Do Earthquakes Kill Bees? [Researched]

A road devastated by an earthquake

The honey bee population is under threat from pests, predators, and also humans. It’s fair to say that their numbers are in decline. But should we add earthquakes to the list?

Of course, some will get squashed during the chaos caused by large tremors, but is there something sinister at play that kills them en masse?

In this guide, we’ll look at whether earthquakes kill bees as well as answer some commonly asked questions on this topic.

Can an earthquake kill bees?

Although footage has shown large numbers of dead bees following a large earthquake, there is currently no scientific evidence to support this theory. Melittologists agree that earthquakes influence bees and there is plenty of video footage showing dead insects following earthquakes. However, there is no definitive studies have been carried out to confirm that quakes kill bees in large numbers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean bees are safe from earthquakes. The problem is that earthquakes are rare and unpredictable, so researching the topic is a challenge.

Why do people think earthquakes affect bees?

Scientists have long understood that insects could sense earthquakes before they happen. But it wasn’t until 2019 that video footage revealed thousands of dead bees after a Californian 7.1 magnitude earthquake.

The shocking evidence was posted by Khalil Underwood, who filmed the dead insects outside his house. He exclaims “’This is crazy. I’ve never witnessed anything like this.” Although most were dead, some could be seen shaking, disoriented, and buzzing on the ground.

Many other beekeepers also posted images and videos of their colonies dead after the earthquake.  

A pile of dead honey bees

What research do we have about earthquakes and bees?

There are no specific studies on the link between bees and quakes. But there is plenty of research suggesting insects experience large declines during a significant earthquake. One study worth mentioning was carried out by researchers in Northern Taiwan. They recorded large declines of insects living near water as the result of 6.8 and 7.3 earthquakes. Source.

Another paper worth checking out is Earthquake Predictions by Animals, written by Joseph L. Kirkschvink. He found that bees demonstrate strange behavior 15 minutes before an earthquake. This suggests they can detect seismic activity and the earth’s magnetic field.  

There are several theories proposed by researchers that explain why bees can’t cope with a quake. At this stage, these are simply hypotheses, lacking any conclusive evidence.

  • Some bee experts believe that earthquakes disrupt the earth’s magnetic fields. This may have a catastrophic effect on the honey bee’s navigation, resulting in disorientation, inability to find their hive, and eventual death from hunger and exhaustion.   
  • Scientists also speculate that altered magnetic fields may weaken a bee’s immunity system. Any parasites within the colony are then able to rapidly wipe out the colony.
  • Some researchers propose that an earthquake creates a low-frequency magnetic field. This impairs a bee’s motor skills and cognitive abilities, leaving them to twitch and die on the ground.

Can insects like bees sense an earthquake?

There are countless online forums where animal owners, including beekeepers, witness erratic behavior before earthquakes. They seem to have a sixth sense that alerts them to storms, fires, and other major events.

Beekeepers have observed their colony buzzing loudly and appearing agitated prior to seismic activity. They also have been known to fly around in circular patterns and disorganized swarming. Another fascinating behavior bees exhibit is only using one side of their beehive entrance; usually, they will use the whole opening.

Earthquakes can confuse and disorientate bees.

It isn’t just anecdotal witness reports that support the connection between quakes and insects. The National Geographic also discusses how animals can sense earthquakes before they hit.

Japanese researchers have been studying the behavior of animals before an earthquake. They hope to use their special senses as an early warning system for humans. However, the United States Geological Survey has reservations about using animals in this way – they argue that there are too many other stimuli that trigger animals, using them for early earthquake detection would be folly.

Should we be concerned about bees dying from earthquakes?

Looking at official statistics produced by the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), there were 2.4 million honey-producing colonies in 2008, down from 5.9 million in 1947. These figures should cause us to be alarmed, especially as honey bees are responsible for pollinating the world’s food crops.

Earthquakes are likely playing a role in reducing the bee population. But keep in mind tectonic plate shifts have been occurring since the beginning of time, yet bees have prospered until the mid-1900s. Earthquakes are just one piece of the puzzle. It’s threats like varroa mites, pesticides, and urban expansion that are having a bigger impact on honey bee numbers.

At this stage, it’s better to act rather than hope things will get better. You can do your bit by planting loads of flowers and getting into beekeeping if you have the space. You can also make your voice heard by supporting good causes like Save the Bees, an initiative by Greenpeace   

Tectonic plate shifts have been occurring since the beginning of time, yet bees have prospered until the mid-1900s.

Bee Professor, March 2022.

Can we live without bees?

It is hard to imagine a world without bees. 75% of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators like bees and butterflies to reproduce.

Although scientists are working on mechanical devices to achieve pollination, they are inferior to the natural method. Ecosystems would be drastically altered, affecting plants and animals. As a bare minimum, the result would be huge price increases for fruit, vegetables, and any related products.

Summing up

Scientifically proving that bees die as the result of earthquakes is difficult. But based on video footage and anecdotal evidence from beekeepers, it’s fair to assume that earthquakes kill honey bees. The severity of quakes of bee populations is unknown and other threats like commercial chemicals and varroa mites are a bigger concern.

The next decade will be crucial to the future of honey bees. The way we approach this fascinating, hugely beneficial creature will be of utmost importance. Will we step and give bees a voice or continue on the same trajectory?     

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