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What I'd like you to do is, just really quickly, is just, sort of, nod to the person on your right, and then nod to the person on your left. (Laughter) Now, chances are that over the last winter, if you had been a beehive, either you or one of the two people you just nodded at would have died. Now, that's an awful lot of bees. And this is the second year in a row we have lost over 30 percent of the colonies, or we estimate we've lost 30 percent of the colonies over the winter.
Now, that's a lot, a lot of bees, and that's really important. And most of those losses are because of things we know. We know that there are these varroa mites that have introduced and caused a lot of losses, and we also have this new phenomenon, which I talked about last year, Colony Collapse Disorder. And here we see a picture on top of a hill in Central Valley last December. And below, you can see all these out yards, or temporary yards, where the colonies are brought in until February, and then they're shipped out to the almonds. And one documentary writer, who was here and looked at this two months after I was here, described this not as beehives but as a graveyard, with these empty white boxes with no bees left in them.
Now, I'm going to sum up a year's worth of work in two sentences to say that we have been trying to figure out what the cause of this is. And what we know is that it's as if the bees have caught a flu. And this flu has wiped through the population of bees. In some cases, and in fact in most cases in one year, this flu was caused by a new virus to us, or newly identified by us, called Israeli Acute Paralysis virus. It was called that because a guy in Israel first found it, and he now regrets profoundly calling it that disease, because, of course, there's the implication. But we think this virus is pretty ubiquitous. It's also pretty clear that the bees sometimes catch other viruses or other flus, and so the question we're still struggling with, and the question that keeps us up at night, is why have the bees suddenly become so susceptible to this flu, and why are they so susceptible to these other diseases? And we don't have the answer to that yet, and we spend a lot of time trying to figure that out. We think perhaps it's a combination of factors. We know from the work of a very large and dynamic working team that, you know, we're finding a lot of different pesticides in the hive, and surprisingly, sometimes the healthiest hives have the most pesticides. And so we discover all these very strange things that we can't begin to understand.
And so this opens up the whole idea of looking at colony health. Now of course, if you lose a lot of colonies, beekeepers can replace them very quickly. And that's why we've been able to recover from a lot of loss. If we lost one in every three cows in the winter, you know, the National Guard would be out. But what beekeepers can do is, if they have one surviving colony, they can split that colony in two. And then the one half that doesn't have a queen, they can buy a queen. It comes in the mail; it can come from Australia or Hawaii or Florida, and you can introduce that queen. And in fact, America was the first country that ever did mail-delivery queens and in fact, it's part of the postal code that you have to deliver queens by mail in order to make sure that we have enough bees in this country. If you don't just want a queen, you can buy, actually, a three-pound package of bees, which comes in the mail, and of course, the Postal Office is always very concerned when they get, you know, your three-pound packages of bees. And you can install this in your hive and replace that dead-out. So it means that beekeepers are very good at replacing dead-outs, and so they've been able to cover those losses. So even though we've lost 30 percent of the colonies every year, the same number of colonies have existed in the country, at about 2.4 million colonies.
Now, those losses are tragic on many fronts, and one of those fronts is for the beekeeper. And it's really important to talk about beekeepers first, because beekeepers are among the most fascinating people you'll ever meet. If this was a group of beekeepers, you would have everyone from the card-carrying NRA member who's, you know, live free or die, to the, you know, the self-expressed quirky San Francisco backyard pig farmer. (Laughter) And you get all of these people in the same room, and they're all engaged and they're getting along, and they're all there because of the passion for bees. Now, there's another part of that community which are the commercial beekeepers, the ones who make their livelihood from beekeeping alone. And these tend to be some of the most independent, tenacious, intuitive, you know, inventive people you will ever meet. They're just fascinating. And they're like that all over the world.
I had the privilege of working in Haiti just for two weeks earlier this year. And Haiti, if you've ever been there, is just a tragedy. I mean, there may be 100 explanations for why Haiti is the impoverished nation it is, but there is no excuse to see that sort of squalor. But you meet this beekeeper, and I met this beekeeper here, and he is one of the most knowledgeable beekeepers I've ever met. No formal education, but very knowledgeable. We needed beeswax for a project we were working on; he was so capable, he was able to render the nicest block of beeswax I have ever seen from cow dung, tin cans and his veil, which he used as a screening, right in this meadow. And so that ingenuity is inspiring.
