There are ways to study bees, without killing them. Please, let's not kill bees unnecessarily.
Scientists – even on the conservation side, can seemingly be rather detached from nature. Some would argue that this is necessary in order to produce an objective study, but I’m not sure that this is necessarily true. The attitudes of having love, regard and respect for the lives of other creatures, and objectivity, are not automatically mutually exclusive. Why should they be?
My impression is that it can be too easy to look at nature and at other living creatures, as simply ‘objects of study’ and that’s about it. This attitude can extend to a disconcerting disregard for life, and even at times, an alarming view that taking the life of a creature in order to study it is automatically justified.
This 'study' can include 'taking a closer look', perhaps in order to categorize it or add it to a collection - even for amateur enthusiasts and 'citizen scientists'.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of the general sort of disconnect between humans and nature.
Let's take an example
A few years ago, a contact of mine was telling me about a ‘Bee I.D.’ workshop she had attended, in which she described an incident both of us found unpalatable.
A “conservation scientist”
had captured a bumble bee, and it was trapped inside a sealed specimen tube with
no air holes.
The scientist tipped the tube about a little, and rambled on about identifying
bumble bees. Having noticed the bee had
been trapped for some time, my contact expressed her concern that the bee may be suffocating.
“Oh don’t worry,” was the self assured response of the scientist, “I’ve done this lots of times,” she said.
Regardless, the bee suffocated, and was dead literally a few minutes later.
Many scientists perform very important work, and I genuinely don't wish to denigrate that work in any way, and whilst the situation described above was an accident, I would encourage universities and scientists to really consider whether they need to trap and kill specimens in order to
carry out their work, and how could such activity be minimized?
I would also encourage authors writing study and I.D. guides to also consider who may purchase the book (given the broader interest in bees) and whether it might be wiser to discourage capturing, killing and pinning bees rather than provide instructions on how to do so. Surely for the serious student, these techniques should be covered by a university professor for the defined target audience - and only when it is necessary?
Here are a few points I feel could be considered:
I may be accused of being sentimental. I merely question the accepted wisdom that killing things to study them is the right approach, and whether it can automatically be considered as 'justified'. Others my think this article contradicts my other stance on the killing of bees to test insecticides - another ethical dilemma (it's an article that needs to be read in its entirety to see where I'm going with it).
If we accept this idea as 'the way it's done' how long will it take us to evolve better ways? (Necessity is the mother of invention after all!). What kind of attitude do we encourage in young and new scientists, if they are educated to accept 'kill-study' as automatically the norm?
I appreciate that in some cases, bees may be reared especially for this purpose - i.e. for the purpose of study, but I still feel uneasy about the killing.
I welcome citizen science projects, however, I am alarmed when I see schemes advocating that members of the public should capture live bees and pin them to a display board (I actually learned of an intended scheme in which participants would make a 'bee board' - a display board of all different bees they had observed whilst out and about, pinned to a board).
Instead, I would suggest that if identification rather than mere interest is the objective, then guidance needs to be given on taking photographs and video which will aid identification, for example: capturing a good image of the hind legs especially, as well as the face and sides of the abdomen, will help.
also have the facility to film, as do phones, so taking film may be useful. The film can then be shared with experts, along with photographs.
there are some occasions when identifying a species of bee will be difficult if
not impossible without the assistance of an expert, however, I would argue that
it really is not worth encouraging the public to kill bees ‘just in case’ there
is a need to identify a few difficult ones.
If, from photographic or film evidence from a member of the public, a
case really can be made for the need to I.D. a bee species, then if it really, really is so important, a specialist
can visit the area where the bee was seen in order to collect the data more
In fact, in general I would discourage members of the public from killing bees in order to study them. Apart from such activity being a complete waste of life which I liken to bird egg collecting, a rare species may accidentally be lampooned.
Instead, how about observing bees whilst alive in order to study them?!
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