The Birds and the Bees

No bees, no milkweed fruits and seeds, no more Monarchs. Etc Etc...

Funny and sad: this phrase is so familiar. These two groups are exemplary of nature, and used together, the lives of birds and bees have become easily observed organic lessons about how the world of nature works.

Can you imagine a time ahead when mankind will have to find a new metaphor for sex education because there are no birds or bees to serve us to teach how babies are born? Maybe instead we’ll use the story about “the roaches and the rodents” since they seem likely to be able to adapt even to toxic human enterprise.

The good news is that the extinction rate for birds is relatively low (compared to other large animal groups like amphibians.)

But the story, as you doubtless have heard, is anything but rosy for bees, and there is more to be lost than their buzz and their honey. Up to 90% of commercially-grown fruits and vegetables depend on bees for pollination.

You’ll remember from high school biology that a pollen grain is the vehicle that carries plant sperm. Bees are the agents that get the right sperm to the right egg. And a vegetable or fruit is the product of a pregnant plant egg inside an ovary. No fertilization of egg by sperm, no pregnancy, no veggies or apples.

So the fact that some of the most important native pollinators–the bumblebees–are also seeing drastic decline is especially worrisome. See this HuffPo description of the situation.

This situation is worsening in serious ways, spreading from honeybees to native pollinators.

“Penn State researchers have found that native pollinators, like wild bees and wasps, are infected by the same viral diseases as honey bees and that these viruses are transmitted via pollen.” Dec 2010 link

To learn more, come to the Floyd Country Store Saturday January 8 at 7pm for the showing of Queen of the Sun. Read more about the movie and more about the Floyd event.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. The bee population reduction mystery seems to be the most under reported ecological phenomenon out there. Yes it is getting some press coverage, but given the magnitude of the issue it is amazing that it has not been gang busters.

    I’m hoping we figure out all of this soon, but I believe it will come down to genetically modified crops. We can likely thank Monsanto, Dow, and other chemical companies for this debacle.