scientist

The Greatest Scientist of a Generation

In Essay by Scott Wilson

greatest scientist
Former EPA Subcontractor (me) Solves Colony Collapse all on His Own (brilliant)

INTERNET! Tell me why the bees are dying. Tell me the source of colony collapse disorder. Tell me what is being done to stop this epidemic that threatens to ruin our civilization.

Search Results:

  • EPA FINALLY ADMITS THAT THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR PESTICIDE KILLS BEES!
  • NEW EVIDENCE LINKING SYSTEMATIC PESTICIDES TO BEE DIE OFFS!
  • SCIENTISTS DISCOVER WHAT’S KILLING THE BEES AND IT’S WORSE THAN YOU THOUGHT!
  • A SILENT SPRING COULD BECOME A HORRIFYING REALITY! WHY WON’T THE EPA DO MORE!?
  • BEES HOOKED ON NEONICOTINOIDS!

Just as I figured. It’s somebody else’s fault.

The chemical companies systematically kill all life. They are evil. They are the darkness that consumes the light. The hellish spectral that preys upon the innocent.

And I am Batman!

Quick, to the word processor! I will write such a damning article on the state of the chemical industry that all the world will have to take notice. People will pour into the streets like ants at the scent of a sticky toddler dropping their popsicle. They’ll chant, loud enough for the gods to hear: “Down with Neonics! Up with nudie pics!” On their protest signs will be stark, poignant caricatures of the Honey Nut Cheerios bee wearing a gas mask.

And at the head of the procession, dressed in gold, being held aloft by toned Olympic athletes, will be me. Me and a stack of my books, for sale.

Heads will roll, oh yes, they will roll back and forth across the cultural consciousness of this great nation like bowling balls on the deck of the Titanic. Politicians, CEOs, Internet commentators who speak ill of the movement. By decree: all of them, yes. Delightful. New sports will be invented to make use of all the excess heads rolling about.

Now, to embolden my stance what I need is science. PROOF! EVIDENCE! LINKING SYSTEMATICS! Science is truth. Science blesses rhetoric with glorious facts. Science makes things true by proving proofs with evidence.

But who to email… Oh, I know, my old boss at the chemical analysis lab, Larry!

Dear Larry:

Hey the Internet says neonicotinoids are poisoning everything and it’s the government’s fault and the companies are profiting and killing us all too because they’re evil and also the government’s evil too. True or false?

– Scott

Dear Scott,

We have conducted two types of bee studies in which we studied the effects of agricultural chemicals. Keep in mind that in the study where we had a range of neonic concentrations in sugar water of 8 hives at 12 locations, some of the concentrations resulted in hives doing better than the control hives that received sugar water without the neonic. The highest concentrations did show some negative effects to bees, but those high levels were greater than would be found in nectar and pollen and they were in the study to demonstrate the concentration necessary to cause negative effects.
In another type of study, we put 4 equal-sized beehives in the center of ten 5-hectare (12-acre) plots of flowering canola. The canola was grown from neonic-treated seed. The hives were moved to an apiary (where there was no agriculture within miles) after the canola bloom period and overwintered there. The bees exposed to the neonic-treated canola fared better relative to several of the endpoints we measured while in the canola and afterwards. I will send you a link to this publication for that project in a separate email.
There may be two reasons for this outcome. 1) the neonic-treated canola was healthier due to pest control and produced more, or better quality, nectar and pollen, or 2) the low level of the neonic that the bees consumed in canola nectar and pollen acted like an antibiotic and helped reduce their parasite loads to make them healthier. Or perhaps a combination of both.

–Larry. Head Toxicologist or whatever at some lab. PhD in blah blah blah

Incorrect answer, Larry. You and your studies will not be making it into my thesis.

Though, because I am an excellent strategist, I can foresee future litigation if I continue to blame the evil chemical companies for all the problems of the world. There must be another enemy.

Back to the Internet!

Dear Computer,

Please tell me what the biggest single killer of honeybees’ colonies is. Time is a factor, so please keep it to one sentence or less.

–Love, Scott

(To whoever has the great fortune to find this manuscript, I would like to be honest with you, here. This isn’t to say that I haven’t been honest with you before, but here I want to be double-honest. The Internet is a flawed instrument. It was not able to provide me with the knowledge I sought in the brevity required for an ever-inquiring mind, like mine, that has much to do but nary a moment to spare.)

Mites! Mites are the greatest killer of bee colonies! DOCUMENTED FACT! The Varroa Destructor mite sucks the bees’ blood and infects them with diseases. Where did this monster come from? It was first discovered in THE USSR! Surprised? Ha, I’m not. I know the Russians, I’ve read their folklore. Yes. Combine folklore with the Internet and you get a soup of such tactile complexity no metaphor, no matter how mixed, can show the depth. Those commies had their eyes on the capitalist global agricultural market since the Witch Queen, Baba Yaga, in her chicken-leg house on the thrice-ninth kingdom of the thrice-ninth world quit her role as mother/protector/witch of the natural elements to better serve the unstoppable will of the proletariat. UNDOCUMENTED FACT!

