Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What we are doing to the bumblebees

The bumblebee is a relative of the familiar honeybee. The bumblebees usually live in high altitudes and colder climates than other bees. Like other bees, they visit flowers and collect nectar as their food. While doing so, they also collect pollen and drop them on other flowers, a process we call pollination. All bees and many other insects are pollinators, but bumblebees have a special trick up their sleeve. It makes them much better pollinators, and this has put them in danger.
Bumblebees do what is called as buzz pollination. They vibrate their flight muscles at a particular frequency which some plats like tomato and cranberries like to hear. As a response to the buzz music, these flowers release their pollen. This makes bumblebees the best pollinators for tomato and such other crops.
Enter man. Clever men noticed this and started raising bumblebees in artificial environment. These cultivated bumblebees are used in greenhouses to pollinate tomatoes. Bumblebees hibernate in winter. Since the farmers needed grown up bumblebees in summer, the growers discovered how to turn of the hibernation so that enough bumblebees will be available in summer. The business of growing bumblebees came to be known as bombiculture. Bombiculture is now a 70 million dollar (400 crore rupees) business in Europe, Japan and other parts of the world.
This was good for humans, but bad for the bumblebees. Bombiculture puts a lots of bees together, which is not how they naturally live. Infectious diseases became common in the commercial colonies of bumblebees. Sometimes, these cultivated bees escape to the wild and infect the wild population too. The infections has led to a decline in wild bumblebee population.
There were other factors to the decline of the bumblebees – habitat destruction, pesticide use, climate change added to the woes of the bees. Today, 16 or 88 species of bumblebees in Europe are facing the risk of extinction. In North America, some populations of the bumblebees have dwindled by 87%!
The extinction of bumblebees would result in serious damage to many landscapes. There are many plants which are pollinated only by bumblebees, and they will risk extinction too. In our search for bigger and juicier tomatoes, we have probably pushed the humble bumblebee and many other plants to oblivion.

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