Gord Millers asks....Where are all the Bees?

May 8, 2024
Gord Miller, Chair of Earthroots

Above is a picture I took on May 7th, in Muskoka, of the lawn of an industrial plant near our home. There is a sea of dandelion blooms, something we are all familiar with, but there is something missing! As the dog and I inspected the lawn it was evident there were no bees! Thousands on flowers but not one honeybee (ok, we are not near agricultural land), but, no bumble bees, none of the dozens of species of wild bees or any of the other Hymenoptera.

Many of you may not be surprised by this. You might think the weather was cool (it wasn’t) or its early in the spring season (things are well advanced). The problem is that you have no base of comparison to consider this unusual. I have. I am a biologist and I am old and I will tell you with confidence that the situation with pollinators is radically different today then it was even 3 decades ago. If you go back further (I can remember the 1950s) the contrast is extreme! Large sources of pollen and nectar were crawling with insects. The wildflowers and shrubs literally hummed loudly with the buzz of bees. And there was a richness of species! Large bumble bees varied in colouration and the smaller wild bees displayed a richness of patterns.

As kids we had a game in the spring where we each would get a glass pickle jar with a lid. The game was to catch bumble bees from the hedge in the jar one at a time without releasing the previous bees you had trapped. It was common to get 8, perhaps 10 bees in the jar without mishap. Then, precipitously, one or more of the captives would escape on a fumbled attempt, and in fear, the participant would scream, drop the jar (which smashed releasing the captives) and run away! (The broken glass would have to be picked up before Dad came home).

By today’s standards such games would be perhaps considered irresponsible (those were different times) but regardless they could not be played. Kids today could not find a caragana hedge alive with bumble bees. This pattern of missing pollinators is repeated later in the season these days by the absence of butterflies. The meadows of mid-summer used to be decorated by hundreds of butterflies of many colours and patterns. Any roving kid worth respect could relate the difference between monarchs, viceroys, swallowtails, and sulphurs. I would like to think that kids have that experience these days...but I doubt it.

The absence of pollinators is likely the result of an accumulation of ecological stressors that are afflicting our natural heritage these days. Perhaps it is an issue too complex and overwhelming for regular people to address. But we should all do what we can to maintain the available flowers for these important ecosystem components to survive.

Kudos to the industrial company in the photo, Fanotech Waste EquipmentSystems, for not cutting the lawns until the dandelions are going to seed. They do this every year, I have noticed. A small but important gesture.

By Gord Miller, Chair of Earthroots

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