Can Science Replace the Bee?
There are many ways for pollination to take place, including by such pollinators as bats, birds, butterflies, bees, beetles, flies and wasps—not to mention by the wind itself.
Of all these pollination methods, bees—whether native or honeybee—do by far the most flower pollination. Pollen magnetically attaches to the bee’s hairy body by electrostatic force. As they seek high-protein pollen and nectar, they unwittingly transfer pollen from one flower to another.
This is a seamless relationship that has existed for billions of years between insects and plants.
In the bigger picture of bee pollination, the hundreds of types of native bees are every bit as important as honeybees.
This 2:21-minute video by Greenpeace presents a sobering insight into a world where true bees are not buzzing:
Bees and other types of pollinators are suffering from dwindling populations around the world, due to parasites, pesticides, habitat loss, climate change and disease.
In China there are places where pesticides have reduced the bee population so drastically that fruit trees like apple and pear trees are not bee-pollinated. Instead, people climb ladders and use a stick with chicken feathers tied on one end to transfer pollen from one blossom to another. Rural farmers are manually pollinating flowers this way instead of hiring beekeepers to bring in their hives of honeybees. For an important cash crop, they will invest in this labor-intense expense.
We recently blogged about Robotic Honeybees and futuristic “bee-technology” that isn't so far away. If you missed that blog post you can read it here.
The world fears that bees may go extinct, so scientists are trying to find ways to replace bees. Harvard University researchers have developed the “RoboBee” which is an insect-sized drone with a wingspan of 1.2 inches and artificial muscles that can beat 120 times per second for possible artificial pollination.
Taking things even further, a Japanese researcher’s drone is decked out with an ionic gel/horsehair combo to collect and transfer pollen. A swarm of drone bees that can fly independently can pollinate a field of sunflowers—crazy but true.
Students at Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, figured out how to make honey without the honeybee. Their “BeeFree” honey uses engineered bacteria that produces enzymes in a nectar-like solution that mimics the bee’s honey tummy.
Even Walmart has jumped on board and received a drone pollinator patent according to this 0:33-second video:.
So, what would it take to replace an active bee colony of some 10,000+ bees, if we had to? One-third of them are foragers collecting nectar and pollen.
Consider that the California almond orchards hire about 2 million trucked-in hives every year. If each RoboBee costs $10, the cost might be prohibitive. Such drones need lithium-powered batteries, which carry an environmental price. And where would we dispose of broken robots? Perhaps worst of all, only targeted crops would be pollinated, unlike real bees, that support biodiversity and are equal-opportunity pollinators in fields and forests alike.
If we should feel relieved that solutions are falling into place to help humanity survive post-bees, why does it all feel so depressing? Because it's not just about us. If we lose the bees our world will be less joyful, less magical and less whole.
Bees matter, so in 2020 let’s plant glorious bee-friendly seasonal flowers, let clover grow in our grass, make water baths for our little buzzing friends, steer clear of pesticides and encourage native bees to visit or move in to our garden havens and nest in the ground as well.
Let’s do what we can to save the bees, so we don’t have to lose them to robot bees.
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