Will my cell phone kill our honeybees?

May 20, 2011 | By | Comments (0)

Since I’m a beekeeper, people like to send me breaking news on bees. Last Monday I got multiple messages linked to a variant of the the story Cell Phones Caused Mysterious Bee Deaths, Study Finds.

Drat. I’m addicted to my smartphone. Am I responsible for killing bees?

Ok, so I’m not simply a beekeeper and production coordinator here at Sunset. I’m also a fact checker. (That’s right, every little thing we print in this magazine is checked for veracity. Exhaustively.) I did a little digging and found this: Are Cell Phones Killing Bees? How the False Meme Spread.  It seems that as the internet ate the story about a research study on bees and cell phones, it coughed up progressively worse (and misleading) scenarios.

I actually read the study! Here it is, simplified: Cell phones were placed in beehives and then activated to call in or out. (It’s not clear if the phones were set to have a Lady Gaga ringtone or a “meeting” mode buzz.) Then the scientists observed the bees’ reactions.

The upshot of this particular study? The phones in the hives did NOT kill the bees. They merely irritated the girls, who made “worker piping” noises that are like those they might make when they’re preparing to swarm. The bees subjected to this telephonic study calmed down when the phones were deactivated; none of the hives swarmed.

Some people think that cell phones disrupt bees’ ability to navigate. According to Eric Mussen, UC Davis Extension Apiculturist, it’s unclear how cell phones would disrupt that. He says that bees orient by sight, making mental maps of the landscape as they fly. They also use the polarization of sunlight. Cell phones or towers don’t interfere with that.

 We thought we’d take a cute photo of a bee on a cell phone for this blog. As you can see in the video, the bees won’t land on a cell phone, even when that cell phone has a drop of honey to tempt them. And the phone wasn’t even ringing. Perhaps they would have preferred an iPhone?

Eric says that the intensity of cell phone radiation diminishes with distance. So unless you’re standing in the beehive, it’s probably ok to phone home while you’re in the apiary.

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