The new Fable of the Bees

This Leah Sottile WaPo piece is excellent in many ways.  Here are a few bits:

Bees are still dying at unacceptable rates…Ohio State University’s Honey Bee Update noted that losses among the state’s beekeepers over the past winter were as high as 80 percent.

…Researchers say innovative beekeepers will be critical to helping bees bounce back.

“People ask me, ‘The bees are going to be extinct soon?’ ” said Ramesh Sagili, principal investigator at the Oregon State University Honey Bee Lab. “I’m not worried about bees being extinct here. I’m worried about beekeepers being extinct.”

Commercial beekeepers are leaving the sector and innovative bee hobbyists are taking on a much larger role:

“I feel a social responsibility to provide good bees,” Prescott said. “It makes me happy to look at the part that I’m playing.”

…Obsessing over bee health was unheard of 50 years ago, said Marla Spivak, a University of Minnesota professor of entomology. “In the past, it was very easy to keep bees. Throw them in a box, and they make honey and survive. Now, it takes lots of management.”

The story has some excellent examples:

Henry Storch, 32, does it because he felt a calling to beekeeping. A farrier by trade, Storch said he could make more money shoeing horses. But five years ago, he became obsessed with the notion that he could build a better bee…He barely flinched as a bee stung him on the upper lip.

…Storch’s mountain-bred “survivor” bees are like open-range cows: tough, hardened and less in need of close management than the bees he trucks to the California almond fields. Storch compares the effort to growing organic, non-GMO food.

The good news is this:

Amid the die-off, beekeepers have been going to extraordinary lengths to save both their bees and their livelihoods.

That effort may finally be paying off. New data from the Agriculture Department show the number of managed honeybee colonies is on the rise, climbing to 2.7 million nationally in 2014, the highest in 20 years.

Recommended.  To trace the longer story, here are previous MR posts on bees.


I am so disappointed. When I saw the headline, I expected this post to actually talk about Mandeville.

Russell Roberts has a great podcast on this at econtalk, including great tidbits lime the fact that honeybees are an invasive species. Saving the north American honey bee is akin to saving the north American hereford.

Even if invasive they are a useful species, for pollination and the like.

I agree.

Herefords are useful too. ;-)

I am interested in Highland cattle and Norwegian elkhounds both useful, ancient breeds.

@Kevin Erdmann--LOL, you call yourself an economist? Do you realize this 'fable' links to both Mandeville, as the first poster wrote, as well as the economic concept of 'externality'? ( It is NOT a post about biology! Unreal. But coming from a man who believes there was no housing bubble, and tries to tilt at this windmill, it's not surprising I guess.

I am surprised (rhetorically, not really surprised since this article is in fact a biology human interest story not intended to be on economics per se) that Elinor Claire "Lin" Ostrom was not mentioned, especially when the "hobbyists" and "social responsibility" were mentioned.

Some native pollinators are at risk of extinction, but there's no risk of all of them going extinct. The issue is that native pollinators cannot live in giant monocultures of plants that flower once or twice a year with all other plants ruthlessly eliminated. So they are extinct on farms.

Not related to this post but perhaps useful. In my bathroom sits a book called "-Isms and -Ologies." Within is a passage that may prove enlightening to a common source of head-scratching around here. The following is lifted from this book.

Pertaining to the teachings (and more often to the conservative politics of some of his better-known acolytes) of the German-born political philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973). The author of On Tyranny, Natural Right and History, Persecution and the Art of Writing, and What is Political Philosophy? and a longtime member of the faculty of the University of Chicago, Strauss emphasized the moral dimensions of politics. An admirer of Socrates, Strauss took the Athenian gadfly's antidemocratic sentiments seriously; his hermeneutical readings (close interpretations that treat texts as though they were written in code) of philosophical texts often revealed a hidden "esoteric" demension intended only for an elite readership. ... Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Irving and William Kristol, and a number of other influential conservatives and members of the Koch-Satan-GMU triad are self-described Straussians as well.*

*small edit for the gratification of Prior Approval

Thanks, that was helpful

Orwell, "Politics are essentially coercion and deceit."

