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What’s the Buzz with Bees?

“Save the bees!”

You’ve likely heard this simple but sticking mantra over the last few years. Perhaps you’ve also noticed an uptick in bee trends and products. But where exactly does this recent swarm of bee awareness come from? And why are people especially concerned about the welfare of an insect known for its sting? The easiest answer is at the heart of our upcoming show Queen: Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD.


Close up of flying bees. Wooden beehive and bees, blured background.Mass Disappearance

CCD is a mysterious phenomenon that U.S. beekeepers first noticed in the 2006-2007 winter. In CCD, a hive’s worker bees disappear, leaving behind the queen, brood, some nurse bees, and plenty of food. Few if any dead bees are found outside the colony. Instead, the bees seem to vanish, but a colony cannot sustain itself without its workers.

Beekeepers expect a certain percentage of their hives to be lost during the winter, but in the ’06-’07 winter, the reported bee losses jumped from 15% to 30-90% with no evident cause. No one has been able to point to one issue as the primary culprit, making it harder to solve the problem. The biggest threats and suspects to honeybees are parasites and other pests; bee diseases; stress caused by poor nutrition and environmental changes; and sublethal exposure to pesticides. It’s suspected that CCD is caused by a combination of two or more of these.

In the last several years, fewer bee losses have been linked to CCD, but that doesn’t mean we’ve saved the bees. The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) has surveyed colony losses since 2006, and the reported losses from the winter of 2018-2019 were the highest they’ve been since the BIP started their surveys. Likewise, the summer of 2019-2020 saw the highest reported summer losses, and the annual loss from 2020-2021 was the second-highest on BIP’s record. While the BIP has found colony loss numbers to be somewhat cyclical, the accepted loss rate has continued to increase, and the total colony loss always exceeds the accepted rate.


Busy Bees

That’s a lot of numbers, but what exactly does the loss of bee colonies mean? Bees, and especially honeybees, play a critical role in our ecosystem! While we may think of them primarily for honey, the biggest role they play is in pollinating our food.

A third of the food we eat depends on pollination, and honeybees alone help pollinate over 80% of flowering plants, which includes everything from fruit to coffee to spices. In 2014, it was estimated that honeybees provided $15 billion to our economy through their pollination.

While a huge loss of any creature has a major impact on our environment, the potential loss of honeybees is especially devastating because of the vital role they play in our food. If their population dwindles too much, we’ll see food shortages, increased food prices, and possibly the end of some of our favorite foods. This not only affects humans but also causes a major imbalance in our entire ecosystem.

Experts don’t expect the complete extinction of bees, and the “Save the Bees” campaign has done major work for raising awareness of these vital workers. But we’re not out of the woods yet.


How Queen Saves the Bees

The heroines of Queen seek to save the bees by pinpointing a specific cause of CCD, but before publishing their paper which could lead to actual change, they discover an error in their calculations. Should they publish and potentially save the bees, or should they stand by their ethics and an inconvenient truth?

Pardon the weeds, we are feeding the bees sign placed in amongst wild flowers in a church yardFortunately, we can work to save the bees without as big of an ethical dilemma. While CCD has been linked to fewer bee deaths, colony losses are still at high rates, and as long as we remain unsure of the reason behind their rates, it’s difficult to stop it. However, there are easy ways to help prevent the decline of one of our most pivotal workers: seeking out local beekeepers and honey; opting for organic and less harmful pesticides; supporting legislation aimed at saving and preserving pollinators; alerting local beekeepers if you see a hive swarming; and planting pollinator-friendly plants are some simple ways anyone can save the bees.

Learn more about the incredible role bees play in our lives by seeing Queen, February 19 to March 19, 2022!