Bee Decline, Politics, and Passion

I’ve been writing a lot about bees lately.  They’re quite topical, bee-ing in the news a lot; with the EU banning the sale/distribution of certain neonicitinoid products they’re pretty big news in many parts of the globe.  Heck, bees ARE important, not to mention hella adorable.  But how should we go about protecting our bee populations?  What is causing the ‘ailment’ Colony Collapse Disorder?  The answer is we don’t really know just yet.  There are a lot of ideas and much evidence to supports that it is far more than one item but most likely a combination of multiple factors.  A recent study reinforce this perspective.

What is causing CCD?  First off, this is not a new phenomena.  We have examples of brood die offs which match what we now call CCD from almost a hundred years ago.  Prior to being called Colony Collapse Disorder it was called Fall Dwindle Disease as well as a myriad of other things.  Different regions had a different name for it and it wasn’t until 2006 that it was solidified as CCD.  Neonics have been around for a while and are getting a bad rap for killing bees.  Well, you know what?  They do kill bees.  These products are insecticides and, though not all insecticides are harmful to bees, these can be.  So is banning their use completely a good idea?  Not at the present time.  Our economy is agriculturally dependent.  We want our oranges in December and soybeans need to go in everything.  That’s just how it is at the moment.  And if you want those and other items you’re going to need both the bees to pollinate them and the insecticides to keep the pests away.    Transgenic crops have done much to help cut back on the amount of insecticides needed for these agricultural crops but some are still needed and other methods, such as coating the seeds so the spray is not needed have helped too.  BUT, even that coating can be a potential hazard as a recent investigation suggests.

Other factors that we need to keep in mind is just what is it we are feeding to the bees?  I’m not talking about these studies that load up sugar water with unlikely-to-come-into-contact-with levels of pesticides and then report that the bees had (amazingly!) suffered as a result.  No, what I’m talking about is how we use our bees, how we manage them, and what it is we’re actually making them pollinate.  There is A LOT more to the story than just pesticides.  I received a reply to a previous post from a person who stated that ALL pesticides were responsible for bee deaths and that pretty soon bumble bees and honey bees would all be gone unless we stop using the pesticides.  She cited blogs as sources (not a problem, feel free to cite me…some blogs have good information, I just spout off ramblings about stuff but some have good info) and after reviewing those blogs I noted a common theme.  No. Supporting. Objective. Evidence.  Everything was purely that visceral, I’m gonna yell and scream about this because it makes me sad and I want to do something about it – blog.  Trust me, I know what that feeling is like.  But, I do my best to provide evidence and make that evidence relate-able and understandable.

Pesticides are not great for insects.  Duh.  That’s part of the point.  And when used inappropriately or with little objective research to back up the products, we can have problems.  Back to the person commenting on my Bee post, this idea about pesticides are all bad is not unique and is growing in popularity.  In this instance, ignorance and/or laziness was to blame…in my opinion.  But, after researching it a little more I learned a new tidbit of information…those trees the bumble bees were feeding on?  Toxic in high quantities.  Yup.  There is supporting evidence that when exposed to the nectar of those trees in high doses it can be harmful to bees.  Is that was caused this problem?  I’m gonna say No.  Again, see previous post about the stupid.  But this isn’t the only example of possible complications due to poor management tactics.  The vast majority of honey bees (60%!!!) in this country are used to pollinate almonds.  Forcing pollinators to feed only within a monocrop you are severely harming their health.  The actual value of almond pollen and nectar isn’t even that great.  (For an interesting read of pollen nutrient values check this article out). Almonds are even potentially toxic as well.  So, when we have these bees going out, pollinating only one select crop, which is of low nutrient quality and potentially toxic in high amounts, and then we see die back, why do we automatically scream “PESTICIDES!!!  IT’S THE PESTICIDES!”?

What is likely going on, (and again, more and more evidence supports) is the bee decline is a result of multiple factors.  We stick the bees with one crop and one crop only to pollinate.  And if that crop happens to be of poor nutrient value, oh well; with no, or little, sugar supplementation.  Additionally, these bees are trucked across the country where they can encounter other bees which may have been exposed to a number of viruses and pathogens.  Particularly the varroa mite.  Varroa Mites are bad.  And I mean B.A.D.  If you get the mites in your hive, you have to treat with an acaricide to get rid of them.  And when the bees are being exposed to the mites, nosema, poor food quality, limited resource diversity, viruses, and pesticides, yeah, the bees are going to suffer.  There are far too many confounding factors to say that only one thing is the cause.  We can’t even really say that TWO things are the cause.  Think of it as if the bees have HIV.  There’s this thing living in the bee hive.  It’s slowly weakening them.  Sometimes they’ll get some amazing food or have some years without disease and mites.  Then they prosper.  But after years of fighting this off, they get exposed to something, be it a poor food year, pesticides, mites, etc, and it’s all down hill from there.