We also have Dave Hackenberg, who is the poster child of CCD. He's the one who first identified this condition and raised the alarm bells. And he has a history of these trucks, and he's moved these bees up and down the coast. And a lot of people talk about trucks and moving bees, and that being bad, but we've done that for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used to move bees up and down the Nile on rafts, so this idea of a movable bee force is not new at all. And one of our real worries with Colony Collapse Disorder is the fact that it costs so much money to replace those dead-out colonies. And you can do that one year in a row, you may be able to do it two years in a row. But if you're losing 50 percent to 80 percent of your colonies, you can't survive three years in a row. And we're really worried about losing this segment of our industry.
And that's important for many fronts, and one of them is because of that culture that's in agriculture. And these migratory beekeepers are the last nomads of America. You know, they pick up their hives; they move their families once or twice in a year. And if you look at Florida, in Dade City, Florida, that's where all the Pennsylvania beekeepers go. And then 20 miles down the road is Groveland, and that's where all the Wisconsin beekeepers go. And if you're ever in Central Valley in February, you go to this café at 10 o'clock in the morning, Kathy and Kate's. And that's where all the beekeepers come after a night of moving bees into the almond groves. They all have their breakfast and complain about everyone right there. And it's a great experience, and I really encourage you to drop in at that diner during that time, because that's quite essential American experience. And we see these families, these nomadic families, you know, father to son, father to son, and these guys are hurting. And they're not people who like to ask for help, although they are the most helpful people ever. If there's one guy who loses all his bees because of a truck overhaul, everyone pitches in and gives 20 hives to help him replace those lost colonies. And so, it's a very dynamic, and I think, historic and exciting community to be involved with.
Of course, the real importance for bees is not the honey. And although I highly encourage you, all use honey. I mean, it's the most ethical sweetener, and you know, it's a dynamic and fun sweetener. But we estimate that about one in three bites of food we eat is directly or indirectly pollinated by honeybees. Now, I want to just illustrate that in the fact that if we look at the breakfast I had yesterday morning -- a little cranberry juice, some fruits, some granola, I should have had whole wheat bread, I realized, but you know, jam on my Wonderbread, and some coffee -- and had we taken out all those ingredients, -- except for the almonds I wasn't going to pick out from the granola -- if we had taken out all those ingredients the bees had indirectly or directly pollinated, we wouldn't have much on our plate. So if we did not have bees, it's not like we would starve, but clearly our diet would be diminished. It's said that for bees, the flower is the fountain of life, and for flowers bees are the messengers of love.
And that's a really great expression, because really, bees are the sex workers for flowers. They are, you know -- they get paid for their services. They get paid by pollen and nectar, to move that male sperm, the pollen, from flower to flower. And there are flowers that are self-infertile. That means they can't -- the pollen in their bloom can't fertilize themselves. So in an apple orchard, for instance, you'll have rows of 10 apples of one variety, and then you have another apple tree that's a different type of pollen. And bees are very faithful. When they're out pollinating or gathering pollen from one flower, they stay to that crop exclusively, in order to help generate. And of course, they're made to carry this pollen. They build up a static electric charge and the pollen jumps on them and helps spread that pollen from bloom to bloom.
However, honeybees are a minority. Honeybees are not native to America; they were introduced with the colonialists. And there are actually more species of bees than there are mammals and birds combined. In Pennsylvania alone, we have been surveying bees for 150 years, and very intensely in the last three years. We have identified over 400 species of bees in Pennsylvania. Thirty-two species have not been identified or found in the state since 1950. Now, that could be because we haven't been sampling right, but it does, I think, suggest that something's wrong with the pollinator force. And these bees are fascinating.
