Bee Shortage Has Local Growers, Scientists Bee-Wildered

By: Beth Shayne Email
By: Beth Shayne Email

A shortage of bees seems, well, downright delightful if you're thinking about it in terms of a summer afternoon outside, but if you're Tim Van Ravenswaay, it is not delightful at all.

"Poor pollination can just about wipe out a crop," he says.

His 5-acre apple, cherry, and pear orchard is just now blooming. The bees are notably absent.

"I was checking the pear trees today and I saw maybe 5 or 6 where it used to be 50 or 60, so you can see the challenge we have," he says.

MSU bee expert Zachary Huang says 25% of the nations' honeybees have disappeared.

The phenomenon has a name--colony collapse disorder. It's been rare so far in Michigan--but the consequences are huge.

"If tomorrow all the bees disappear, we'll survive but we'll survive on rice, corn, wheat, potatoes--that's all," Huang says. "No more fruits or vegetables."

Honeybee pollination is fundamental to growing 130 crops, and CCD is mysterious so far.

"We don't know where they're gone--either they are dead in the fields or they just aren't coming home," Huang says. "It's also very difficult to study because...all the ones that are affected are gone."

What's more, don't count on a shortage of bee stings. "The bug that comes to your picnic--that's not a honeybee," Huang says. It's a yellowjacket, or a wasp, he says.

What you should be worrying about instead, he thinks, is the crops.

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