Honey Bee Deaths and Swarming

For at least 2 years now there have been murmurs of honey bee deaths. Before I went to Ireland in fall of 2005, there were bits and bobs in the press about honey bees being afflicted with mites. Now the press is speaking of wholesale honey bee deaths and hive collapse. This is a big problem since 1/3 or more of our food is directly pollinated by honey bees.
I take a walk every day. I take my camera. I watch, observe and take photos. Here are the observations of one woman who walks. Bees are dying.

It used to be that I would only see bees dying or dead on the sidewalk in December just as Southern California’s “winter” was approaching. Now I see them every day. Every day I see 1 – 5 bees dead or twitching in death throes on the sidewalk while walking. I saw them in the fall, in the winter, and now in the spring. The dead bees I see on the sidewalks have been honey bees (European bees).
The usual native California bees are not about. At all. In the late 1990s, when I lived at my brother’s house in the spring we would have at least 5 – 10 species of native bees ( from cute, tiny black bees to big bumble bees and carpenter bees) nesting in the old railroad trestles that make up the planter’s in his backyard. I have not seen one native bee in my brother’s backyard in the half a year since I have been back.
Besides the dead honey bees, I have encountered 3 big swarms of bees in the last two years. That is 3 more swarms than the previous 35 years of my existence in SoCal. Two days ago, the dogs and I were walking over to the newspaper dispenser when we had to turn around due to thousands of bees swarming over the whole road up to 20 feet in height and 10 feet in depth. Cars were cautious to drive through the swarm. Bees are known to swarm in the spring, but in suburbia that has built up for over 40 years?
Are these swarms the hybrid African/European bees that were so feared since the 1970s? Are these hybrids more susceptible to disease, mites, pollution, etc than the European honey bee of old? Or is the “killer bee” much a do about nothing and not an influence in the bee die off?
Or is the cause of the bee deaths – as some suspect – pesticides, pollution, the trucking of hives over long distances to their next pollinating appointment and over packing of bees in the hives that have not changed in design in over 100 years? Are our current agricultural and suburban gardening practices stressful unto death to bees?
I hope that bee keepers and researchers are able to determine the cause as soon as possible. If it is agricultural practices, air pollution and possibly climate change, then we are at the tipping point.
Maybe to keep our SUVs we ignore high gas prices and climate warning, but what will we do when there are so few bees to pollinate our crops that we have little to no apples, almonds, peaches, oranges, tomatoes, lemons, plums, pears, beef & milk (cattle feed is pollinated by bees), honey, etc. etc. etc?
Can we read and act upon the signs of the times? How long as a species, can we humans allow our world around us to get out of balance and die before we are willing to change our ways?
The walker, the observer, and the nature lover in me hopes that we can help our little black and yellow friends to recover and bounce back to their flitting from flower to flower ways.

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