Save the honeybees, horticulture expert urges

PENNSDALE – A lack of plant diversity and an environment that’s been invaded by introduced species, pathogens, diseases and pesticides have played a factor in the the decline of pollinators, said Thomas Butzler, a horticulture educator at Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Butzler spoke about stressed honeybees during the Lycoming County Conservation District’s 54th annual awards banquet on Tuesday.

The honeybee was brought to North America from Europe in the 1600s for honey and wax production. More than 20,000 species of bees populate the world today, Butzler said.

Three types of adult honey bees live in a hive: the queen, drones and workers. The queen bee is female and is responsible for laying eggs and populating the hive.

Drone bees are male and mate with the queen bee. They are the first bees to be kicked out of the hive in the wintertime if there is not enough room.

Worker bees are responsible for cleaning, nursing, storage, packing pollen and many other tasks.

Butzler said bees get protein, like what humans get through meat, from pollen. Pollination is important to help grow many foods that humans eat, including soybeans, cotton, grapes, almonds, apples, oranges, strawberries, peanuts, peaches and blueberries.

“Almonds are 100 percent dependent on the honeybee,” Butzler said.

Other pollinators include birds, slugs and some rodents.

In recent years, it has been discovered that pollinators are in trouble, he said, and “honeybees are the most studied insect right now.”

Habitat loss and fragmentation, lack of plant diversity, a natural pollinator habitat invaded by introduced species, pathogens and diseases, and pesticides all have played a factor in the decline of pollinators.

Mites suck blood from honeybees and transmit viruses, causing the bees’ lifespans to decline, Butzler said.

Some chemicals that bees take in from flowers that have been sprayed with pesticides can get into the wax taken from the hive. On some occasions, the chemicals get into the honey that is made.

In addition to the bees being exposed to toxic chemicals, they also are shipped across the country to help grow crops during different seasons. The movement of bees throughout the U.S. is another stress they endure, Butzler said.

Many in the audience asked Butzler what they can do to help save the honeybees.

Humans can provide bees with the three basic things that humans need – food, water and shelter. Planting flowers such as brown-eyed susans provides bees with access to what it needs to survive.

If someone plants flowers and wants to use pesticides, it is best to spray in the evening and when the flowers are not yet in bloom.

It also is best to plant different types of flowers to make sure flowers are blooming for the whole season.

“You want to have a blooming day all season,” Butzler said.

Although the decline in pollinators is a concern, Butzler believes it is not something to be frantic about, and that the human race will survive. However, he does believe it is important to do what is possible to help save the honeybee population.