The Plight of Bees (and Other Pollinators)

The plight of bees is currently big news.

If you’ve ever had to battle an insect infestation of any sort – be it termite, fly, or cockroach – then you might think that eradicating insects is a nigh impossible task. Believe it or not, we (as a country) have intentionally eliminated several species from the United States. Eradication is a momentous and expensive task. In the 1950s, we rid the South of primary screwworm, a very serious pest fly that breeds in the open wounds of living animals. While not an insect, it is worth noting that in the early to mid-1900s we managed to eradicate a species of tick which damaged the hides of cattle and transmitted cattle fever. Through extensive mosquito control efforts, by 1951 we even eliminated malaria from the United States!

Now, given the time, effort, and money that it took to make such eradication events occur, how is it that the insects we actually need are having difficulties surviving? If you haven’t been living under a rock, then you’ve heard that honey bees are in decline. While researching honey bees as a graduate student, I was astonished that honey bees were alive at all with the seemingly infinite number of pathogens and pests that were out to get them.

Honey bees are not actually indigenous to the United States, but then again neither are most of our food-producing crops. We rely on honey bees to help pollinate about a third of our crops. Some of these crops rely very heavily on these bees (almonds, for example). Many crops get a substantial benefit from bee pollination but can still bear fruit without them (like strawberries). Every year in the United States, honey bees contribute to over 15 billion dollars in crops and 150 million dollars in honey.

Something happened recently in the continental United States, and by ‘recently’ I mean this year. We put a bee on the endangered species list. The rusty patched bumble bee. Since 2000, their populations have plummeted by 88 percent. They went from being found in 31 states to only being sighted in 13. You might be thinking, what’s the big deal? There are lots of bees. Still plenty of honey bees, still plenty of other bumble bees, and there’s solitary bees and their ilk, all out there pollinating away. In the United States, there are some 4,000 native bee species. What’s it matter if we lose one? A mere drop in a sea of bees.

The rapid decline of the rusty patched bumble bee is a symptom of a larger problem. It’s not just the rusty patched bumble bee. Or the honey bee. Pollinator decline is a global trend. The United Nations recently conducted a global assessment of pollinators and the results were nothing short of depressing. About 40 percent of invertebrate pollinators (bees, wasps, butterflies, and others) are teetering precariously on the brink of extinction. Bees aren’t the only ones having a tough time, and bees aren’t the only ones that need help. Do you want to live in a world without chocolate? Before you assume that bees pollinate everything, I’ll tell you that a very small fly – the chocolate midge - is the sole pollinator of cocoa plants.

Right now, the reduction of one pollinator seems insignificant. Perhaps life goes on as usual, and another pollinator steps in to perform the work of the rusty patched bumble bee. Eventually, though, it may mean that we have fewer high quality food items in our supermarkets, or a loss of some foods altogether. Prices may go up as food quantity drops.

Why are pollinators on the decline? There are plenty of reasons and perhaps not all are known to us.

    1. Habitat loss (the loss of wild flowers and plants that would support pollinators)
    2. Competition (with invasive species for food sources)
    3. Diseases and pests
    4. Climate change

In addition, the application of pest control materials must be performed by those knowledgeable of this issue. Though not the primary factor in pollinator decline, these materials must be evaluated and applied professionally with pollinator care in mind.

At Cook’s we care about bee care. That’s why we have a Pollinator Protection Plan that includes:

    • We provide Pollinator Stewardship Educational Programs for local schools, universities and civic organizations. These programs are free of charge.
    • We give financial support to universities for continued research on the honeybee vectors and disease.
    • Each of our services is thoroughly evaluated to determine their effect on honeybees and other pollinator insects. This includes product selection and application techniques. All of our services are designed to responsibly address the safety and productivity of honeybees.
    • When we receive inquiries concerning the presence of honeybees at a residence or business:


    o We coordinate with local beekeepers to determine whether the honeybee colony can be removed without damage. We do not charge for this service or recommendation.


    o We only treat a honeybee infestation once the services of a local beekeeper have been exhausted and the situation is creating a medical threat to the occupants of the residence or building.


    o We will not treat a honeybee colony that is not actually established within the confines of a structure. This includes transient honeybee swarms.