Of Birds and Bees


No this is not a sex primer. This is literally about birds and bees. Lets start with birds.

The condor, a majestic creature. One worth saving from extinction. True. But how do you feel about vultures. Yeechh. So why be concerned that the vulture population in India has fallen from 20 million to about 10,000? Should we care about vultures any more than pigeons? Yes actually.

I haven’t gotten pigeons figured out yet but vultures in India are actually an important part of the big circle of life. In a country where millions of Hindus do not eat beef but millions of cows exist, until they no longer do, what do you think happens to the cows when they die? Yep, the vultures eat them. Unfortunately for vultures diclofenic causes kidney failure. Diclofenic is an anti-inflamitory used to treat cows. How ironic.

Unfortunately for India the vultures also keep down the feral dog population in a country that has 80% or the world’s cases of rabies. Lastly they are needed to clear human carrion. Parsees, a sect of Zoroastrians, believe that the elements are sacred and the body corrupt. Therefore they lay corpses on towers called dokhmas for the vultures to eat thereby they profane neither earth nor fire.

There is a vulture safe alternative for diclofenic. However it will take more than a decade just to get the environment back to being vulture safe. Far more time to rebuild the populations. In the meantime there is a hard out-of-pocket cost to society to replace what vultures did for the pure pleasure of dining al fresco.

As for the bees, I reported months ago that bees were leaving the hive at colonies around the globe. In the U.S. beekeepers were losing 30% to 90% of their populations. Again, why care about bees? Don’t they just sting people? And who uses honey instead of Equal anyways these days?

Actually bees are critical to populating crops including fruits, vegetables and nuts. They add $15 billion to the economy each year. Scientists have been working for over a year on the reasons for why adult bees would walk away from a perfectly good queen bee in her prime. They have recently discovered bacteria, fungi and viruses in the hives. According to The Economist, bees infected with Israeli acute paralysis virus shiver, their bodies become frozen and they die. There is a second one, the Kashmiri virus, and they suspect that a new strain of this virus found in abandoned hives may also be driving away bees. To top off this bee hell, a parasite called the varroa mite has been found hanging out with the Israeli virus. This mite weakens the immune system of the bees making them more susceptible to the virus.

While these are new ideas of what may be causing colony collapse disorder, no one knows what to do while billions of dollars of crops go unpollinated.

 You may not care about either birds or bees. You should. These are just two small examples of man-made unintended consequences with potentially huge effect on the cost of living in this world. Multiply this by millions of other little things. Scary. Very scary.

Maybe I should have kept this to a primer on sex.

Bee Gone!

honeybee.jpgI rarely think about bees except in August when they start appearing in droves and make going to the beach or having a picnic a miserable experience.  Or when “killer ” bees were making their way north from Mexico. Or when I am putting honey in my tea or better yet trying to substitute honey for sugar in a cookie recipe– an amusing story in its own right. Ask me some time.

So who would have thought that honeybee raising was an industry and that in addition to honey the bees play a material role in cross pollinating crops the world over. Why am I so enlightened now you ask? Because the case of the missing bees has become a major news story. We are not talking about the occasional kidnapping for ransom of the queen bee. Hives are beeing found empty in colonies across Europe, Asia and North America.

This has become such a crisis that it has its own acronym–CCD for Colony Collapse Disorder. Give me a break. CCD conjures up images of a bee on a couch buzzing to a psychologist about how hard life is as a drone! Can’t the scientist just say the bees are gone? Too “plain English”.

Cause is yet unknown. The current suspects are Nosema ceranae (a fungus), pesticides and cell phone tower radiation. I say we get them in a police line up and have the few remaining bees identify the guilty party. The worst thing in all of this is losing bees is not really funny. It could substantially reduce crop yields. And I thought all I had to worry about was global warming.

PS. I am having a contest for the best bee related title for this story. I thought about a couple of dozen possibilities and Bee Gone was the best of the lot. The best suggestion wins a post written about the comic genius of the author.