In our state, the honeybee is an insect of great importance economically, agriculturally and symbolically. In 1959, the beehive was designated as the official state emblem, and Utah has long been known as the Beehive State. There are an estimated 40,000 hives in Utah, which produce over 900,000 pounds of honey every year, including our own University of Utah’s small-scale Beekeeping Association, which provides over 100 pounds of honey each year.
However, sadly, in recent times, there has been an average loss of 30 to 40 percent of the honeybee colonies every year due to climate change. This might not seem to be a big deal to the average reader, but this is terrifying news. Utah honeybees provide pollination for a majority of the state's $34 million fruit and berry industry, and it's estimated that honeybees produce 1 in 3 bites of food you take. After learning this, I was shocked: What could be killing all these bees?
The answer is not very surprising to me; it’s the change in Utah’s climate. Bees are very similar to penguins; when it begins to get cold outside, they cluster together to keep their queen and larvae alive with their body heat. Body heat is how bees survive the harsh winter here in Utah, but in the past decade, our weather patterns have been irregular.
Early in the spring, when it begins warming up, honeybees start to build their colonies. While the queen is hard at work laying larvae, a sudden freezing night will roll along and the honeybees cluster to their queen. This cluster causes the outside larvae to essentially freeze to death. Not only have beekeepers lost significant portions of their hives to irregular climate, but we have had a considerable decline in the number of beekeepers themselves. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, the number of managed honeybee hives is half of what it was in the 1950s.
Without our fuzzy little friends, we can say goodbye to one-third of the food we eat, our beautiful canyons full of wildflowers and a wide range of animals that rely on bees to pollinate their food.
“If you want to save the world, be a backyard beekeeper,” said Frank Whitby, a University of Utah faculty member and amateur beekeeper.
I couldn’t agree more. A future without honeybees is a future I wish never to see or even imagine.
I urge the public to do what they can to help these little guys succeed even, if you are unable to keep and maintain a hive of your own.
Here are some tips to help our fuzzy flying friends year-long: Plant single-flower habitats, such as daisies and marigolds, since they produce more nectar than those of double flower tops. Even if you don't have a garden where you can plant lots of flowers, even a simple window container can create a paradise for many bees. Avoid fertilizers and pesticides; try something natural instead, as pesticides don't only negatively affect honeybees, but a wide range of helpful garden insects. Bees need a fresh and clean place to bathe, so try filling a shallow dish with water, and fill the bottom with stones and sticks to allow the bees to lay safely.
Every bit helps protect and promote the health of our local honeybees.