I’m done looking for solutions from the Internet. It cannot convey the depth of true knowledge, but only a veneer of intelligence, thrice-ninth removed from anything bearing resemblance to a solution.

BOOK! Come to me. Crease your bindings to my will, tell me the truth. How do I kill the mites so that I might free the honeybees of all their earthly woes, so that they might continue the bidding of a hungry populace?

(Books, dear reader, are quite wordy. The book I choose to imbue me with the truth has so many sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that I wonder how the good people of the book’s publication date, in 1988, ever got their work done, reading such tomes. Below, I summarize the book’s knowledge into a simple sentence. Take note, computer.)

The book says:.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

“Spray ‘em with chemicals”

Ah, shit. No, that’s not what I want. Book, you’re just as bad as folklore.

I’m reminded of something Larry said. I know, I was going to leave Larry out because he didn’t condemn the chemical companies like I wanted him to, but he has a theory that might give me something new to blame.

He says a lot of plants, especially trees, decide when to host their first bloom in accordance with soil temperature. Six inches under the surface, conditions represent a sort of average of the weather above. Warm winter = early bloom.
Bees, however, are union workers. They only go out during the daylight. So, if the average American soil is warmer now than it’s been in a hundred years (which it is), that means the crucial first bloom occurs earlier in the year than usual.
Honeybees, Larry says, smell the flowers and come out of wintering half-starved. They’ve already killed all the males in the hive, they haven’t been raising many young, they’re running out of food reserves and getting sick of the antibiotic-laden sugar water their keepers feed them, and now they only have six hours of daylight to collect as much pollen and nectar as they can, even though in years past they would have had eight hours to do it.
The hive is desperate for babies; all its workers are elderly holdovers from before the first frost. Though they do their best, and the queen fills the combs with eggs, but because of the short day they can’t get enough pollen and nectar to feed their future replacements. So when the elderly workers die, so does the colony.

That’s an idea: the cumulative effect of growing gasses in the atmosphere might cause the elimination of an entire class of organisms.

But what about Finland, Spain, Australia, Kenya, and China? Their honeybee populations are increasing. In fact, all the world’s honeybee populations, as a net group, are growing.

-I read that both in a book and on the Internet and in a science journal.
That’s three-times true.

And you know, on the Isle of Wright during the early twentieth century, 90% of their beehives just up and died. People still don’t know why, and that was way before global warming and pesticides and invasive mites and Soviet communism.

Maybe sometimes bees don’t like a place. Maybe they decide death is better than living in some hellhole like the Isle of Wright. A little introspection might show the United States isn’t a great place to be a bee right now either. I’ve seen how they’re treated. They come here off ships and airplanes from breeder colonies in other countries, they’re divided up according to which hives are strong and which aren’t, the strong hives get loaded onto palates with other bee gangs and trucked around at sixty-five miles an hour (the weak hives are left behind to breed), they only have access to one “monoculture” food source at a time, they eat nothing but empty calories and sugar, they get smoked and molested every two weeks by honey harvesters, they come into contact with all sorts of crazy weather conditions, they meet every parasite and virus the road has to offer, they’re forced to separate and swear fealty to a new queen when their keepers need to expand their operations, they live in insulation during the winter so the weak aren’t culled, they come from narrow genetic stock that gets narrower over the generations from human’s selective breeding, there’s less acreage to graze on with meadows being replaced by cul-du-sacs, they get killed by feral bees, by wasps, by bee catcher birds, and spiders, which they’re poorly equipped to battle because they aren’t evolved to face these predators, being native to a whole different continent.

I’m starting to feel a little empathy for the bees. They’re being exploited. They never asked to come to America. They’re working their little stingers off, and in exchange their species gets bottlenecked; bread into extinction, if not forced there from abuse.

Oi! But while bee numbers in America are in decline, demand for their services has never been higher. In California, the drought pushes farmers to rely on crops with more valuable yields. These crops – like almonds, cashews, and avocados – need bees for pollination, but don’t flower often enough to support a regular bee population. So the bees get bundled up and pulled away from their grazing, and trucked in to the fields – all against their preference.

I feel like I might, maybe, just be getting to the source of honeybee colony collapse.

And all on my own! I am a genius!

So in the classic case of colony collapse disorder, which the government and private enterprises have spent over a billion dollars investigating and trying to solve, what happens is the keeper walks up to a hive after a couple weeks of leaving it alone, they open up the top, look inside, and it’s all empty.

Well, not totally all empty. There might be a few young workers, some drones, larvae, and lots of honeycombs. On the floor there will be a small pile of dead. Sometimes the queen is in that pile, sometimes not. The bees leave the hive, which seems to be aesthetically and functionally fine, to the wolves.

And the question that brought me here, is after all we’ve done for the bees, and knowing full well how much we need them, why would they just excuse themselves from our system?

I think if I asked the bees what colony collapse disorder is, they’d tell me it’s my problem, not theirs.

About the Author

Scott Wilson

I live in Chicago where I co-host the monthly Chimera Reading Series and help edit the Hotel Amerika lit journal, and read for Habitat Magazine. My writing has appeared in Conquista.cc, Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, the Chicago Anthology by Belt Publishing, the Chicago Review of books, and Quip Magazine.