Sunday, September 27, 2009

Vanishing Bees

When I saw the latest issue (October 2009) of Discover at the bookstore with a cover that promised articles on sex (among other things, the article describes a woman who had orgasms while brushing her teeth, which in and of itself sounds awesome to me, but would my dental health suffer because I couldn't make it through a full two minutes of brushing, or perhaps due to constant brushing? Unfortunately, her toothbrushing orgasms were eventually accompanied by loss of consciousness and she was diagnosed with epilepsy), vanishing bees, and whether or not evolution shaped us to be good, I knew that that periodical was coming home with me.

I heart bees, and not just honeybees. Bees seem to be the least humorless of all of the hymenopterans. I'm not judging anyone -- wasps and ants are fascinating, too. Anyway, it appears that in-breeding has made honeybees less resistant to infections and infestations. The article says that "today's honeybees are sickly, enslaved, and mechanized," and provides the following quote from a researcher who studies honeybee behavior and genetics "We've looked at bees as robots that would keep on trucking no matter what ... They can't be pushed and pushed."

The article describes a Montana pollination outfit that trucks bees from Montana to California to Washington to Montana. The bees pollinate, and therefore feed from, the same food (an orchard crop) for a month at a time. They pollinate in the spring, produce honey in the summer, and winter in a sandy lot near San Francisco where they exist on corn syrup (which I'll bet is devoid of the nutrients in the food upon which they would naturally over-winter). Is that creepy or what?

The good news is that some people are gathering feral hives and creating healthy colonies. One guy who used to work for the aforementioned Montana company had an epiphany and now lives in his truck in New York State, where he "shuttles around in his truck, fetching hives out of local squirrel houses, conducting a one-man breeding project. His goal is not to furnish the large-scale migratory beekeepers with more robust stock but rather to create an infrastructure of small-scale beekeepers."

Now, I'm not naive. Honeybees are not native to North America, and I would assume that their introduction must have some negative effect on native species. I am also not so naive to think that large-scale agribusiness is going to disappear overnight. And, I don't know how much suffering honeybees experience at the hands of small-scale beekeepers. Large-scale agribusiness treats living things like machines, and we see the consequences in animal suffering, environmental degradation, and human illness (mad cow, Pfiesteria, etc.). I don't want to debate about whether or not bees are capable of suffering. Would you like to be sick, infested with mites, and fed what barely passes for food all winter?

Ta ta for now,

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