Democracy is when 52 million people vote to take money and stuff from 50 million other citizens.

Government is the name they attached to committing crimes together.

Government without justice (whatever that is . . .) is organized brigandage.

Really, on the bee post? Yawn.

Jan is right. The trolling should at least be on topic. Steve Sailer needs to jump in here with a post about the differences between docile European bees that do useful things like pollination and honey production, and their vicious Africanized cousins that increasingly threaten to displace European bees. Surely he can draw parallels with African migrants in Europe.

From Wikipedia, "By selecting only the most gentle, non-defensive races, beekeepers have, over centuries, eliminated the more defensive races and created a number of subspecies suitable for apiculture...But in central and southern Africa there was formerly no tradition of beekeeping, only bee robbing which effectively destroys a hive in order to harvest the honey, pollen and larvae. In addition the bees have had to adapt to the environment of sub-Saharan Africa, surviving prolonged droughts and having to defend themselves against aggressive insects such as ants and wasps"

Jan, sorry, I happened upon it and didn't want to wait until the next perfect "what does he mean by Straussian" moment.

tyler, how do you manage the cognitive dissonance necessary to be in favor of both heirloom small-producer bees and giant multinational agribusiness? 'market effiencies' are what led us to monoculture crops, and what will inexorably lead us to mass die-offs.

There's so much terrible in this comment I don't know where to begin. Is Tyler in fact in favor of either heirloom small producer bees or multinational agribusiness? Mass die-offs of what? And why would there be any cognitive dissonance whatsoever in being "in favor" of these two things markets have given us?

"innovative [x] hobbyists are taking on a much larger role"

It seems this is happening more and more, in diverse fields e.g. open source software.

Something like "there never was as much profit to be had as we thought"? Other explanations?

New data from the Agriculture Department show the number of managed honeybee colonies is on the rise, climbing to 2.7 million nationally in 2014, the highest in 20 years

And yet, it is only in the last ten years that we heard about the Big Bee Dieoff. Something doesn't make sense here.

I may not be understanding your point, but it seems like the distinction is "managed" bee colonies. I have no idea what share of bee colonies meet this definition. Also, these could have just been increasingly naturally, rather than in reaction to, the decline in bees.

Why Yancey, it's almost as if a decade of research, economic analysis, policy coordination, and outreach through university extension systems might have addressed a significant problem and begun to have an effect! The private sector and civil society together can, eventually, assist with a subtle but profound problem.

Perhaps there are lots of small colonies now, where before there were a smaller number of much larger ones?

And yet, not a single one of you actually addressed my point with anything other than handwaving.

They have been replacing the dying off colonies with importaed australian bee colonies (also European Honey Bees).
So the total number under management hasn't fallen. They just aren't _the_same_ colonies.

Yep, the Australian island and state of Tasmania has exported 10 tonnes of bees to Canada this year. That includes packaging, but it does come to about 7,000 or so colonies. And maybe I'm just dense, but if the American bee industry is suffering heavy losses, woudn't they create more colonies to compensate for their losses? I know it's a crazy idea, but American beekeepers are probably just crazy enough to do it.

How many unmanaged bee colonies are there?

no one really knows. surprised tyler didn't link to the nymag article:

I had one but the neighbours made me get rid of it. Something about them dying if they get stung. So glad I didn't tell them about my taipan collection.

That was a great read Tyler. People might learn something about economics by reading such an article.

"A farrier by trade ..."

Shocked that there is not a "There is no Great Stagnation for Bees" mentioned in the title...
Also that it didn't open with "Have you heard the buzz?"

Just for more information:

Mandeville to show that it was "no new thing . At the time, however, it was considered scandalous.

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