Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bees and the end of mankind

click photo to enlarge
If you were to survey people on your local high street about the possible causes of the next devastation of mankind I suppose nuclear war, drought, climate change and disease might cluster around the top of any list drawn up from the results. The decline in the honey bee population would, however, be unlikely to appear at all. And yet, for the past two years a disease, about which little is known, has devastated the bees of Europe and the United States. And, since about a third of our diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, with eighty percent of that pollination done by honey bees, then perhaps we ought to be working as hard to solve this problem as we are the proliferation of nuclear weapons or the amount of carbon we pump into the atmosphere. However, before you start ordering hives and stock-piling food, you should know that Professor Francis Ratnieks, of Sussex University is a little more relaxed about the prospect of mankind's decline being precipitated by a famine that follows the demise of the honey bee. He sees the present drop in numbers as probably due to climate change or disease, and feels it's unlikely that bees will disappear entirely.

I was reminded of the two articles that provided me with this information when I was photographing some old-fashioned geraniums (sometimes called cranesbill) in my garden. The purple flowers were in full bloom, and invited an image to capture their beauty. As I framed this flower head a bee landed on it, and then did something most unusual. Instead of gathering pollen and storing it in the sacs on its legs it folded back a petal and investigated the back of the bloom! Was it deranged? Or diseased? Had it lost the ability to find pollen? Or had it lost its marbles? Was I seeing evidence of the affliction that is causing so much concern amongst the bee-keeping fraternity? But then, apparently satisfied that there was nothing of interest behind the petals, it moved on to the next flower head and did what all good bees do - it loaded up with the yellow stuff! However, I did get a shot of this interesting bee behaviour. So, if you read that a learned professor has discovered that the decline in bee numbers is due to them wasting time searching the backs of flowers, rather than getting straight down to business, remember that you read it here first!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On