Bees in the Heat

Some strange things happened in early August, 2012.  Large numbers of colonies swarmed (two of mine left their respective hives in the space of a week and I captured a third on September 5th, which seems to be very late in the season,) and there were several reports from neighboring  beekeepers of bees absconding, of colonies being testy to the point of showing the traits of Africanized bees, (eg. following the beekeeper for 50 yards to his vehicle and trying to get inside the cab as he took off his veil,) of large infestations of wax moth and, in some cases, of beekeepers losing one third of their hives during the last two weeks of the month.  Nor as yet has there been the second flush of dandelion bloom which is so appealing to the bees.


Certainly we had some very hot days with high humidity which presumably are as trying for the bees as they are for us.   And a dearth of nectar.  (As a side bar, the bees seem to be able to anticipate the seasons,and know, for example, that their survival is dependant upon building up stores in the next two months.  And yet no bee, except perhaps for the queen, has lived through a full year.  How do they know what is coming?  Is it possibly an intuitive reaction to the length of daylight hours?) 


Or is it possibly something larger than this?  I was struck by a phrase in an article filed by Karl Ritter of The Associated Press on August 11th : “It’s been a summer of near biblical climatic havoc across the planet.” On the same day, in the local newspaper, there were references to 

  • An island of ice more than four times the size of Manhattan that broke away from a glacier in Greenland and is drifting across the Arctic Ocean towards major shipping lanes and Canadian off shore platforms.  Apparently there is enough freshwater locked up in this island to  keep the Hudson River running for more than two years.
  • Major floods in Asia with 80% of the Swat Valley underwater and 20 million people displaced, and 600 Chinese dying  in floods 
  • 1250 wild fires that have destroyed 20% of Russia’s wheat crops and which threaten to release radioactive particles that have settled in the soil of Chernobyl.


There were forecasts of the fifth heat wave of the season (defined as five consecutive days with a heat index in excess of 95o) and southern York County, at least, recorded only 1/2” of rain during the entire month.


The USDA has been cited as saying that 40% of America’s fruit and vegetables will be imported by the year 2015,  mostly from China, and twice in the documentary Vanishing of the Bees Dave Hackenburg projects that  within a decade all of America’s fruit and vegetables will be imported. The movie highlights the growing acres of monoculture which are so fatal for honey bees and the logic behind the statements is, rather than diversify our crops, we’ll import those food sources that otherwise need bees to pollinate them.  We assume of course, that other countries will have a surplus that they will be willing to export to us.


No one  has yet been able to calculate the long term effects of this.  For example, there is a current movement towards including more fruit and vegetables in the average diet, most of which begin with a honey bee.  Less bees, less fruits and veggies.  There are widespread implications for public health with associated increased medical costs.


Similarly we know that there are  insufficient hives in this country to pollinate the almond crop in California, and thus the importation of hundreds of thousands of colonies from Australia, beginning four years ago.  No where has there been the suggestion that we might reduce the size of the almond crop to suit the resources available.  When it comes to almonds v honey bees, almonds (ie. $$) are the winner.  It says much about our priorities.


John Terlazzo points out that one can get a sense of a civilization’s priorities by the nature of the dominant buildings.  Thus the pyramids of Egypt, the Acropolis of Greece, the Pantheon of Rome, the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance castles and palaces of the Loire Valley  … and the commercial skyscrapers or Golden M of contemporary times.


Honey bees are often described as the ‘canaries in the coal mine’; ie. indicators of a coming disaster that we as humans cannot sense.  Are bees reacting to immediate  geographic and climatic conditions, can they sense a larger pattern or trend, or is it all coincidental?  Was August of 2012 the new reality or just a unique 31 days?  Whatever the answer, it seems that, for many of us,  supplemental feeding of the bees in the fall was even more vital.


Albert Einstein argued that it is not possible to solve  problems with the mind set that created them.   We cannot wait for the agro-chemical industry to resolve the problems facing the bees.  Rather, as Michael Pollen says in Vanishing of the Bees, each of us votes three times a day with our fork.   As with the anti-smoking movement, ultimately the solution is more likely to come from informed consumers than it is from Washington DC.
























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Latest comments

27.11 | 16:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

27.11 | 12:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

13.08 | 05:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

21.05 | 07:18

Its pleasure to read about Boy Scout here. He plays vital role to serve humanity. I will share after my