If you take one thing away from this post I hope it’s this…take a breath, chill for a bit, and then try and approach management and pesticide programs with the understanding that there is more to it than just disease, or just pests, or just pesticides.  Pesticides can be harmful.  Improperly researched and used pesticides can be very bad for a species or even ecosystem.  I have a lot to say about my frustration regarding pesticide research being done by companies and not universities or other (relatively) unbiased sources, but this post is already too long.  Take your time, do some research, and the next time someone on Facebook starts screaming about banning everything because it’s all going to kill us!!!!AAAAAhhhhhh!!!!!  Do your own version of a Snopes check and look into the validity of their statement and educate yourself and others.  Then, use that information to make educated and pro-active advocacy decisions.  I like bees and don’t want to lose them.  Let’s work together, smartly to make sure that we keep those cute, fuzzy, ladies.


Bees, Politics, and Nothing Gets Done But Stupid

Remember that post from a few weeks ago?  No?  That’s okay, I forgive you.  Basically a pest control operator didn’t follow label recommendations and sprayed an insecticide on some flowering trees in a Target parking lot.  The label specifically states to not use it when bees may be present (i.e. when the bloody plant is flowering) because it might kill bees.  What happened?  Bees died.   A bunch of them.  Depending upon where you look this can be 25,000 or 50,000.  This number will depend upon the slant of the article/blog post that you’re reading.

So what do you think should happen? When we last spoke about this issue, there had not been a decision made.  The company, state and company were trying to figure out what was going to happen.  Would they sanction the company for not following the law?  Would the company have to pay a fine?  Would nothing at all happen and everyone could just ride off into the sunset and eat cookies?  Well, apparently none of the above have happened yet.  But what HAS happened is the ODA (Oregon Department of Agriculture) has placed a 180 moratorium on products containing dinotefuran (the active ingredient in the Safari product the company used) in the state.  This appears to be only applicable to agricultural, turf, and ornamental products, not other products such as flea and tick treatments (which I’ve talked about before).

What does this mean?  Well, the ban has been placed while the state assesses what to do.  It seems silly but I can kind of understand it in a superficial, gotta keep politics-politics and keep the screaming masses happy sort of way.  I’ve seen House of Cards, I know what’s up in the legislatures.  But what does this mean for the bees?  Probably not a whole lot really.  Politicians will squabble.  Activist groups who are split between those who understand science and those functioning on pure visceral reactions will bicker with said politicians and eventually nothing of consequence will be done.  The question here isn’t so much “How do we keep the bees safe?” but rather “How do we make sure people are using these products APPROPRIATELY, SAFELY, and LEGALLY?”  Come on people!  If you’re going to spray something at least read the bloody label first.

Totally legit Bumble Bee

National Moth Week is Here!!!

National Moth Week 2013 is finally here!  I’ll be hosting a BBQ on the 27th at my home and all of my lepidoptera buddies are welcome!  And people too!


If you happen to be in the Columbus, OH area and want to learn about some moths, just let me know!



*Fun note: my spell check thinks “lepidoptera” should be “teleprompter.”  I find this very amusing for some reason.

They’re Baaaaaaaacccckkkk. The Japanese Beetles Return for the Season!

Yup, that’s right.  These adorable, shiny (OMG so Shiny!) beetles have started to return.  Even though they may be cute they can be highly destructive.  The Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica: Scarabaeidae: Coleoptera) are, as you might guess, a non-native species of beetle which made its way here a number of years ago and easily found a home in our turfgrass and other plants.

