What is killing massive numbers of bees in Portland, Oregon, on the west coast of the U.S.? In just a few days, five die-offs have been reported, with dead bees covering the sidewalks so thickly that residents had to watch where they walked. Why?
This is not the first instance of massive bee deaths in Portland. In 2013, 50,000 dead bees were found in a shopping center parking lot. That die-off was eventually blamed on insecticides known as neonicotinoids. The chemical was sprayed on nearby linden trees to kill aphids, which are not harmful to the trees but leave a residue on them that linden flower fans don’t like. After a few more mass bee deaths occurred in the same area (Wilsonville), the Oregon Department of Agriculture banned four types of neonicotinoids, but that ban didn’t take place until February of this year and Portland did not have to comply until April.
Could these latest five (so far) mass bee killings be related? The dead and dying bees were found in a different area (Pettygrove Park) but near … you guessed it … linden trees in bloom. A worker in the park area said bees had been dying there for over a month before they were finally collected and analyzed. Lab results have not yet been released but park officials have already denied using the banned pesticides and point out that linden trees under stress can produce a sugar that is bad for bees.
Stressed linden trees? What about the stress on the bees, which are already shorthanded due to years of colony collapse disorder? Not surprisingly, neonicotinoids can remain lethal to bees months after being sprayed on trees. You can hear the “it happened before the ban so it was legal” press release being composed, even though the chemicals were known to be probable bee killers back in 2013.
While the cause of these massive bee deaths is still technically a mystery, the dots to be connected aren’t very far apart. Will humans stop using chemicals that kill bees before there’s no food left to save? Will a collective of bees form a hive mind and take back their plants? Is it too late for the bees? Is it too late for us?