We have bumblebees on the top. And bumblebees are what we call eusocial: they're not truly social, because only the queen is, over winter. We also have the sweat bees, and these are little gems flying around. They're like tiny little flies and they fly around. And then you have another type of bee, which we call kleptoparasites, which is a very fancy way of saying, bad-minded, murdering -- what's the word I'm looking for? Murdering -- Audience: Bee? Dennis vanEngelsdorp: Bee. Okay, thanks. (Laughter) What these bees do is, they sit there. These solitary bees, they drill a hole in the ground or drill a hole in a branch, and they collect pollen and make it into a ball, and they lay an egg on it. Well, these bees hang out at that hole, and they wait for that mother to fly away, they go in, eat the egg, and lay their own egg there. So they don't do any work. And so, in fact, if you know you have these kleptoparasitic bees, you know that your environment is healthy, because they're top-of-the-food-chain bees. And in fact, there is now a red list of pollinators that we're worried have disappeared, and on top of that list are a lot of these kleptoparasites, but also these bumblebees. And in fact, if you guys live on the West Coast, go to these websites here, and they're really looking for people to look for some of these bumblebees, because we think some have gone extinct. Or some, the population has declined.
And so it's not just honeybees that are in trouble, but we don't understand these native pollinators or all those other parts of our community. And of course, bees are not the only important factor here. There are other animals that pollinate, like bats, and bats are in trouble too. And I'm glad I'm a bee man and not a bat man, because there's no money to research the bat problems. And bats are dying at an extraordinary rate. White-nose syndrome has wiped out populations of bats. If there's a cave in New York that had 15,000 bats in it, and there are 1,000 left. That's like San Francisco becoming the population of half of this county in three years. And so that's incredible. And there's no money to do that.
But I'm glad to say that I think we know the cause of all these conditions, and that cause is NDD: Nature Deficit Disorder. And that is that I think that what we have in our society is, we forgot our connection with nature. And I think if we reconnect to nature, we'll be able to have the resources and that interest to solve these problems. And I think that there is an easy cure for NDD. And that is, make meadows and not lawns. And I think we have lost our connection, and this is a wonderful way of reconnecting to our environment. I've had the privilege of living by a meadow for the last little while, and it is terribly engaging. And if we look at the history of lawns, it's actually rather tragic. It used to be, two, three hundred years ago, that a lawn was a symbol of prestige, and so it was only the very rich that could keep these green actually, deserts: they're totally sterile. Americans spent, in 2001 -- 11 percent of all pesticide use was done on lawns. Five percent of our greenhouse gases are produced by mowing our lawns.
And so it's incredible the amount of resources we've spent keeping our lawns, which are these useless biosystems. And so we need to rethink this idea. In fact, you know, the White House used to have sheep in front in order to help fund the war effort in World War I, which probably is not a bad idea; it wouldn't be a bad idea. I want to say this not because I'm opposed completely to mowing lawns. I think that there is perhaps some advantage to keeping lawns at a limited scale, and I think we're encouraged to do that. But I also want to reinforce some of the ideas we've heard here, because having a meadow or living by a meadow is transformational. That it is amazing that connection we can have with what's there. These milkweed plants have grown up in my meadow over the last four years. Add to watch the different plants, or insects, that come to these flowers, to watch that -- and we've heard about, you know, this relationship you can have with wine, this companion you can have as it matures and as it has these different fragrances. And this is a companion, and this is a relationship that never dries up. You never run out of that companion as you drink this wine, too. And I encourage you to look at that.
Now, not all of us have meadows, or lawns that we can convert, and so you can always, of course, grow a meadow in a pot. Bees apparently, can be the gateway to, you know, other things. So I'm not saying that you should plant a meadow of pot, but a pot in a meadow. But you can also have this great community of city or building-top beekeepers, these beekeepers that live -- This is in Paris where these beekeepers live. And everyone should open a beehive, because it is the most amazing, incredible thing. And if we want to cure ourselves of NDD, or Nature Deficit Disorder, I think this is a great way of doing it. Get a beehive and grow a meadow, and watch that life come back into your life. And so with that, I think that what we can do, if we do this, we can make sure that our future -- our more perfect future -- includes beekeepers and it includes bees and it includes those meadows. And that journey -- that journey of transformation that occurs as you grow your meadow and as you keep your bees or you watch those native bees there -- is an extremely exciting one. And I hope that you experience it and I hope you tell me about it one day. So thank you very much for being here. Thank you very much.
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Bees are dying in droves. Why? Leading apiarist Dennis vanEngelsdorp looks at the gentle, misunderstood creature's important place in nature and the mystery behind its alarming disappearance.
Dennis vanEngelsdorp is Acting State Apiarist for Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture, studying colony collapse disorder -- the alarming, worldwide disappearance of worker bees and Western honey bees. Full bio »