The Lazarus Effect in Honey Bees

Honey bees can’t fly when their tiny wing muscles are too cold to move. When the sun shines on them in the winter, sometimes they warm up enough to fly. But the cold air can get to them while they’re flying and suddenly they drop out of the sky. I often find dead-looking bees like this in the snow throughout the winter. Sometimes, just for fun, I pick up the frozen bees and warm them up inside my house where they come back to life.

It’s not necessary to save bees in this way. Most bees will come back to life once the sun shines on them again. But even the ones that die often die for a reason.

Some bees will leave their hives and die because they’re sick and don’t want to spread their disease to the rest of their colony. It’s a version of social distancing, one where they die in order to save the colony. This is why it might be better to leave honey bees and native bees alone when we find them frozen in flowers or on the ground like this. It feels good to save bees, but nature probably has a better handle on it than we do.

Honey bees don’t need saving. They never have. Commercial honey bee operators have lost a large number of colonies over the years, but most are able to replenish their lost colonies through importations and other means.

Native pollinators like bumble bees and ground-nesting bees, however, are in danger because humans keep destroying the places where they live by doing things like ploughing down wild grass fields and forests to build houses and roads and cities.

An overabundance of beekeepers won’t help save the bees either. I don’t think there is any scientific proof showing that non-native honey bees that compete with native pollinators do anything to help the endangered native pollinators survive.

Honey bees will never go extinct, but native pollinators, like most endangered wildlife, are disappearing every day due habitat loss and pollution.

One of the most effective things we can do to help save native pollinators — and again, all wildlife — is stop ploughing under the forests and fields where they live. The toxic chemicals that enter the natural environment through pesticides and the burning of fossil fuels don’t help that much either. So park that truck when you can. Thanks.


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