Why Are The Bees Dying & How To Help The Bees | Twin Trees Vet Talk


On today's episode of Twin Trees Vet Talk, we welcome our very special guest, Dr. Jörg Mayer DVM, MS, DABVP, DECZM, DACZM. Dr. Mayer is a Professor of Zoological Medicine at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, where he also teaches Bee Medicine classes to veterinarians and veterinary students.

We discuss the importance of bees with respect to the economy and global food security, the major threats to bees, how to help the bees, and much more.

Pollinators are in major danger. Many of them are facing extinction. If you want to help pollinators here are some simple things you can do: Buy organic. Don't use pesticides. Plant wild native flowers. Support your local farmers and local beekeepers by going to the farmers market and buying locally grown food and honey.

In our next episode we will focus on advice for beekeepers and troubleshooting bee colony loss.

We hope you enjoy this episode! Please leave your questions and comments below!

FULL BLOG POST: https://twintreesvet.com/blogs/vet-talk/why-are-the-bees-dying-how-to-help-the-bees

WELCOME TO TWIN TREES VET TALK! An informal chat with Dr. Lopez (Emergency Veterinarian) and friends to share our perspective on pet predicaments, being a veterinarian, our shared love for animals and more! Have a quick question? Want to run something by us? Or just need our two cents? This is your chance! Each week we select a handful of questions to answer.



The medical information on this site is provided as an educational resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.


More Bee Resources from Dr. Mayer

Help the honey bees: 
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> Honey Bees Have Emotions
> May 17, 2023
> Can Bees Feel Emotions? New Study Suggests They Are Sentient
> By Madeleine Muzdakis <https://mymodernmet.com/author/madeleine>
> Bees are critical to American agriculture. They pollinate <https://www.usda.gov/peoples-garden/pollinators/honey-bees> over $15 billion worth of crops across our country each year. But lately, habitat destruction and colony collapse disorder have wreaked havoc on these incredible creatures. As useful as they are to humans, bees do not receive the same care and concern over their emotional wellbeing as other agricultural animals. The tiny critters have brains the size of poppy seeds, yet recent research by ecologists such as Stephen Buchmann suggest they can learn, think, and even likely feel, much like mammals.
> Buchmann’s recent book, What a Bee Knows: Exploring the Thoughts, Memories and Personalities of Bees <https://bookshop.org/a/17156/9781642831245>, collects the work of bee scholars as they work to unpack what goes on in their minuscule brains. What has until recently been a “fringe” scientific field, the insect minds of bees hold a critical place in the American economy. Buchmann’s work also suggests they should hold a special place in our ethical scheme. For Buchmann and some other scientists, what they have learned about bees changes their research strategies to be more ethical, on par with the standards set for vertebrate mammals such as mice and monkeys.
> Experiments, the outcomes of which are addressed in the book, illuminate the sentient secret life of bees. Lars Chittka, a University College of London professor in sensory and behavioral ecology, did an experiment 16 years ago where he hid a robotic predatory spider in flowers. The spider would grab an unwary bee that came too close and then release it after giving it a good scare. Chittka observed how the released bees learned to look for the spider and to avoid it. He also observed an almost PTSD-like symptom among the previously captured creatures. Some would be too scared to approach even unoccupied flowers.
> Other studies demonstrated that bee brains saw rushes in dopamine and serotonin when they were presented with sucrose (sugar). These happy bees then foraged more than their unrewarded peers. By contrast, stress from poor handling lowered the levels of these happy hormones. Bees must also keep good memories, so that they can return to the best flower patches. “This is not a trivial challenge,” says Chittka. “Different flowers are blooming from one week to the next. And a flower patch you discovered in the morning that was rewarding might be depleted by competitors half an hour later so you have to readjust.”
> “Many of my colleagues do invasive neuroscience experiments where bees have electrodes implanted into various body parts without any form of anesthesia,” Chittka says. “The current carefree situation that [invertebrate] researchers live in with no legal framework needs to be re-evaluated.” There are few regulations regarding bee welfare. Vegan favorites such as almond-milk can actually be brutal on bee populations, which are imported en masse to California to pollinate almond groves. Hives have lost increasing numbers of bees in recent years, causing much to be worried about. Buchmann and others have an inkling the “unhappiness” of bees might be a contributing factor to the troubles the species faces.
> Bees are critical to feeding the world and to plant survival. But the bees need care too. “The ground used to be buzzing with bees,” Buchmann said of past almond groves. “But no more. Now the almonds fall on bare ground or plastic sheeting and are vacuumed up by big harvesting units.” Reforestation and wild flowers can only do so much. The first step in safeguarding the precious bees is learning more about them and their lives. “These unique minds, regardless of how much they may differ from our own, have as much justification to exist as we do,” says Chittka. “It is a wholly new aspect of how weird and wonderful the world is around us.”
> We are here to share current happenings in the bee industry. Bee Culture gathers and shares articles published by outside sources. For more information about this specific article, please visit the original publish source: Can Bees Feel Emotions? New Study Suggests They Are Sentient (mymodernmet.com) <https://mymodernmet.com/bees-emotions-sentient/>


