Courtesy of The Mind Unleashed, with over 43,000 likes and 1.79 million shares. This popular meme alerts us that 7 bees were just placed on the endangered species list, which is a precursor to us losing avocados and coffee, among other things. Is this true, and what’s going on with the bees?
The 7 Endangered Bees
On September 30 2016, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service added 10 new animals and 39 new plants to the endangered species list. All of these were from Hawaii, including the band-rumped storm-petrel, the orangeback Hawaiian damselfly, the anchialine pool shrimp and 7 species of yellow-faced bees. In total, 63 species of these yellow-faced bees live in Hawaii, and most have been rare for quite some time. 33 species were put on the “Species of Concern” list back in 1996. Nine of the species haven’t been seen in 80 years.
According to the Fish and Wildlife report, one species of these newly declared endangered bees hadn’t even been collected for study until 1997. Another had only been collected twice in the last 100 years. Clearly, these bees are uncommon (at least in the last century) and they generally do not live where humans do in Hawaii. In order to find them, you’d likely need to trek through a native forest or shrubland. Human development and non-native species like feral pigs, goats, rats, ants and even earthworms have displaced them and their habitat.
While these yellow-faced bees might be worth protecting and important in pollinating the native forest ecosystem in Hawaii, they don’t seem to be an imminent threat to making our food disappear. After all, they’ve been extremely rare for decades, if not longer. If the effects of their disappearance on agriculture was disastrous, this should already be apparent. Yet it’s not. Considering these bees don’t generally live near human developed land, it’s doubtful they have any role in pollinating Hawaii’s crops. Therefore, this meme’s warning that our coffee and avocados might vanish borders on hysterical. Furthermore, while Hawaii does produce a small amount of avocados and coffee, they aren’t even a drop in the bucket of global production. For some perspective, Hawaii produces just 6.8 million pounds of coffee per year, Ethiopia produces 860 million pounds, and Brazil produces 5.9 billion.
What About Other Bees?
When this meme was posted in October 2016, only these Hawaiian bees were on the endangered list. This makes it misleading, as omitting that context would change many people’s impression. However, it’s notable to report that since then the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared another bee endangered, the rusty patched bumblebee. It’s unlikely this bee would have much effect on strawberries, avocados or coffee, though, as it inhabits the northern Midwest and Northeast. California is responsible for 90% of avocado production, and 80% of strawberries, and would be unaffected by the disappearance of this bumblebee. Additionally, there are 4,000 species of bees in the U.S.
There is also much concern about the honeybee population across the entire country. Honeybees are not native to America (they were brought by European settlers), but are nevertheless important in pollinating many crops and flora. Some studies assert they are disappearing and it’s a real problem, while others say the hysteria is overblown and not a real issue, as the honeybee population has actually increased since 2006.
There is legitimate debate on the issue, but bees as a whole are certainly not endangered now, and if their disappearance begins to be a serious problem, solutions will likely come about to increase their numbers. For example, “bee highways” have been constructed in Norway to increase population. Beekeeping is booming in popularity across the country in urban areas. It seems doubtful that with modern technology and awareness we will wake up one day without any ability to pollinate our crops or flowers.
Seven types of bees were determined to be endangered, but all of them in Hawaii, which the meme neglects to mention. Since this would markedly change most people’s perception, it’s not an innocent or unimportant omission. Furthermore, these endangered bees pose no substantial threat to Hawaii’s agriculture, and certainly not the “strawberries, avocados and coffee” that the meme uses as a warning. Since the meme was published, an additional bee became listed as endangered, but this also doesn’t affect the “strawberries, avocados and coffee” nor does it appear to be an imminent danger for us or our food supply.