Japanese Beetle adults kicking back on my tomato plants.
Japanese Beetle adults kicking back on my tomato plants.
Japanese beetle getting fancy with his legs on my tomatoes. Careful there mister!
Japanese Beetle larvae “grub” From Wikipedia

Their larvae often know as “grubs” (pictured below) spend their time in grass and can be responsible for some pretty serious damage to turfgrass stands; home lawns, sporting fields, etc.   They are also known to feed on some ornamental tree and shrubs.  These areas can be managed a variety of ways from planting more resistant turfgrass and plant varieties, to the use of products like synthetic pesticides or biological control methods, most notably milky spore disease.  Left unattended, they can eventually cause major damage to the grass by chewing through the roots.  And it’s not just the damage that they themselves do that you need to worry about.  You also have to worry about raccoons and skunks coming into your yard and pulling up the grass to get at those squishy, tasty grubs!  Remember Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King!  They weren’t joking.

Timon with a tasty morsel. I think that would most likely be a caterpillar but it’s hard to tell with the way it’s drawn. Could just be a slug with a headcapsule…which isn’t really a thing.

These guys overwinter in the larval stage and the adults start to emerge right about now (June – July).  The adults damage plants in a very different yet just as important way.  I’ve been finding them on my tomato plants but this isn’t one of their typical plants they go for.  To be fair, I haven’t seen them feeding so it is possible I’m just noticing recently emerged adults just hanging out on my plants waiting to fly to bigger and more tasty pastures.  The adults are skeletonizers and will eat the “meaty” bits of the plant leaves, leaving the veins intact.  They are known to happily feed on over 400 species of broad leaf plants so take your pick.  A big one that they like are grapes and this is another thing that makes them a huge potential pest.  Imagine these guys in Wine Country!?!  Please, say it ain’t so!  Not my wine!  Infested strips of grass near a winery could be potentially devastating if left uncontrolled.

So how do we deal with these guys?  Well, I keep a nice plastic container in my freezer for all of the adults I find and I just throw them in there.  This is by no means an effective method of control but it’s a great method for just collecting some beetles.  There are a couple of traps that you can buy which use pheromones to attract the beetles to the bag where they fall in and die.  The problem with this is that they ATTRACT the beetles to the general region which can actually result in a bigger problem overall.  I actually want to get one of these bags so I can snag a whole bunch of bugs, but then I will have to worry about treating my lawn somehow…I wonder if I can get my landlord to pay for that???

Bag-a-Bug. Only really effective if you want to bring more Japanese beetles onto your property.

Other, more successful control methods are chemical treatments formulated specifically for “white grubs”.  “Grubs” is a term generally reserved for the larvae of scarab beetles which also includes Masked/European Chafers as well as the June beetles.  They all will survive in the turf during their larval stages but as you might imagine, will have different points of high susceptibility to treatment.  If you know you have mostly JB’s then make your application according to their life cycle.  The latter instars (juvenile stage) and adults are the least susceptible to pesticide products (synthetic and organic) as they are a bit more hardy by that time.  The best time to treat is when the larvae are still in their first couple of instars.  In Ohio, this means late August to early September at the latest.  As many as 95% of the eggs will be laid by mid August here.  By early fall when the weather starts to cool the grubs will crawl a bit deeper into the soil and begin their hibernation state and thus no longer be susceptible to treatments.

Japanese Beetle life cycle in Ohio. Remember to make your treatments when they are most vulnerable, in those early instar stages.

If you’re like me and you want to do your home gardening a little more on the “green” side when possible there is some good news and some bad news with regard to grubs.  The good news is there are some parasitic wasps (Tiphia popilliavora and T. vernalis) which are fairly well established in the Eastern states and will parasitize the larvae.  The bad news…they aren’t really effective at controlling the beetles in this area.  They are more successful in the southern states though.  There is also a disease called Milky Spore Disease (Bacillus popilliae) which is thought by some to be useful but depending upon your region it may or may not be.  The problem here is that this disease is already present in much of the natural habitat of these beetles and therefore populations (at least here in Ohio and nearby) have already been exposed to this and similar diseases.  By introducing the milky spore to an area where it is already present you’re not going to see much success as they have already been exposed.  In the areas where it has been effective, it can take a few years (2-3) for the spore count to build up to an affective level.  Don’t use any insecticides against the grubs during that time as the grubs are needed for completing the bacterium cycle.

Other than habitat modification (slit-seeding and planting resistant grasses and ornamentals) synthetic pesticide treatments are going to be your best bet.  I can’t recommend one particular product over others but by contacting your local Entomology Extension office they can give you the heads up on which products are best.

Hope that helps some of you.  Until next time! Hakuna Matatta!

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