Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wild at Heart II: Honeybees

This weekend marked the opening of Wild at Heart II, the third edition of the endangered species benefit shows co-curated by myself and Thinkspace's Andrew Hosner. 20% of the proceeds of the show will go to Born Free USA to help threatened wildlife. Though the exhibition has closed, you can still check out all the work online.

Esao Andrews "White Bee"

There are 7 species of honeybees in the world, which represent only a small fraction of the over 20,000 known species of bees. They are believed to have evolved in South Asia, where humans have collected wild honey for at least 15,000 years. Honeybees have been domesticated by humans for at least 4,500 years, according to inscriptions in the tombs and temples of ancient Egypt. Prior to European settlement in the early 1600s, there were no true honeybees in the Americas, although a native stingless bee was cultivated for honey by the Maya and many native bees such as Orchard Mason Bees are highly efficient pollinators. It took over 200 years for honeybees to reach the west coast. They were carried over the Rocky Mountains and shipped around Cape Horn by settlers, who needed them to pollinate crops and to produce wax and honey.

Like their relatives, the bumblebees, honeybees feed on nectar and gather pollen to feed their young. Unlike bumblebees, they store honey as a source of food to produce body heat during the winter. It takes the efforts of more than 22,000 bees to make a single jar of honey. In cold weather, honeybees cluster into a ball inside their hive and rotate from the center to the edges so no bee gets too cold. The temperature at the center of the cluster never drops below 80°F, no matter how cold the weather outside. Honeybees are threatened by colony collapse disorder, a mysterious syndrome which has destroyed unprecedented numbers of overwintering hives in recent years. Theories on its causation range from the overuse of pesticides to the overharvesting of honey, which is often replaced with high-fructose corn syrup, a lower value food for hardworking bees.

However, competition from and diseases spread by commercial honeybees also pose a deadly threat to native bee populations. Dozens of bee species have quietly disappeared over the past 30 years, including the Shrill Carder Bee, Cockerell’s Bumblebee and the Rusty-patched Bumblebee, all of which are on the brink of extinction. Many advocate the local cultivation of native bees such as the Orchard Mason Bee to pollinate crops in order minimize the transportation of commercial hives around the country.

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