Green Eyes On: Is Bees' Thirst Leading to Their Demise?

green eyes on honey bee colony collapse

Image via About My Planet.
Guest blogger Sara Snow is green lifestyle expert and board member for Discovery's 24/7 future-forward network Planet Green.

Beginning back in 2006, beekeepers began reporting that their honeybees were disappearing, sometimes at rates as high as 90% of their hives. The sudden and unexpected loss became known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The main symptom being no or few adult honeybees left in the hive, though the queen bee still lives and there are no signs of dead bees in or around the hive. It's like the bees have vanished.

A map from February 2007 showed that over half of the states in the continental US were reporting instances of CCD. Given that bee pollination directly or indirectly makes possible at least 1/3 of the foods that we eat (at a dollar value of about $15 billion in crops), it's a startling and concerning issue. And while many private organizations as well as larger groups like the USDA have reported on a number of theories, few are brave enough to put their finger on the single one thing they think may be causing our precious honeybees to disappear.

However, according to an article in The Organic Center's most recent newsletter, The Scoop, a key discovery has strengthened the link between pesticide use and colony collapse disorder, a long considered cause of CCD. In the article, the Organic Center's chief scientist, Dr. Charles Benbrook explained that scientists in Europe have discovered a new pathway through which bees are ingesting nicotinyl insecticides (the Sierra Club is currently working on banning this class of insecticides) in virtually all intensively farmed regions.

The new pathway? Drinking water.

Thoughout the growing season, plants emit water, called guttation drops, each morning. The drops come from inside the plant cells and carry with them any chemicals that might be present in the plant cells. Chemicals like those from pesticide residues that have moved through the plant tissues, just as they're designed to. The research out of Europe shows 20 parts per billion of nicotinyl insecticides in these guttation droplets. They claim this is "certainly enough to deliver a dangerous dose to nearby bees."

So these unsuspecting bees wake up thirsty each morning and, unknowingly in their search for hydration, quench their thirst on malicious and poisonous guttation droplets. The nicotinyl laced droplets prove to either be deadly, as documented in the 2009 European research, or the bees ingest enough nicotinyl "to weaken their immune system, or disrupt their sense of direction and ability to navigate, or both."

In short, the bees either get sick and die or they get sick and lose their way home, thereby abandoning their hives. Don't you just wish you could give these bees something better to drink? On a small scale, you can (remember - massive change begins on the local level!) because there are ways to make your own backyard or garden bee safe. What else you can do? Sign the NRDC petition urging the USDA to act now to save the bees.

More on honeybees and colony collapse:
The Latest Buzz on Disappearing Honeybees
Blogger Writes About Bee Colony Collapse Disorder in his Backyard
Photo Essay: Bees and Beekeepers in Crisis
Where Did the Bees Go?
Saving the Bees
Bees Rejoice: One Potential Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder
Will Engineering a "Flexi-Bee" Save Colonies from Collapse?

Green Eyes On: Is Bees' Thirst Leading to Their Demise?
Beginning back in 2006, beekeepers began reporting that their honeybees were disappearing, sometimes

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