through dance language. One ‘waggle dance’ explains to other members of the hive the direction to go to find a source of nectar and how far away it is.
An entire swarm is able to act in perfect concert to complete tasks as if they were one organism.
The practice of beekeeping is proliferating. Many people are learning how to keep bees in their backyard. Even the statehouse lawn in Columbus recently acquired a hive of bees.
Why the sudden interest in beekeeping? It may be because of people’s concern for the bees’ welfare. Honeybees have been dying in record numbers for reasons that are not immediately clear, even to entomologists. It is estimated that the number of honeybee colonies decreased by more than 50% from the 1940s to the 1990s. But it was in 2005 that beekeepers really became alarmed by the number of bees that were dying or disappearing and the term 'Colony Collapse Disorder' was coined. By the fall of 2007 it is estimated that one quarter of the bee population had fallen victim to CCD. The decline has continued to the present with no definitive answer.
There are many possible reasons for the decline: parasitic mites, human activity, pesticides, fungi, bacteria, viruses, insects, birds, bad weather, genetic changes or a combination of several things. Scientists and activists, commercial and home beekeepers are all valiantly trying to determine the cause. Let’s hope they are successful soon so that the trend is reversed and these fascinating creatures are able to thrive.