Home International Even the bees are fleeing hives in quake-hit Puerto Rico

Even the bees are fleeing hives in quake-hit Puerto Rico

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Bees have deserted up to 25% of hives in towns like Guayanilla in southern Puerto Rico after hundreds of tremors and a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the area.

Puerto Rican bees are abandoning hives as

weeks of earthquakes disrupt colonies, experts said, raising

concerns that a subspecies seen as a possible solution to the

global bee crisis could take another hit after being decimated

by hurricanes in 2017.

Bees have deserted up to 25% of hives in towns like

Guayanilla in southern Puerto Rico after hundreds of tremors and

a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the area, said Hermes Conde,

director of the island’s Eastern Apiculture School. The quakes

have shifted the position of many hives, confused returning bees

and caused destruction inside the wooden boxes, he said.

They have also disrupted beekeepers’ normal feeding of hives

during winter months as farmers recover from quakes that

collapsed hundreds of homes and caused at least one

death. Thousands of Puerto Ricans are sleeping

outdoors, fearful their houses could collapse in another big

aftershock.

As the US territory seeks a disaster declaration from

President Donald Trump to increase relief resources, the

island’s beekeepers are appealing for U.S. donations of “protein

patties” and other bee food to save their hives.

“Bees are looking for calmer areas, fleeing all the movement

in the earthquake zone,” said Conde, who has lost 10 of his 50

hives in Guayanilla and fears more may go if quakes continue.

Alena L. Leeds, a scientist from the United States Geological Survey, operates earthquake monitoring and recording equipment amid aftershocks across the island’s southern coast where recent quakes have toppled homes and schools in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Picture: Carlos Giusti/AP

Puerto Rico’s hardy, productive bees are the descendants of

Africanized bees. They are seen as a possible substitute for

western honey bees that have died off in unprecedented numbers

due to so-called colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Scientists say Puerto Rico’s bees are less susceptible to

parasites blamed for CCD, a phenomenon which has caused economic

losses worldwide in crops that depend on western honey bees for

pollination.

A Puerto Rican flag hangs within the rubble after it was placed there where store owners and family help remove supplies from Ely Mer Mar hardware store, which partially collapsed after an earthquake struck Guanica. Picture: Carlos Giusti/AP

Around 85% of Puerto Rico’s bees were wiped out by Hurricane

Maria in 2017, which killed about 3,000 people on the Caribbean

island. The bee population has since recovered to around 60% of

its former size, according to Conde.

Neighbours gather outside a shelter afraid of aftershocks after an earthquake in Guanica, Puerto Rico. Picture: Carlos Giusti/AP

Bee expert Tugrul Giray, a professor at the University of

Puerto Rico, said the principal reason bees were abandoning

hives was likely a lack of food as beekeepers tended to other

priorities in their lives.

But he said bees hated vibration, and the repeated tremors

and earthquakes since Dec. 28 had caused them to become less

docile and leave nests.

“Puerto Rico’s beekeepers need special help right now,” said

Giray, warning locals to take care when encountering the

island’s stressed-out bees. 

Reuters