Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Bees Are Busy... Dying

A 'stinging' article caught my eyes recently.

No, there was no cutting remarks in the article. Rather, it was a report on how the buzzy bees were dying in a big scale all over the world and the beekeepers in the US seemed to be most disturbed by this.

The beekeepers claimed that they have attended to their bees no differently but the bees still died. Some experts have coined the term "colony collapse disorder" (CCD) to explain the unexplainable. They cited reasons such as stress, malnutrition and contagious disease as the possible causes for CCD.

However, other experts feel that CCD, as best, explains what happened rather than why. In short, nobody seems to be able to pin-point the exact reasons of the bee disappearance and that adds to the beekeepers' frustration.

The matter is gradually catching more attention, at least from the European politicians. They are urging for actions to be taken to save the world's threatened bee populations.

Why should they care so much about the bees?

If you think that this little insect with a sting at the butt is only good for producing honey, you need to know more, in all fairness to the bees.

The bees are responsible for pollination of many plants and vegetables we eat. They too indirectly, bring meat and milk to us as bees pollinate most types of animal feeds. In the USA alone, the pollination of crops by bees accounts for one third of the locally produced food. So, if the bees die out, many things on our dining table will also disappear.

The drop in the bee populations is described as 'alarming'. At this moment, there is no consensus on the cause and the entomologists (zoologists dealing with insects) call it a "bee emergency". The researchers urge for more funds but they would need time to get to the answer, if at all, and time is something the bees lack.

The situation seems worrying.

Since young, I never really liked bees. In my childhood books, the smiley bees often donned bright yellow-black stripe suits and were depicted as diligent and clever. I was not impressed as my experience with the real bees was a painful one.

For some unknown reasons, bees lived with us when I was young. They found themselves a cosy home in our 2-storey house and started to colonise under the floor board of the upper storey.

Most of the time we left each other alone.

In the day, the bees would be out and I assumed they were 'working'. In the late afternoon, they would come home from 'work', just like my parents would. When we hanged around in the living room in the evening, the bees would fly around the room too. Even though they do not pay us any rent, or honey, there was no attempt to 'evict' them. Something quite puzzling.

Everything was harmonious and I just had one problem with their carcasses.

Some bees inevitably dropped dead (I never knew why, old age, I guess) and their dead bodies were not always immediately removed. Somehow, I got to be the unlucky one who always had my foot landed on their still functional stings. It wasn't fatal but trust me, you wouldn't have liked it in any way.

Mom always calmly came to my rescue with a bottle of vinegar. She would indifferently pulled out the sting and rubbed the vinegar on the wound. It was as if I just had a mosquito bite and the vinegar was the 'mopiko'. No extra attention was given to the excruciating pain. So I learnt that bee sting was 'no big deal' and the problem could be overcome by simply wearing a pair of house slippers.

Till today, putting my bare feet on the floor still occasionally makes my skin crawl and having a pair of house slippers remains essential.

Despite my childhood 'relationship' with the bees, I do not dislike them. It is just that I prefer to keep a distance from them. I am fully aware of the important role they play in nature, besides producing honey.

I hope the dying bee mystery will be resolved soon as I do not think anyone of us can afford the consequences.

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