Bee Friendly Gardens

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Bees and Neonic Building Products, A Lethal Cocktail

Story ran in Malibu Times, June 24, 2017

It’s National Pollinator Week and a terrific time to celebrate the bees because they are golden-haired pollinators, hand-picked by nature over 100 million years ago. They ensure that floral diversity proliferates. Today, bees pollinate over 80 percent of 400,000 flowering plants and maintain our urban centers. Almost 250 million Americans, or 81 percent of our population, live in cities. Urban bees face a new deadly threat to their crucial role as pollinators.

A class of systemic insecticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics) synthetically mimics a plant compound found in tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and tobacco. A neuro-active insecticide fashioned after nicotine, neonics poison nerves and prevent acetylcholine from enabling neurons to communicate with each other and with muscle tissue. In humans, for instance, these substances would trigger Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Neonics kill beessoil organisms and contaminate water.

Dutch toxicologist Dr Henk Tennekes reported that imidacloprid, made by Bayer, contaminated western Dutch surface water and killed springtails, beetles and earthworms. Those insects are a crucial food source for many common grassland bird species. Moving up the food chain, Tennekes discovered that populations of avian predators like Eurasian goshawks and northern goshawks have likewise fallen dramatically. Neonics have impoverished the web of life in Western Europe.

In January, the EPA reported that the most widely used neonic imidacloprid was deadly for bees. According to the EPA, bees are sensitive to as little as 25 parts per billion of imidacloprid. From April 2015 to May 2016, a record 44 percent of U.S. honeybees perished, up from the previous year’s record death rate of 40.6 percent.

Since 2001 the EPA has quietly green-lighted neonics in building products like wood decking (replacing chromated copper arsenate), vinyl siding, adhesive glues and caulking and polystyrene insulation. One concern with neonics in building products is the effect upon urban bees, which pollinate urban plants and trees. Urban trees provide crucial habitat for critters and shade for homes, which can reduce cooling costs by as much as 50 percent. Urban trees enhance the value of homes; neighborhoods with trees are healthier than those without.

Urban honey-, bumble- and wild-bees visit construction sites, collect saw dust, return to their hives or individual chambers to make a potent antiviral, antifungal, antibacteria, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer glue called propolis. The urban bees that visit construction sites are now at risk of carrying lethal neonics back to their hives. Bees also collect caulking and glues from construction site to make propolis, which may be laced with neonics. The sawdust from wood decking and other construction residue on sites containing neonics leaches into soil, so when rainfall occurs and bees drink from construction puddles they, too, may be contaminated with neonics. Propolis that is contaminated with neonics poisons the hive and contributes to rising bee deaths across the nation.

There are at least six companies that sell imidacloprid in wood decking in America, including Lanxess, spun-off from Bayer in 2004; Arch Treatment Technologies; United Phosphorus; Viance; Willowood; and Zelam. Viance suggests a minimum of 11 parts per million (ppm) of imidaclporid as an effective treatment against termites. Lanxess suggests treating wood at 300 ppm. Polystyrene treated insulation contains 200 ppm of imidacloprid. Adhesive caulkings have up to 1,200 ppm of imidacloprid. Plastic poly vinyl siding contains up to 10,000ppm of imidacloprid — that’s 400,000 times above the EPA threshold for toxicity to bees in plant nectar.

One natural alternative to imidacloprid that protects against termites is the Indian neem tree. Azadirachtin is neem’s main defense. It blocks and disrupts growth and reproduction of insects like termites. Turplex, Azatin EC, Align, Bioneem and Margosan-O are all neem-based products available in America that protect against termites. Neem extracts are harmless to pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and bats as well as beneficial insects such as spiders, ladybugs and dragonflies, as well as warm-blooded animals and birds.

The unforeseen consequence of incorporating neonics into building products for urban bees is a disaster in the making. The bees are modern day canaries in the coalmines. Rachel Carson’s award-winning book Silent Spring warned that new classes of pesticides were biocides; they kill many living things other than target species.

It is time for the EPA to end poisonous neonics in building products because we need the urban bees to survive. Bees give us our food, clothes (cotton), 450 million pounds of honey and 9 million pounds of beeswax to shine our cars each year in America, and potent apis therapy pain medicines for rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis.

If the bees die, we die.

Earth Doctor Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist and author of The Incomparable Honeybee & The Economics of Pollination.



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The Humble Honeybee

Story ran in HuffPo June 9, 2017

Honeybee loading pollen into her corbicula (or pollen basket) from lemon blossom in Hollywood, Calif. Photo credit: Reese Halter

Honeybees are incomparable little creatures. Allow me to tell you why:

Honeybees and humans share many things in common: we socialize, dance, eat honey, touch, feel, mimic one another, sleep, enjoy nicotine, caffeine, vote and we both get sick.

After a queen honeybee lays a couple million eggs, she begins to produce fewer pheromones (or chemical scents), which cause the worker bees to feed half a dozen larvae royal jelly or pure protein as they begin rearing a new queen.

It’s up to the scout bees to locate a new site to move the existing queen and thousands of workers to create with their beeswax a new hive. The bees reach a consensus on a new location by voting. Research has shown that 15 is the crucial number of scout bees for a quorum. Then they wait for the signal to evacuate.

