Black and yellow facts: what’s the buzz about endangered bees?

bee picture


Coated in stripes of stark black and yellow, a modest bee flits from one delicate white daisy planted near the commons to another flower across the way, transferring pollen as it flies. 

While a menace to those with allergies, this bee plays a comprehensive role in the agricultural industry. Functioning as more than a honey producer, bees serve as native pollinators and are essential to fruit, vegetable and flower production.

But there’s a problem. 

On March 22, the rusty patched bumblebee was added to the endangered species list after plunging nearly 90 percent in abundance and distribution across the continental United States since the late 1990s, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature says more than a quarter of U.S. and Canadian bumble bees are facing a risk of extinction.

This drastic decline in population can largely be attributed to the rise of neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides that grew in use during the late 1990s as the use of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) rose.

Bees that collect pollen contaminated with neonics or fly through toxic clouds of dust suffer side effects in reproduction, growth and movement, according to a CBC News interview with Jean-Marc Bonmatin of the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

These native pollinators are worth much more than the honey they produce. They pollinate billions of dollars worth of crops -a job not easily done by heavy machinery.

And so the question remains: How can we create a larger buzz on campus, in Sioux Falls and within our larger South Dakotan agricultural community to save the humble bumble bee?

Step One: Love your flowers. Take an active role in planting, caring for and maintaining flower growth in your own backyard. In particular, plant and promote the growth of wildflowers native to the upper Midwest including the tall bellflower, hedge bindweed and wild columbine. Plant annual flowers that will produce new growth every spring and keep your bees coming back for more.

Step Two: Avoid using insecticides that include neonicotinoids. Carefully read the ingredients label on any chemicals you intend to use. If living in a dorm or apartment, ask your maintenance personnel what lawn and garden chemicals they use and, if necessary, petition for a decrease in insecticide usage.

Step Three: Support your local beekeepers and apiaries. According to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, 18 apiaries, collections of beehives, exist in Minnehaha County alone. Apply for a license and invest in an apiary to keep at your apartment, or encourage officials on campus to invest in an apiary to raise awareness about connections to the larger agricultural community.

Food production depends heavily on pollination from these native pollinators. While these simple creatures may seem insignificant and menacing to some, extinction would cause an enormous ecological impact, a sting much more painful than any one bee could render.

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