What if honeybees became extinct?
Hands up if this has happened to you … you were pottering around in your garden, picking some fresh rosemary for tonight’s dinner, when BAM, a bee flew into your face leaving you hysterically waving your hands around your face like a madman.
Your kids have similar stories. They were innocently playing tag in the back yard when suddenly a child pulled up short mid-sprint with a pained look on his face and tears in his eyes. Almost instantly his foot swelled; not long after he was confronted with an incessant itch.
We can all agree that bees don’t have the best of reputations. In fact, more often than not they’re actually perceived as pests.
But did you know, if bees just upped and left one day, the future of all mankind would be in jeopardy?
That’s right – those fuzzy black and white winged creatures are essential for the production of almost all the world’s food. Let’s put it another way: bees pollinate about 70% of the crop species that feed 90% of the world’s population. In financial terms, bees help produce more than $30 billion a year in crops.
If you think that sounds ominous … Well, that’s only the beginning. Cereal crops like wheat and corn are pollinated by the wind. Virtually every type of fruit and vege is pollinated by honeybees. If bees died out, so too would millions of plants. Our supermarket shelves would look mighty bare.
If you can’t read between the lines, we’ll play it straight. Less food produced equals higher food prices and less food variety. Higher food prices equals higher levels of poverty and starvation; less food variety equals less fresh produce and more chemically-enhanced food. Put simply, the future of mankind may well hang in the balance if the humble honeybee that annoys so many of us dies out.
The demise of the honeybee isn’t just a New Zealand Beekeeping issue. Over the last 10 years in the US, honeybees have died out so quickly that in some states the loss has been up to 70% of all hives.
So what’s killing off the bee? Pesticides, disease, parasites and changing weather patterns all have a role to play. All bee varieties are increasingly under threat by the varroa mite which arrived in New Zealand in 2000. The varroa mite kills its prey by sucking all the blood out of the bee. Since its arrival virtually all wild New Zealand bees have been decimated; in fact, New Zealand honey and other bee products – worth roughly $5 billion a year to the New Zealand economy – are 100% produced by private hives, not wild bees. The problem is becoming more widespread as the varroa mite becomes stronger and more resistant to pesticides.
And if that’s not bad enough, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) has wiped out bees and reduced food crops all around the world. There are reports it has started to affect New Zealand hives and crops too.
Mankind to the rescue
So what can we do to help prevent the demise of the humble bee?
Fill your gardens with plants that bees love, like strong-smelling flowers and herbs like lavender and rosemary – Trees for Bees has some great ideas. Bees don’t like too much wind, so hedges of the stuff will protect them from the elements as well as provide them with a good food source and pollination opportunity.
Switch to organic
Use environmentally-friendly insecticides and pesticides to reduce the impact of pest eradication on honeybees.