Inquisitive trio energizes local education effort on behalf of bees

April 18, 2012

Reaching altitudes much like the beleaguered bees they admire, Aiden Wood and Saylor Sundby, both 9, are channeling their youthful energy into more than just trampolines.

The dynamic duo of junior scientists, assisted in spirit by Sundby's younger sibling Ritter, 6, are leading a local movement to support a very important member of Hood River's agricultural community.

Apias Mellifera: the common honey bee.

"We got inspired by watching the movie 'Queen of the Sun,'" said Sundby of the pair's recent educational exploration of local and national challenges facing the number one pollinator for agricultural crops.

The boys, fired up with concern, are taking responsibility for sharing their bee knowledge with fellow Hood River citizens through an upcoming Earth Day film and workshop presentation at the Columbia Center for the Arts on April 22 (see sidebar, page A11 for info.).

"Yeah; a couple of months ago, we realized there was a big crisis going on with bees - with pesticides ..." said Wood.

"And Varroa mites ..." added Sundby.

"And tracheal mites ..." Wood interjected.

"And big areas of land planted in one crop called mono-cultures," concluded Sundby.

The two bounce information between them like superb tennis players in a heated battle; each burning with energy and urgency.

"The mono-cultures mean that bees have only one type of food to eat and so their immune systems are more vulnerable to diseases, pesticides and mites," added Wood.

It is hard to believe the information that is flying comes from boys just finishing fourth grade. Yet, while they race from tree-climbing to bug-scouting in the backyard of Wood's Hood River home during our talk, the boys' focus remains clear when it comes to bees.

"Because they are nature's pollinators," said Wood with earnest concern, "without them plants couldn't reproduce. Herbavores wouldn't have anything to eat, and carnivores wouldn't have anything to eat. We'd starve."

"All we'd have are a few cereals and nuts," corrected Sundby.

"Because they don't need bee pollination. They can pollinate with wind movement," agreed Wood.

Sundby and Wood have been actively seeking out more information on bees since their first awakening to the challenges the tiny insect species faces and the repercussions shared by bee-dependent humans.

The two have conducted an hour-long interview with OSU entomologist Ramesh Sagili, a top bee specialist studying the health of Oregon bees. They learned about cutting-edge research, just released last month, pointing to a special class of a nuero-active pesticide particularly deadly to bees - neonicotinoids - which strongly connects the substance to the worldwide Colony Collapse Disorder crisis now under way.

The boys also toured the entomology lab at the university and talked with other students in training - something they may consider for their own futures.

"It was pretty cool," the two said in unison as they pointed into some captive pond water, identifying an insect predator of their pollywog houseguests.

The pair had a long list of actions that anyone can take to help bees in their struggle to survive, beginning with some very specific advice to other youngsters with a unanimous command, "Don't squish'em!"

"My friend was fond of going out to the field of the school on his lunch break and collecting bees to kill them," said Aiden.

"People could really help by not being mean to bees," said Saylor. "Ninety-five of our crops depend on bees for pollination."

The duo ended their interview expressing their hope that many people would join them in learning how to get involved, and begin by coming to view the film on April 22.

The full list of proactive steps created by the boys as advice for bee-lovers:

Stop using pesticides

Use natural beekeeping methods (Warre hive)

Become a backyard beekeeper

Buy local, and organic

Plant a variety of flowers in your garden that provide bees food throughout the blooming season

Keep a sustainable water source like a bowl of water with rocks in it in your yard

Do not use weed killer

Ask the EPA to regulate chemicals

Protect the bees - don't squish!

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