On Rocket Science and Bees
By Julie Clark, Farmer, Rancher, Nursing Professional, Author
(Publisher's note: Julie not only guides doctors, hospitals and clinics, in how to manage the very complicated health care system, payment system, she also does selective breeding studies, genetic research, as well as has a collection of unique rare plants and animals on her ranch south of Lubbock, Texas. She is from a well respected farming family in Dawson County, Texas. Recently she completed her first book, SWORD OF THE VALKYRIE, which will be released later this year. The first 300 copies, have hand crafted leather and wood covers, binding a parchment type paper. We find Julie an interesting and brilliant individual with much to contribute from her diverse background. See her article on Bees, and you will catch a glimpse of how her mind works. Write us at: email@example.com for further information about Julie Clark. Ben Boothe, Publisher, Global Perspectives)
We don't need rocket science to see we and the Bee population are in trouble; the bottom line is that bees are dying and we can’t live without them. There are hundreds of complex scientific studies I could cite; but I choose to stand behind my own credentials. I came from a family of farmers and own a ranch. My day to day hands on experience in agriculture has by necessity caused me to be infected with a dose of skepticism and common sense in order to survive. From where I’m standing the sky never quiet reaches the ground and that endless horizon makes a person look at things a bit differently.
Modern science has done and continues to do much good in agriculture; but like the bees, researchers must collect their own form of nectar to survive and that breeds conflict with the scientific process. I have been around bee hives and kept bees most of my life. I began to notice problems with bee mortality myself about fifteen years ago.
The first real problem that I encountered was in the nineties when the Boll Weevil Eradication effort was initiated in the cotton producing region of West Texas. A law passed that required all cotton farms to be spayed for the pest routinely. Regardless of the individual farmers concerns, opinions or property rights, they were all required to pay something like twelve dollars an acre for this so called “wonderful cost effect program“.
Research we are told indicates that boll weevil damage cost a farmer 6% of his annual crop. This is a great economic concern for farmers that they dealt with on an individual basis according to the immediate need. All at once it became a problem that the farmers were not smart enough to manage on their own and the government had a sudden need to address it.
The solution presented was spraying with Malathion which only cost $12 an acre. That was a cost effective remedy or so local farmers were led to believe. In the process they killed a broad variety of insects, including beneficial lacewing flies, ladybugs, and honey bees. No one was concerned that they were eliminating the positive impact that the beneficial insects offer.
In retrospect a bee hive within one mile of a cotton field will increase the production by 10%. I’m not a mathematician but I can do that math for you. Add 6% boll weavel loss then subtract the 10% that the bees gave you and you’re short 4%. So if I’m not mistaken the farmers were told that spending $7680 on 640 acres was a better deal than a $250 hive and they got 4% reduction in harvest thrown in to boot. I recently read an article that said bees can count to four, think maybe they were telling us something?
This program appeared to many of us to be politically motivated. It was based on inadequate information provided to producers, lacked adequate research and sound reasoning.
During this episode in bee keeping, I was told no harm would come to my bees. I was informed that Malathion was a short acting poison and all that I had to do was close my hive for twenty-four hours and there would be no effects. It did not take long for me to discover that the professional advice that I was given was wrong. My bee population was drastically cut and those few of us who raised bees had to move our hives miles away to safety.
On a side note I have been a nurse for twenty-nine years. In the nineties, I was working in a small rural clinic. A year after the spraying started, we had six patients diagnosed with an extremely rare form brain tumor. None were related and none had family histories of these cancers, but all lived on or near cotton fields that that were sprayed with Malathion. The poison (we are still told) could not be responsible. Malathion in and of itself does not cause cancer and quickly breaks down, so we all know that the program is safe?
A simple review of Malathion suggests another dimension of health hazards. The chemical life averages not the 24 hours that I was told, but in fact, the life is six days and can last six weeks in water. Research has shown that Malathion; a neurotoxin has never been proven to cause cancer in its uncompromised form, but research has also shown that children exposed to it can have a 75% increase in the likelihood of showing symptoms of attention deficit disorder. Increased learning problems in schools located in areas where it is frequently used might be of interest to researchers. We are not just speaking of isolated rural regions. The chemical is one of the poisons de jour sprayed at night for the control of mosquitos in cities. Something you should also look up that the chemical companies are not discussing is what malathion degrades into and how long that will stay in the soil. You just might want to go ahead and find a good oncologist and get lined up with him in advance.
In response to an increasingly ecologically conscious population the industry focused on the so called safe pesticides namely neonicotinoids. You have heard of these marvels that kill insects but not humans. I bet you guessed that one of those "miracle" pesticides is nicotine (tobacco). Organic gardeners have grown it for years to ward pests off from their gardens.
Unlike humans, when given a choice bees avoid things bad for them. Generations of people have been warned to avoid tobacco products. These pesticides, "neonicotinoids" are often used as seed treatments. They can be taken up by the plant roots and then act systemically. As we try to remove tobacco use and its affects from society it is being pumped into our food supply at alarming rates.
