Nature’s helpers on the decline: Apiarists look for answers as bees put on endangered list

In the last few months of 2016, Americans saw something happen that hasn’t ever happened.

In October, seven species of Hawaiian Bees were added to the endangered species list for the first time ever. Joining them are the rusty patched bumblebee, which is the first bee species in the continental U.S. to be placed on the list.

While their addition to the list may only appear as a small blip on our collective radar, local apiaries have a more stoic reaction to the news.

“Bees in general are like the canary in the coal mine,” Gordon Wybo, owner of Sustainacycle in Kyle and local beekeeper said. “When you see something wrong with those, it’s alerting you to a problem.”

While Wybo said the seven species aren’t true honeybees and are only indigenous to Hawaii, their addition to the endangered species list is historic.

According to an article published in the Huffington Post in October 2016, a survey commissioned in 2015 showed that beekeepers lost about 4 percent of their bee colonies.

Wybo attributed the decline in the honeybee population to everything from pesticides, to mites, to viruses.

“There is ongoing research into the decline of the bee population to find out exactly what the trigger is and how we can make bees resistant to it,” Wybo said.

One of the main triggers, Wybo said, is Glyphosate, or the primary ingredient in pesticides such as Round-Up, a pesticide that even causes illness in humans.

“We don’t ban stuff as quickly as other countries do, or we don’t ban things period,” Wybo said.

Wybo explained that some people are already catching on to the need for honey bee survival. He said some beekeepers are cross-breeding strong feral honeybee colonies with domestic bees in order to breed “Queens” with the quality of a European bee and the resilience of a feral bee.

“Wild bees are a true example of Darwin’s’ theory where only the strong survive,” Wybo said, “The weak ones have already died off, leaving the strong ones.”

Wybo said that while people are becoming more aware of their health and the kinds of foods they eat, they should also become more involved in boosting the honeybee population.

“Two out of every three bites of food consumed by humans are directly related to bees so people need to be more involved in keeping bees and increasing the bee population,” Wybo said.

While honeybees are the only insect that makes something consumed by humans, many people lose sight of the main goal when the topic of saving the honeybee comes up.

“People just think they (bees) make honey for us, but they don’t look at the whole picture as to how important bees are to food production,” Wybo said.

Wybo said that without honeybees to pollinate grasses, trees and flowers, nothing would grow due to a lack of material to grow from.

Wybo hopes adding the bees to the list bring more awareness to the importance of bee protection.

Wybo also said cities and states should keep some green spaces protected from development where wild bee populations can thrive. Having public parks and nature reserves host domestic bee populations is also another factor.

“It doesn’t take a huge investment or a lot of land to support a good hive,” Wybo said, “The bees are doing their job, we just have to do our job.”

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