Monday, october 26, 2015
Bee-eater is not to blame for decline in honey bees
The colourful bee-eater bird is gracing the Island in increasingly larger numbers, but despite its name It is not the main cause of a recent decline in the honey bee population.
The biggest klllers of honey bees are in fact pesticides and insecticides, sprayed in the open, according to environmentallst Alfred Baldacctilno. These substances, he said, were not only terminating bees but studies had shown that the affected bees were passing on the chemicals to the honey when they flew back to their beehives.
Mr Baldacchino was speaking to this newspaper followlng complalnts from some beekeepers that this species of bird was increasingly feeding off their bees.
The bee-eater has recently started extending its stay in Malta because although It has always been a protected species, it used to be one of the most sought after. Followlng harsher enforcement and greater awareness, it is no longer hunted, Mr Baldacchlno said.
But he defended the bee-eater, saying it did not just feed on bees but also ate other insects, including the oriental hornet, which recently drew fears in urban areas. And as part of the natural ecological cycle, it actually ate old or weak bees, freeing the colony of this burden.
This was reiterated by ornithologist Natalino Fenech, who said that according to Libyan studies, bee-eaters rendered a service to bees by catching the sick and elderly ones.
The study also showed that bee-eaters went instrumental in limiting the spread of some insect pests as well as reducing the spread of different types of wasps and beewolf.
Mr Fenech acknowledged there had been an increase in the number of bee-eaters spotted in Malta because they were no longer shot at and because populations in Sicily had grown.
He explained that the bee-eater fed on all flying insects – from bees to moths, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies and wasps. Photos taken by wildlife photographer Shuki Chefed this summer in Israel even shows a bee-eater trying to swallow a bat.
The biggest killers of honey bees are
in fact pesticides and insecticides
Still, it was not the only bird that ate bees – sparrows, starlings, several warblers as well as II-Merill, or blue rock thrush, did so too at certain times of the year.
Keepers who are worried about the bee-eaters feeding on some of their bees should avoid queening during peak migrations, from late March till mid-April, and in mid-September, he advised.
They should also avoid putting beehive boxes close to or under trees or overhead cables as bee-eaters like to pounce on flying insects from these perches.
Mr Baldacchino’s concern about pesticides was echoed by Michael Muscat, one of the 200 registered bee-keepers in Malta.
According to studies carried out abroad, pesticide and insecticide are the primary culprits of what is known as the colony collapse disorder, which is when the majority of worker bees in a colony abandon the hive because they get disorientated, leaving behind the brood (bee larvae) and stores.
Studies have also shown that neonicotinoids, a class of insecticide, significantly harms the colonies and is the major contributing factor to CCD.
There are other culprits apart from pesticides, although their contribution to bee decline is smaller.
The varroa destructor is a parasite mite that attacks honey bees. In 1992, its importation destroyed some three quarters of the colonies in Malta and Gozo. The bee-keepers have recovered since then.
Another culprit is the hornet, whose population recently exploded in some areas, Mr Muscat said. One particular colony in the Ta’ Xbiex was so severely depleted of foraging bees, because of the hornets, that the colony collapsed.
As for the bee-eater, Mr Muscat said he could not trace the decline of the bee population in some of his apiaries to the bird but he knew of other keepers who have been hit.
To be truthful no one knows the reason for the bee decline – pesticides were not the cause previously (they were not used in the 1880’s or 1920’s) see below: –
“Today’s pollinator crisis, which has also hit Europe and now parts of Asia, is unprecedented. But honeybees have done disappearing acts on and off for more than a century. posslbly since humans began domesticating them 4,500 years ago In Egypt.
In the United States, unexplained colony declines in the 1880s, the 1920s, and the 1980 & baffled farrners, and in 1995-1996 Pennsylvania keepers lost more than half of their colonies wtlhout a clear cause. The1980s and 19908 saw various new parasltes that hit bees hard;
Varoa and tracheal miles became major killers, and they continue to plague hives and keep beekeepers up at night.”
The fact that “pesticides were not the cause previously” does not meant that they cannot be an Important cause now. The data about the effects of neonicotinoids is pretty clear, clear enough to warrant a strong campaign against their use. This habit of looking for “the [one] reason” for any natural phenomenon has become a fool’s quest, much used by those interested mainly is avoiding any blame. We now know that effects on anlmal and plant communities are seldom single-cause alfalrs. If “pesticides were not the cause previously”, how would one account for the levels of glyphosate levels found in urine of subjects from aromd the EU? My level, from the-pesticide-free pastures of H’Attard, was the second highest found In EU wide samples.
If the bee eater eats bees, it does not help the bees to multiply for surel
Not necessarily. If it subsists mainly on the older, weaker specimens, it could be helping the younger, healthier bees to thrive on more plentiful food sources.