To make use feel better about neonicotinoids, phrases were coined for these new substances like “sub lethal dose.” Keep in mind these are neurotoxins we are talking about.
It sounds kind of like “Gee how much poison would you like in your cereal today?” Would you answer, “Oh just a smidgen, not enough to kill me.”
I cannot help but wonder if the sudden increase in the neurological problems of autism among our children and Alzheimer’s in our elderly populations might be linked to neonicotinoids. It would only be a logical conclusion that the “SUB LETHAL” dose would only effect the more vulnerable populations first. Our children and grand parents would act as canaries in the mine to warn us of the folly of our arrogance and greed.
Now back to bees. As with hive collapse I have not found dead bees in the hive. Bees don’t do that. Nature geared them to work themselves to death and that they do. They rarely die at home. They go out, encounter something lethal and never return, Or the toxins build up until it overwhelms their systems and or disrupts the queens reproductive cycle.
As a farmer/rancher, I am not against pesticides I just believe we should be a little more judicious in how, when and how much we use them. One must understand that all things are interconnected and in this case not only are we affected directly but, unfortunately for us, bees are insects and insecticides kill them.
These insects pollinate most of the fruits and vegetables that we eat and many plants that the animals consume that we may eat later. Try farming without bees which is what has happened in parts of China. It takes thousands of people running from field to field “hand pollinating” trying to do; with less success I might add, what the bee population once did. Perhaps it is a solution for the unemployment numbers there, but I doubt that American farmers can afford it. I know the world cannot afford America to lower production rates with a growing world population to feed. I believe that one hive can do a better job of pollination than 1000’s of humans. Face it, bees are more efficient and won’t trample the crops in the process.
Insecticides are only one of many perils faced by bees because of rocket science. Man has been trying to play God with bees for centuries and this is where things get a little more convoluted.
Around 1893 a guy named Baudoux had a bright idea that a bigger bee would make more honey. Of course he was right, the bigger you are the more you can carry. In order to accomplish this feat he and his initiates simply and brilliantly enlarged the cell that the baby bee grows up in from 4.9 mm to a whopping 5.4.That doesn’t sound like much, but to a bee that is huge. So huge in fact it added an extra day and a half that the bee has to spend capped in the cell to mature. During this time, predator insects have just enough opportunity to take a toll on the Bee population still in the cell.
You may ask what does that have to do with anything. My answer, “A lot.” This action caused a chain reaction that the people in Baudoux’s time could not have foreseen. Just like all of us, he had a limited ability to see all the aspects of his tampering. Long after he died the cause and effects came down on the domestic bee population with a vengeance.
For years I was totally ignorant that the natural cell size had been tampered with. I knew wild bees were smaller, but not why. Like everyone else I just accepted it as the way it is without questions. When the varroa mite appeared in Florida in the 1980’s no one knew what to do and everyone scrambled for new ideas but no one wanted to look in the rearview mirror or to nature for answers.
Instead we got more rocket science that did not work as well as we would like to admit. Once more the chemical companies came to the rescue. The solution; more chemicals that we are told we cannot safely consume, chemicals that can only be used at certain times during the season. I started hearing that repetitive term again, “Sub-lethal dose!”
My question, “So why use them at all?” It seems to me that residual traces might be retained in the honey/food supply that goes to people and the “Sub-lethal” dose probably effects the queen’s fertility to an extent as well as the developing bees. That just does not seem safe for either the bees or us. Unlike a vegetable it cannot be washed off.
I realize how frustrating Varroa can be. I had to deal with those little monsters myself and slowly figured it out, mostly by watching others try and fail. Then I did a little trying and failing of my own until I discovered that wild bees did not have as many problems with it. I put myself to the test until I figured out why and went to what is called small cell foundation but should be referred to as natural cell size.
You see the varroa mite female enters into the cell just before it is capped and lays her eggs, usually about 5 and they grow up with the bee sucking the life blood out of it much as a tick on a dog only relatively bigger. It takes a varroa 21 days to mature so when you increase the time for the bee to mature from 19 to 21 days you just provided the varroa with a perfect environment to thrive. More of them survive to adulthood to lay their eggs and infest and kill more bees.
It’s no secret that Varroa mites favor the big drone cells over worker cells. Some bee keepers even place drone cells in their hives to collect mites. In some ways the mite might have even helped control the drone population lessening the number of mouths for our little girls to feed. So when you make the worker cell nearer the size of the drone cells it encourages the female mites to use them. Giving a parasite a better environment to play havoc just did not sound like a good plan to me. Besides, like all vectors they carry a plethora of diseases. Eventually the hive will weaken to the point it can’t survive and one day it will be gone.
