It’s about time that someone clearly and succinctly wrote about the “bee problem.” And someone finally did. Gwen Pearson, known for years as the Bug Girl, has a story in yesterday’s Wired that says it all, “You’re Worrying about the Wrong Bees.”
I’ve been a fan of Gwen and her writing for a long time, and she just keeps getting better. The beauty of this particular article is its clarity, and I urge everyone even remotely interested in bees to read it and share it.
As the title suggests, all the “Save the Bees” rhetoric is aimed at honey bees when, in fact, it is the wild bees that are in trouble. Far from being in decline, honey bees are backed by hoards of researchers and truckloads of money. Their numbers are increasing and they are not going extinct.
But while we are tunneling our vision on a well-protected species, other bees really are in trouble. According to Gwen’s piece, fifty percent of Midwestern native bee species have disappeared from their historic ranges in the last 100 years. Since every bee species is unique in its own special way, the loss is incomprehensible. But so few care.
As I see it, the biggest problem native bees face is that the word “bee” is synonymous with “honey bee.” I’ve mentioned this story before, but it bears repeating. Last fall when I was enrolled in a bee course at the University of Montana, the discussion segued into antenna cleaners. I shared a photo of a Halictus bee cleaning its antennae. I was told by one of the professors, “Send a picture of a bee doing that and I’ll give you extra credit.”
I was flummoxed by this comment until it occurred to me that, to him, if it wasn’t a honey bee it wasn’t a bee. It is exactly this thinking that has caused the hue and cry of “Save the Bees” to be misdirected. Instead of helping the bees that need help, we run around supporting an invasive, domesticated farm animal–one that doesn’t do as much pollinating as we give it credit for.
Anyway, Gwen explains it better. Read the article and don’t forget to read about the tickle bees. Some lucky kids actually get it.