-Bee warned: shelves stripped bare: https://eativitynews.com/bee-warned-shelves-stripped-bare/
-Commercial beekeeping migration map: https://www.vox.com/2014/6/30/5850006/yes-the-bees-are-dying-but-beekeepers-are-also-adapting

[TEASER] It's a potential looming crisis if we don't figure out how to save the bees. People look at the price of their food an think and think- oh, it's inflation. Over 30% of all the food that you eat - the bee is somehow involved from pollination. There's a huge loss of habitat; a lawn would be an equivalent to us like the Gobi desert to be there's nothing that a bee or pollinator can find there. Agricultural industry using more and more synthetic pesticides. If we would have a loss of 40 of our poultry-oh my God the state house would be alarmed! The bodies would be piled to the sky. What's not on radar, and like obviously we don't have the problem with the bee bodies piling up, but the economy. Like how much of agriculture depends on these sweet little pollinators. So you take them out, there is a whole Red Tail of events. Those connections are not in people's conscious minds. Global food security- bees are a really big part of that.


[Dr. Lopez]: Today we have a very special guest, Dr. Jörg Mayer, and he is a "Bee Veterinarian." Thank you so much for joining us.

[Dr. Mayer]: Thanks for having me pleasure to be on your podcast so, clarification I guess from the beginning- I'm a veterinarian and I work with bees, but bees are just a certain percentage of what I do. Basically, I only deal with exotic animals. Well if it lives in your house, but it's not a dog or a cat, then it comes under our purview. So we literally see everything from the pet tarantula to the macaw, the lizard, the snake...so you never have a dull day in my world because you never know what shows up in the next appointment.

[Dr. Lopez]: Let's talk about... why are bees important?

[Dr. Mayer]: Yeah that's actually a great question, and once you start dissecting these facts of what bees actually do, most people are very surprised. Over 30 percent of all the food that you eat- the bee is somehow involved in pollination. That's a third of everything that you have in your fridge or in your freezer. So a few years ago I think there was like a little bit of a media awareness, you can still Google it, and you can still find pictures if you Google like "supermarket without bees." Where they basically took all the products out of a supermarket if if these wouldn't be there and it's a it's a sad sight, you know especially in the produce aisle and also there's a huge billion dollar industry behind it. So it's a big deal actually. But for some reason it's not on the radar as traditional livestock species. If there would be a catastrophic die off and let's say 40 percent of all the cows or all the swine swine or all the poultry would die in one year... can you imagine politically what an outcry that would create, what the farm industry would go through? And yet a loss of 40 percent is unfortunately the sad truth that most beekeepers experience every year. There's a huge industry going that has to replace these losses. It's an ongoing battle and so therefore I think the involvement of more and more veterinarians that are educated in it can only be beneficial in my opinion.

[Dr. Lopez]: Can you list some of the foods that are made by bees?

