Imagine a world without bees: no nasty stings, with swollen, red and itchy marks. No pesky insects at the picnic, or floating in the punch. No crying children. No pollination. No survival of a multitude of crops. No honey.
No honey! Not only is it one of the best natural sweeteners, honey is filled with nutrients and natural antibiotics
But the European honeybee, Apis mellifera, is confusing researchers nationwide by disappearing in droves. According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bees are vanishing across a total of 22 states, and no one can really explain why. This agricultural disaster is being termed as Colony Collapse Disorder. Some speculate that radiation from mobile phones may interfere with bees' navigation systems, which may not be as far-fetched as it first seems. Others are blaming a European fungus, while some cite closer-to-home problems, like prolonged drought.
News of the problem first began spreading last fall when beekeepers began finding whole hives abandoned by adult bees that had left behind ample food and their larvae. Since then, more than 2.4 million bee colonies have disappeared, according to the Apiary Inspectors of America, a national group that tracks bee keeping.
Bees play a vital role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. And, in today's world, they are critically important to the pollination of major commercial crops.
Experts say that if bees were to become extinct, it would be a catastrophic event around the world.
Even Albert Einstein, many decades ago, praised the invaluable insect. "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left," he said. "No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."
"So far it's not affecting us, but that doesn't mean it won't affect us at a later time," said second-generation Gooding beekeeper Tony Kaneaster, of Dave Kaneaster Apiary. "It could happen tomorrow. We don't know. So, we're watching, trying to stay on top of it and find out what's going on. People need to realize we need the bees around. It's major deal.
"My dad's been doing this for 45 years," Kaneaster said. "Every year is the same and every year is different. It's hard to control Mother Nature. We run bees (to pollinate) in Camas, Mackay, Gooding, Richfield and Hagerman.
"We're getting a lot of support from farmers, by being interested in the subject. It's not easy to do this. (Besides moving bees around the state for pollinating), we sell a lot of local honey for people with allergies. What will happen if it wasn't there?"
But here in the Wood River Valley, one woman is doing her part to help.
Artist Heidi Albrecht's "Save the Honeybee" campaign is being run out of the Wicked Spud bar and restaurant in Hailey. She has made Adopt-A-Bee pins that she sells for $3. Each one comes with a birth certificate, which are then hung inside the Hailey eatery. All the proceeds from the sale of her homemade pins are being sent to the American Beekeeping Federation to aid in the research of Colony Collapse Disorder.
"I was watching one of the morning shows and there was a story about a beekeeper," Albrecht said. "She's weeping. Her family business is in trouble and she was showing trays of dead bees. She was so passionate, it emotionally stung me."
After Albrecht posted the Save-A-Bee notice at the Wicked Spud with the Albert Einstein quote on it, bee pins began selling like the burgers and beer usually on the menu.
As for the naysayers, all Albrecht had to do was tell them there'd be no beer without the bee, and they, too, ponied up for a pin and birth certificate, naming their bees such things as Bee-atrice, Convict, Barna-bee and Leave-Ed-Bee.
Not only does Albrecht feel like a bit of a bee expert these days, she is turning a corner of her property into a bee environment.
"Bees don't see red," she said. "Hummingbirds, bats and butterflies do. Bees go for yellow and purple. They like dead wood, so I'm making the habitat terraced and using wood to create it. Tom (her 16-year-old son) researched how to make a pyramid and coat it with something sweet and sticky to attract them. It's so they can get out of the sun, to rest. Isn't it cute? They take a siesta."
Albrecht is really hoping awareness about bees will be raised. Whether Idaho is ever affected in a serious way remains to be seen. In the meantime, stop swatting at the buzzers, and be happy instead when you see them.