April 14, 2007

ARE CELLPHONES killing bees? My guess is that this will turn out to be hysteria, but stay tuned.

UPDATE: Hey, somebody should look to see if bees are doing better in the National Radio Quiet Zone.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Steven Den Beste emails:

The claims in that article about cellphones and bees sound like the global warming hysteria, up to and including the predictions of apocalypse.

For instance, there was this claim: “Most of the world’s crops depend on pollination by bees.”

That’s wrong. Corn, wheat, rice, rye, barley, and all the other grain crops do not rely on insects for pollination, and they make up the majority of the calories consumed by the human race.

It’s true that there are a very large number of crops which do rely on insects, but many of those do not rely on honey bees, or at least do not have to. In many areas, they use a different kind of bee that looks a lot like a honey bee but is much different in life cycle. These bees don’t produce honey, and all the females are fertile, with each producing 5-10 grubs. They work collective laying sites with the grubs being placed in holes in wood.

In the wild they use dead trees, but the farmers that rely on them put up boards with holes drilled in them for the bees to use.

Honey bees are important, but the current problem doesn’t mean the human race is going to starve to death.

I’m not sure, but I think that this may be a picture of a carpenter bee. The article also quotes Albert Einstein on honeybees — kind of like quoting Norman Borlaug on black holes. Smart guy, but . . . .

MORE: A more skeptical take:

Many beekeepers are skeptical of the reports or at least how they’re adding up. For 100 years, beekeepers have logged periodic reports of sudden and inexplicable bee die-offs.

People refer the latest die-off by its initials “CCD,” but one Georgia beekeeper instead calls it the “SSDD” crisis for “Same Stuff, Different Day.”

“People have lost bees from the beginning of time,” Sowers said. . . .

Most empty hives have been discovered at large, commercial migrating bee farms – and that has led some beekeepers to theorize that it’s the stress of being trucked cross-country that’s killing the bees.

“The (bee’s) instinct is to go out and collect pollen and nectar, and that’s what they do. When they can’t get out of the hive, it puts them under stress. They need to go to the bathroom on a regular basis, but they won’t go in their hive,” said Ken Ograin, an Elmira beekeeper. . . .

Finally, beehives simply die. Scattered reports of large-scale mortality date from 1915, 1960 and 1987. Scientists don’t always know why.

“This may be a repeat of that situation where we simply don’t figure it out,” said Morris Ostrofsky, president of the Lane County Beekeepers Association.

In fact, some farmers say they are puzzled about the dire news stories appearing in local, state and national media in the past several weeks.

“It’s not new this year,” Williams said. “If you know what I mean.”

Media hysteria? It’s just possible that might be involved. (Via Slashdot, which also features other skeptical comments on this story.)

STILL MORE: Skepticism from an entomologist.

I’m not ready to rule out the cellphone connection, but I’d have to say that it’s far from compelling at this point. I do think people should check out the Radio Quiet Zone. Plus, via Boing Boing, a Snopes entry casting doubt on the Einstein quote. Not that it matters much one way or another — Einstein was a smart guy, but as far as I know he had no special expertise on the subject of bees.