[Dr. Mayer]: Most of the fruits are pollinated by them. So you actually have this huge industry, so there is huge bee-farmers, apiarists, that truck basically 5,000 hives across the United States depending on what crop is in season. So they may start in Florida for the oranges, then they come up to Georgia for the blueberries, then they go into the Midwest for the alfalfa then they cross over to California for the Almond Bloom, then they go up north maybe to apple and pear in Oregon, and then they go all the way back to Massachusetts for the cranberry... So they're literally, you can also find these maps where, it's actually also from a romantic point of view it's like bee farming is actually one of the last migrating farming practice that is being done, where literally, like in the old west, where they, you know, drive the cattle from Texas to Chicago. Can you imagine a tremendous stress on those girls being trucked across the nation and then just being exposed to these monocultures right? For the next four weeks you're only gonna pollinate that one specific crop.And so it's kind of like if you would tell us oh for the next four weeks you're only gonna eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then you move on and then for the next four weeks you're only going to eat pizza. There's a certain stress on them, trucking them all over. And then in California, which gets probably the most media attention-- the Almond pollination. And so almond flowers are dependent 100 percent on bees. There's nothing else that pollinates almonds. And so basically you have about two million beehives being trucked into California for the Almond pollination event. And so as you can imagine, there's two million beehives being transported into a fairly small area in California, and so the density of those colonies is very unnaturally high. It's not rocket science to imagine that if one of these colonies is potentially infected with something how quickly a pathogen could spread. And then those bees get transported back all over the United States. So for a virus or for a pathogen, this is a great way to see the Americas.

[Dr. Lopez]: When there's infectious disease, they tell you to isolate from others and here you're taking millions of hives, and each hive has how many...?

[Dr. Mayer]: A healthy colony probably has around 40,000 to 50,000 bees in there. So yeah...

[Dr. Lopez]: You're putting them all in one very small area where they're all coming into contact with each other.

[Dr. Mayer]: It's a very unnatural density. A few studies that look at what would be in a forest if you find like a bee nest in an old dead tree or living tree, and you know they looked at it and there's basically one or two colonies kind of like per square mile. That's what they kind of like prefer, right. Because they need also that vegetation to feed themselves. And now imagine what we do with them when we truck all of them into a couple acres of almond trees. So yeah...

[Dr. Lopez]:That's crazy. It must be stressful for them too, to be around all these other hives.

[Dr. Mayer]: I think so. Absolutely.

[Dr. Lopez]: What are the biggest threats for bees?

[Dr. Mayer]: So the biggest threat is actually a multifactorial problem that we face. So one of the biggest threats- there's a huge loss of habitat and it makes me kind of like really sad when I drive around and see people mowing their lawn like crazy. Right? Because you're literally... a lawn would be equivalent to us like the Gobi desert to a bee. There's nothing that a bee or pollinator can find there for carving out some existence, right? Because they're looking for flowers to get pollen, to get nectar. And freshly cut lawn, or anything that is cut down and not allowed to bloom, is useless for any kind of pollinator. And so one of the things is that obviously as more and more developments sprout up everywhere, the forests get taken down, trees get taken down, wildflowers get taken down. Wetlands get dry docked and turned into living space for us. So there's a huge loss of habitat. And then in combination, the agricultural industry producing and using more and more synthetic pesticides that actually stay around in the environment for significantly longer. They don't degrade. In the old days when a farmer dusted the crops and then at night there was a rain, you know, the rain potentially washed those pesticides off and the next day the bees could go back on it or something like this. But you know obviously the bad bugs could go back on it too and continue to cause harm to the crop. And so basically those synthetic pesticides stay around in the environment. They attach to the crop much longer and they obviously cause a significant problem. The bees potentially bring them back home to the hive. It bioaccumulates in them too. So maybe a while one pesticide is not powerful enough to kill that bee, but another bee brings home another pesticides from another farm and and so on. And they sometimes have synergistic effects. So while component A might not be that deadly, and component B also might not be that deadly, but if you expose the same organism to compound A and compound B, suddenly they're very deadly. And so more and more pesticides are being used because we obviously like beautiful looking fruit. And that's a big problem.A third problem of increasing threats from pathogens. More and more bacteria becoming multi-drug resistant to those antibiotics. So even though people throw antibiotics in their hives, the pathogen, the bacteria, laughs at them and keeps growing. And then there is new ectoparasites being introduced. New stressors constantly. And then you have the synergism, again. So maybe the bee has an internal parasite which the immune system keeps kind of like in a checked position. But that same bee now gets exposed to neonicotinoid, to some of the synthetic pesticides, and that also stresses the immune system. And then you have all these different stressors come together. Exposure over time then potentially causes a weak hive, and then that colony completely collapses. So there's there's a lot of multi-pronged attack on the honeybee from all different kind of aspects.