In regards to the larger bees making more honey I cannot help but wonder about this theory. In most species gigantism usually severely lessens the life span of the individual affected. It happens in people and most animals. Just look at the lifespans of the giant breeds of dogs verses the medium size breeds. I don’t know if anyone has asked that question but someone should. When you think about it if a guy carries fifty pound bag of potatoes into the kitchen one time and another carries a thirty pound bag in twice, even though the first one carried much more weight he was still not as productive as the guy making two trips. Another issue with shorter lifespans is increased stress on the queen to keep up with replacement workers. In a bees lifetime even a couple of days more of productive life expectancy is a long time and a lot of honey when you are multiplying in the tens of thousands.
Believe it or not, another issue with cell size is Africanization. There’s not a media watcher alive that has not heard of the dreaded “KILLER BEE.” Scientists say that for some reason their genetics are dominant and over-ride the gentler domestic strains. I don’t think it is a matter of genetic dominance at all.
I have watched those guys. They tend to be small like most wild bees and if you have ever had to out run some, you will know they are wicked fast. It seems to me when comparing our big, clumsy, dopy, fat domestic drones to theirs, it’s obvious. Have you ever seen a beauty queen with the fat boy? I don’t think so. She’s always with the star athlete. Think about it, if mating with the queen is a race, then the fastest guy gets the girl. The fat boy never had a chance. Genetic dominance means nothing when you make sure the good guy is handicapped.
On another note I have to scold the media as well. Terrifying people instead of educating them on how to act around an aggressive hive as was done in the past is irresponsible. It was a great disservice to the bee industry that caused and still causes people to panic instead of acting in such a way as to prevent injury. I must say that every time I have ever been stung by any bee I know exactly why it happened, I did something wrong. Even aggressive bees don’t go around looking for trouble.
Do I like Africanized bees? Of course not! I despise them, but let’s get realistic, they are here and will be from now on. In Africa bee keepers have dealt with Africanized bees for thousands of years and done ok. I don’t like aggressive bees any more than anyone else and the behavior problems they bring to the bee industry indicate that they should be controlled but lets face it, the best way to get control of them is through the gentler genetics of a good strain of domestics. Don’t think I’m trying to make that sound simple, it’s not.
Afriancized bees appear to be more disease resistant. They seem to fare better against both mites and the various diseases that afflict bees. Small cell plays a role in this, but there is more to it than that. I think that the answer also lies in their genetics. They benefit from survival of the fittest and draw from a more diversified genetic base. Our Domestic bees are all inbred from limited genetic bases that are managed by a few dedicated but geographically limited breeders..
Again don’t take me wrong. These breeders have done excellent jobs in their areas, but as all of us are they are limited in the focus they can provide. No breeder can breed a bee for every climate and need and they are pulled by the whelms of the market. There are few options for them but to focus on the needs of commercial producers. This in and of itself, limits the genetic potential of the bees to survive difficult situations out side the environment in which they were bred to produce in because in order to concentrate on one or two really good traits a breeder must neglect others which may be integral for another region.
One problem lies in a clear understanding of genetic line breeding. People think when they are line breeding any species, that they are adding a good trait to the line. The opposite is true. Line breeding excludes traits in an attempt to optimize the desired ones. It works great for a while, but just like a game of Jenga the structure will eventually weaken.. Then you have to out cross before the genetics get compromised. In the case of domestic bees every one was breeding for the same or similar traits and with limited breeders this ignored some other very important little things that make for a successful continuation of the species or at least as we know it.
For years the focus was on honey production, good cell patters, and easily managed traits for commercial trucking of pollinators. Now finally it is on hygiene in an attempt to control varroa. This is a good thing, as hygienic bees will also help prevent other diseases. You know “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but this didn’t solve the problems incurred by a limited genetic base bred for specific regions that are not necessarily the regions that the bees will be expected to perform in. .
I was very happy when new blood was brought into the mix. This should be done more often. If all bees did equally well in all environments then there would only be one kind in nature. We should look at the climates that they came from before we select a particular strain to work with. The breeders should also encourage this as it will broaden the base that they can select from when the next catastrophe happens. A bee that does well in the wet humid areas of Florida might not fair as well in arid West Texas but one might have a trait or two that the other needs. There is a place for locally bred bees and this should be encouraged.
I have watched with some concern through the years as bees are trucked to and fro. I have to wonder if this along with the limited number of certified breeders has contributed to the spread of disease and blight both in bees and the plant fauna by the bee industry.
I personally believe that the public should be educated about bees and local farmers should be encouraged to keep bees on a local regional basis to improve both crop production as well as benefit the public’s general health. It is no secret that consumption of locally produced raw honey can lessen the severity of hay-fever. Honey is now being used in wound care and new discoveries of ancient cures are coming every day. Regulations and limitations should be removed that discourage their keeping and there should be new incentives that promote the acceptance of this mutually beneficial relationship we have with these fascinating creatures.
As I stated earlier it doesn’t take rocket science to see what is happening. We just need to open our eyes and use a little common sense. Solving these man made problems might just save us all at least from ourselves for a little while. It’s time to look to the horizon as we make our decisions, after all we cannot live with out them.