Pollination: Bees, Bats and Bugs

Pollination, in terms that everyone can understand, is plant sex. The problem is that plants need a helper to perform this necessary function. Those helpers are the flying and crawling critters that go from blossom to blossom carrying pollen from stamen to stigma. Breezes can do the job too but the birds and the bees do it more efficiently.

In plants, the male part is the stamen and it produces the pollen. The female part is the pistil and it contains the stigma at its top and the ovule at the bottom where the seeds are produced.

When a bee, for example, visits a flower, pollen collects on its body hairs. Then when it visits another flower, pollen grains rub or fall off onto that plants pistil and fertilization occurs. That's the simple version, after all, this is not a page about plant sex.

Nature's system of pollinating crops is currently in danger of collapse. Bees, bats, birds and bugs are the main way that plants are pollinated and that includes our food crops as well.

The incredible video embedded below courtesy of TED TALKS and mdemirst who uploaded it to You Tube on 5/7/2011 under their Standard You Tube License shows in detail what few have seen before, namely how these creatures pollinate and ensure the future of food for us.

However, their future is not so certain and they must be protected at all costs. If you wish to view the video on full screen, paste the URL below in your browser and enjoy.


The bad news is that, worldwide, bee colonies are in collapse. The good news is that...oops, there is no good news (yet).

Something is killing off the bees and scientists have tagged it as Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD for short. The name CCD means that no one has a clue what is causing it.

Fingers are currently pointing at the monoculture we have put in place that limits the bees foraging variety, excessive spraying of pesticides and herbicides and the genetic manipulation of plants and animals. 

One suspected culprit is the class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.  These pesticides are widely used in the U.S., especially on the midwest corn seed which just happens to be where many bee keepers locate their hives during the summer months.  

Europe, which always seems to be ahead of the U.S. in environmental protection measures, is preparing to ban neonicotinoids for as long as it takes for scientists to determine their effect on bee populations.

Pollination: What Are Bees Worth?

There are many reasons to be concerned about the bee colony collapse.   Economically, according to the USDA, over $20 billion worth of annual harvests in the U.S. depend on bee pollination.  About 20% of that value is represented by almond crops.  Apples, peaches, apricots and every other food crop depends on bees. 

It is normal to lose bee colonies in the winter but starting around 2006 the losses started climbing steadily.   Today the magnitude of die-offs is staggering.  In the 2012-2013 winter, about 800,000 colonies were lost, representing 31% of the total colonies.   This is significantly up from the 22% loss from the previous winter.  

Fewer bee colonies and smaller colonies mean that harvests will decline.   It takes over 1.5 million colonies alone just to pollinate the almond orchards mentioned above and each year it is getting harder and harder to locate enough colonies to do the job.   Fewer bees mean smaller harvests which means higher prices and eventually scarcity. 

Be prepared to pay more for honey.   In 2004 it took 2.6 million bee colonies to produce 184 million pounds of honey.  In 2012 about the same number of colonies only produced 147 million pounds due to the colonies having a smaller number of bees.  The upshot is that 70% of the honey consumed in the U.S. in imported and much of that honey is suspect.   Is it real honey or just doctored up high fructose corn syrup? 

Sunburst Superfoods

A Must View Video 

The DVD Vanishing of the Bees details the problem quite well and gives a good case for the cause being those items mentioned above;ie, monoculture, pesticides and herbicides, genetic manipulation of bees plus highly stressful and toxic long distance transport of bees cross country and from abroad to do their pollination. Click on the image to preview the film or order it from Amazon.com.

Bats are one of the most important species for controlling insects. Something is killing off the bat populations in the Northeast United States and is spreading down the east coast and into Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

No one knows what is killing the bats but scientists have given it a tag as well, white-nose syndrome from the whitish fungus that appears on their noses and wings.

Why should we care? It's the bugs. Bats consume tons of insects. A single bat can eat somewhere between 600 and 1000 mosquitoes an hour.

Already a new bug has appeared throughout the south that eats the ubiquitous kudzu plant and it is spreading like wildfire. The alarming thing is that it likes soy plants as much as it likes kudzu. It is a relative of the marmolated stinkbug and we have seen how that one has proliferated in just a few short years.

Fewer bats mean more bugs which means more and stronger pesticides will have to be applied which means fewer bees and smaller harvests.

The bottom line is "don't use pesticides" on your garden or yard, especially not Roundup or similar products.  There are lots of natural, non threatening ways to keep the garden bugs at bay.  Do a little research. 

For a very scientific treatise on pollination, we recommend our old friend Wikipedia. One can always count on Wikipedia for a serious treatment of a serious subject.  By the way, they depend on donations so donate if you can.  Wikipedia is a valuable resource.

The next stop on our look at threats to the global food supply is the over-fishing of the ocean's fish stocks.

Or you can always navigate back to the home page and use the navbar to jump to anywhere on the site.

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