[Dr. Lopez]: Yeah just thinking about some of these colony loss rates...that's almost like Black Death, the Bubonic Plague, where you know, a third of Europe was dropping dead. And we look back at that event as this major historical landmark catastrophe, and that's what's going on with these little bees. 

[Dr. Mayer]: Exactly. You nailed it. It's tremendous. And this is why I always like to compare it to traditional farming. Here in Georgia where I am, poultry production is a huge, huge part of the Georgia economy and Agriculture. And if we would have a loss of 40 percent of our poultry, oh my God the state house would be alarmed...

[Dr. Lopez]: The bodies will be piled to the sky. I mean, we had some flooding here and there were cows and pigs that drowned, and the photos of just like the bodies piled everywhere... But I think it's not really on peoples' radar when it's little bees

[Dr. Mayer]: Yeah but what's not on radar, and like obviously we don't have the problem with the bee bodies piling up, but as we talked before....the economy. Like how much of Agriculture depends on these sweet little pollinators. So you take them out, there is a whole Red Tail of events that's gonna happen. And it's going to have a huge impact on the economy. And a lot of times those connections are not in people's conscious minds. So we need to do a much better job educating people about the importance of these pollinators. It's a potential looming crisis if we don't figure out how to save the bees.

[Dr. Lopez]: A while back the price of blueberries was just going up and up and up. People look at the price of their food and think: oh, it's inflation. But for a lot of things it's actually coming down to the chain of events associated with bee colony loss. Global food security- I mean bees are a really big part of that.

[Dr. Mayer]: Yes.

[Dr. Lopez]: So what can people do to help bees?

[Dr. Mayer]: If you're aware, if you're conscious you can do little things. Instead of mowing your lawn, like think about it. You know, do we even spend any reasonable time on the lawn? If you have kids and you're playing catch or whatever, of course. Yeah. But let's really think about it- how many people really use that lawn? Could we convert it into a beautiful wild meadow with beautiful wild flowers? And then have a little path in between, and have a little picnic bench in your beautiful wild meadow garden? And then you can sit and you watch pollinators come in. It's very relaxing. Or let's do a compromise. How about you still have a lawn, but maybe you sacrifice 10 percent on the edges. Why don't you like keep 10 percent for the pollinators and you still have 90 percent of your mowed lawn. So think about it. I always say if 10,000 people say, "Me alone!" You know, that makes a difference, right. So yeah. If in a city 10,000 people would generate of their lawn ten percent in a wild meadow, that would make a huge impact. Think about not just the Western Honeybee, think about all those little other bees, like the bumblebees, the carpenter bees all these. Make a little bee hotel, which is very easy. You can do it with kids. It takes less than ten dollars in material. You can drill some holes in a two by four and hang them up and then you'll see how a little pollinator moves in, lays eggs in there, close it up. It is a fantastic activity. Actually again, not mowing your lawn saves you time. Spend twenty dollars on wildflower seeds, sprinkle them out there, and watch them grow. The other thing that you can do is buy your local honey you buy honey from a local beekeeper and support that industry. Because your local beekeeper is that person in the trenches, you know. Trying to protect bee populations and keeping them well managed. So buy your honey locally. Don't go into supermarket and buy imported honey. Buy it locally. It's the healthiest thing you can do, also for yourself.

[Dr. Lopez]: So as far as planting flowers, I've heard that native wildflowers are best...?

