There I stood just a couple of feet away from a honeybee hive, and I felt no fear. I never thought I would feel that way around tens of thousands of worker bees fearlessly protecting and nurturing their queen, but this day I felt attuned to to their plight. By chance, I had just met Jim Dowling, a hobbyist beekeeper who once operated this property of his as an inn called the Gerstle Park Inn in San Rafael, California. It’s so idyllic, there’s about a 2,000-year-old redwood right in the backyard. A friend of mine lives in one of the cottages on the property, and on a golden Friday afternoon, Jim stopped what he was doing just because I wanted to know everything he knows about honeybees.
With wholesome elocution, he highlighted everything from the little dances they do to communicate with one another, to their behavior in a swarm (the size of a basketball), to his process of harvesting the copious amounts of honey that his little friends generously produce. It was all so fascinating that I was more than intrigued to visit the hives and observe them up close and personally.
You might have heard already that more than half of America’s honeybees have disappeared in the last ten years. Most people don’t think about what that decline really means. Well, honeybees pollinate one-third of the world’s food supply, including nuts, produce, coffee; in 2010, these insects were responsible for $19 billion worth of crops in the US. So, if the little busybodies aren’t around to fulfill their niche, then our healthy food supply becomes severely diminished (for those who identify more as a carnivore, honeybees also affect alfalfa eaten by cows).
Jim’s face lit up telling me about his recent discovery of a native colony of bees, which he will tend to himself. The beauty of these native bees is that they have developed an immunity to the bloodsucking varroa mites that wreck honeybee immune systems.
But the main culprits wreaking havoc on honeybee populations seem to be neonicotinoid insecticides and habitat loss. Natural selection must, and will run its course. Humanity has to do certain things to ensure our own survival, but in the process more people have to be aware of the impact that has on other species. This includes poor agricultural management, as well as land development that depletes honeybees’ natural food supply.
Aside from bees’ role as pollinators of much of our food, it’s just as important to consider what we can do to lessen our impact and keep them healthy for their own sake. As I watched those bees just doing their thing, I had a warm feeling of everything being as it should be. If you stop to notice them at work, you’ll see that it’s pretty beautiful.