Beneficial insects Pollination

Long Live the Bees?

By Julie Boudreau

Last winter, I was reading a scientific article that really saddened me. Being an “collateral bee rescuer”, as I like to say (because I sow and plant tons of flowers), my interest in pollinators is great.

This article revealed that two researchers from the University of Maryland have found that bees live shorter lives than in the 70s. In fact, their life expectancy would be cut in half!

Bees live about two weeks less than 50 years ago, which cuts their life expectancy in half. Photo: Alexa on Pixabay.

Life in the Lab

At first, our two companions were interested in feeding captive bees. The fact that these have an average life expectancy of 17.7 days struck them as an accidental…and unfortunate discovery. Raised under the same conditions in the 1970s, honey bees (Apis mellifera) lived for about 34.3 days.

Why do Bees Die Sooner?

Of course, the short life expectancy of those insects or the high mortality rates in hives are often associated with several factors, including diseases and parasites (such as varroa mites), pesticides or lack of food. However, this study seems to indicate that part of the problem lies within the bees themselves.

As with all breeding, they are subject to selection and genetic improvement. For example, we can therefore assume that by selecting bees that are more resistant to diseases, we have at the same time favored bees with lower life expectancy. Which would make sense because it reduces the chances of spreading disease.

Shorter-lived bees have less time to collect pollen and nectar. Thus, the reserves are insufficient to survive the winter, which leads to high mortality rates in the hives. This is another of the hypotheses put forward by the results of this study. There is also a very clear relationship between the shortened life of bees and the decline in the average quantity of honey produced per colony, per year.

There is a direct link between the drop in honey production from hives and the longevity of bees. Photo: PollyDot on Pixabay.

Now is the time to turn this thing around! Let’s give back to the bees those lost two weeks of life that they need to ensure the proper functioning of the hive. And why not add some genetic variability to it? Because it is well known monoculture (or “mono-breeding”) has never brought anything good. Long live diversity! And let’s save the bees!

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

6 comments on “Long Live the Bees?

  1. timothyferriss

    every small effort can make a difference in helping bees thrive. Your commitment to being a “collateral bee rescuer” is commendable, retro bowl and collective actions can have a positive impact on pollinator populations

  2. Victoria

    Do you suppose that the researchers considered the business of honey bees being carted from field to field to pollinate the crops here, there, and everywhere——-used as a business proposition might have something to do with this? I has for a long time seemed to me that this must be very unnatural for the bees and somewhat akin to slavery.

  3. I have stopped worrying about honey bees. They are not native to North America, and compete with our native bees for increasingly limited resources. I would encourage people to education themselves about our native bee populations – they are endlessly fascinating and sadly in decline.

  4. Thank you for every day that these Laidback Gardener postings bring me pleasure to have. Every Day.
    My comment on todays article- i have followed closely the situation with honey bees and pollinators for about 40+ years.
    As human population goes up, honeybee population goes down.
    Not a good formula.

  5. I am very sad to say that I could count on my fingers how many bees I’ve seen in my garden this year. Scary situation.

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