[Dr. Mayer]: Yeah absolutely. Because obviously, they co- evolved with them, right. So a lot of times their apparatus, for example their tongue, their proboscis, match a certain length of flowers. This is why, if you sit long enough next to a specific flower, you'll potentially see one or two different kind of populations of pollinators go into this. Because they are the ones that developed tools to get to that nectar. So yeah just have a variety. You know most of those wildflower mixes that are available, you know, would do the trick. I always say: have a variety. You know it's just like, you know, after a while even though Pizza is my favourite food, maybe I want something else, right? So it's the same thing. Give them a variety and attract a nice variety of different pollinators. And and suddenly you create this beautiful ecosystem in your backyard. And that's a fabulous thing to do.

[Dr. Lopez]: And meanwhile don't poison them with pesticides or herbicides.

[Dr. Mayer]: Great point. And even online nowadays you literally don't have an excuse, right? You can look it up: if you plant certain plants on it you know, they're actually insect repellent. You know, you can use lemongrass or something like this. There's certain plants that are distracting bad insects that you don't want to have, right? Yeah there's a lot of resources out there.

[Dr. Lopez]: Even in my own lifetime, I feel like it's noticeable that pollinator populations have decreased. Like as a kid, I just remember seeing so many bumblebees, and so many butterflies all summer long. And now, like you just don't see as many. And then I learned, like monarch butterflies, those orange ones, they have experienced 90 percent population loss. And bumblebees are extremely endangered too, along with a lot of other species. So extinction is actually becoming a very real possibility for a lot of these guys.

[Dr. Mayer]: Oh no, it's real. It's not a possibility- it IS REALITY. The numbers are STAGGERING. There are certain papers coming out. A problem with these papers is, a lot of times these are longitudinal studies they take years and years. So "pollinator decline over a 10-year period." So that means that whoever does that study has that healthy kind of amount of realism that, look I might start this study but I might not be able to finish it. I hope that my new PhD student or whatever can carry it on. But those are extremely valuable studies. And just like you said, there's data coming out that is shocking. That ... 75 percent pollinator decline. And I remember, man I've been driving a car now for close to 40 years, and I remember like every time I filled up with gas I had to clean the windshield too with the little squeegee guy at gas station, right like clean those bugs off the windshield. Because when you were driving a lot, your windshield looked horrible. I don't even know when was the last time I had to clean my windshield. Right? And so and it's not that I'm not driving anymore, I'm probably driving even more than I used to now. But I haven't really had to clean off the bugs...and so these are these little things where it becomes really obvious. Like wow this stuff is real. This is not some esoteric, you know kind of like maybe a population of ants...no it's it's serious. And then think about it, what kind of impact it has. You know, bats you know, our friends, they eat all these little insects flying around. You know, and so if we have a 90 loss of invertebrates, of insects flying around, what does this mean for our bat population? Right? ...All that. Yeah, exactly. All this red tail that something like this brings with it.

[Dr. Lopez]: Even if people aren't using pesticides in their own backyard, if they're buying food that is heavily sprayed with pesticides, like basically most things that aren't actually organic, They might not realize that they're actually playing a role in the extinction.

[Dr. Mayer]: Yes.

[Dr. Lopez]: Maybe they don't want to be killing the pollinators, they don't want them dying. But meanwhile every time they purchase something at the grocery store, they're voting with their dollar, they're supporting an industry that is killing our planet's wildlife. So beyond supporting your local beekeeper, beyond having a little bee sanctuary at your house, beyond not using pesticides in your garden.... buy food that is not grown using pesticides.

[Dr. Mayer]: Beautiful. Yeah, you know, that's why it comes back down go to...Go to your local farmers market, you know, and buy the homegrown veggies there. Or even start a raised bed and grow your own lettuce or kale. You'll be surprised how much green produce you're gonna create.

[Dr. Lopez]: I'll just do a quick recap. Basically the take home points here: Pollinators are in major danger. Many of them are facing extinction. If you want to help pollinators here are some simple things you can do: Buy organic. Don't use pesticides. Plant wild native flowers. Support your local farmers and local beekeepers by going to the farmers market and buying locally grown food and honey. If you are interested in keeping bees, join your local Beekeepers Association get as much information as you possibly can about the resources and the time that goes into managing basically a herd of 40,000 to 50,000 living creatures responsibly and sustainably

[Dr. Mayer]: You can actively do your part and make things better.