Are you like me and millions of other people who find our morning caffeine buzz irresistible? Well – we’re not alone – our friends the honeybees also seek a morning buzzfrom flowers containing nectar laced with caffeine. That caffeine boosts the bees’ memories causing the buzzed forager bees, returning to the hive, to dance vigorously and communicate to other bees the precise location of the caffeinated flowers. It seems that some plants have evolved an ingenious mechanism of using caffeine as a drug to get the upper hand on the bees to pollinate their flowers first.

Not only do bees pollinate 75 percent of all the world’s food crops, but also all the cotton we wear. Honeybees produce an astounding 2.6 billion pounds of honey each year for humans. One teaspoon of honey weighing 21 grams contains 16 grams of sugar or 60 calories. It takes 12 honeybees a combined flying distance of about 6,000 miles, or their entire foraging lives, to produce those 21 grams of honey. Normally, a forager honeybees dies because after flying 500 miles in three weeks and visiting almost a million flowers, she wears her wings out or to put it another way – she works herself to death.

These admirable little creatures can count to four and they can be trained to arrive at three, four and five separate periods during 24 hours.

For the previous 15 years, my colleagues have been training honeybees to identify over 60 different odors ranging from enriched uranium to tuberculosis, methamphetamine (or crystal meth) and TNT the main explosive in landmines. Honeybees are now being deployed instead of sniffer dogs to locate more than 250,000 landmines at sites left behind in the 1990s war in former Yugoslavia. By the way, sniffer dogs cost $9,000 each, are accurate approximately 71 percent of the time, require three months of intensive training and they get maimed. Honeybees, on the other hand, are accurate 98 percent of the time, require less than 10 minutes of training and they preclude sniffer dogs from being harmed or killed. By finding those unexploded landmines our friends the humble honeybees will help prevent the maiming of hundreds of children playing in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Just like people and dogs, bees get sad when they are handled or manipulated too much or if they don’t get enough sleep when predators repeatedly attack them. Bees learn while asleep and they may dream too. Bees show similar signs of pessimism seen in depressed or anxious people.

Honeybees and people even share genetic similarities. Some thrill seeking honeybees, just like people, are drawn to adventure. And there are over 1,000 genetic differencesthat affect a bee’s likelihood of being a thrill seeker.

There are approximately one million neurons in a bee’s brain and some of those neurons are responsible for giving honeybees distinct personalities. The more we learn about the bees, the more remarkable these creatures become.

Bee deaths in America are at an all time annual high of 44 percent. In addition, 749 native bee species in North America and Hawaii are heading towards extinction from pesticides, habitat loss and the climate crisis. It’s long over due that we protect the bees, at all costs, from deadly neonicotinoid pesticides. We need healthy bees in order to feed a human population adding almost 90 million people a year, as the United Nations predicts we will top 8.5 billion humans by 2030.

Earth Doctor Reese Halter is the author of “The Incomparable Honeybee.”

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Nature’s Bioshield for Bees

Story ran in HuffPo August 26, 2016

The fate of the honeybees and humans is inexorably linked.

The bees provide us our food and clothes (cotton). In addition to 2.6 billion pounds of honey and 44 million pounds of beeswax each year, bees provide potent pain and cancer medicines.

The key to our survival lies in working with nature, not against her.

Scientists from the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently identified as many as 21 pesticides and fungicides in plant pollen found inside honeybee hives.

Nursery bees mix protein-rich plant pollen with honey, known as beebread, and feed it to developing larvae. That protein is of paramount importance because it builds healthy autoimmune systems and bee brains. There are approximately one million neurons in a bee’s brain and some of those neurons are responsible for giving honeybees distinctpersonalities.

When healthy honeybee larvae were fed pollen contaminated with fungicide like those used in some apple orchards, they were three times more likely to be attacked by parasite.

America is suffering its worst bee crisis. Last year, 44 percent of U.S. honeybees died.

That is an astounding 58 billion bee deaths.

Beekeeping in America is quickly becoming a non-starter business. Is there a way to protect the honeybees from these deadly agricultural chemicals?

My colleagues at Washington State University undertook a longevity stress test on honeybee populations. They found beneficial fungi that bees collect in their environment turn on genes for detoxification pathways in honeybees. Red-belted polypore mushrooms are known to breakdown pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.

Agricultural fungicides reduce beneficial fungi in honeybee colonies. In turn, this shuts off the bees’ beneficial fungi precluding detoxification of colonies. Instead, beehives accumulate poisons and die.

That is Colony Collapse Disorder.

A solution called mycohoney made from polypore mushroom mycelium or roots and honey is a powerful antidote. When bees are fed mycohoney it extends their lives significantly.

We need the bees and the bees need polypore mushrooms. It is nature’s bee medicine.

We also have nature’s flawless blueprint SMART (Sporulating Mushrooms and Repelling Technology) pesticides from fungi that can easily and affordably replace 5.2 billion pounds each year of agricultural chemicals thereby preventing the death of nature on farmer’s fields including honeybees.


Earth Doctor Reese Halter is the author of “The Incomparable Honeybee & The Economics of Pollination.”