Is It Okay To Kill Bees In Order To Study Them?

There are ways to study bees, without killing them.  Please, let's not kill bees unecessarily.

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.  Having love, regard and respect for something – for life, along with objectivity are not automatically mutually exclusive.  Why should they be?

But I have noticed how it seemingly can be too easy to look at nature and at other living creatures, as simply ‘objects of study’ and that’s about it.  Perhaps it’s a symptom of the general sort of disconnect between man and nature.

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 bumblebee, and it was trapped inside a sealed specimen tube with no air holes.  The “conservation scientist” tipped the tube about a little, and rambled on about identifying bumblebees.  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”.  Regardless, the bee suffocated, and was dead literally a few minutes later.

Nevertheless, many scientists perform very important work (and I don't wish to denegrate that work in any way), but I would encourage universities to really consider whether they need to trap and kill specimens in order to carry out their work.

For a start, where possible, perhaps they can use already dead bees for study, or reduce the number of specimens needed.  They could also ask whether some dissection is really necessary - for example, the honey bee has been widely studied, and its anatomy is well known.  Is it really necessary to repeat exercises for the sake of it?  Can study be supplemented by film? 

In other words, when students need to study anatomy, and specifically dissect bees, they could collect already dead specimens and use those wherever possible.  They can easily be found at the end of the ‘bee season’ and will have died from natural causes such as predator attack.  Dead honey bees can easily be collected from beekeepers, and are found outside the hive.  I frequently find a few dead bumblebees of various types, later in the year.

Quality photographic images may also serve the purpose in many cases.

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 may be accused of being sentimental.  I merely question the accepted wisdom that killing things to study them is the right approach.  If we accept this idea as 'the way its 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 the norm and the best?

Citizen Science Projects And Bees

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 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.

Some cameras 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.

Granted, 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 a specialist can visit the area where the bee was seen in order to collect the data more accurately.

Infact, 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 egg collecting, a rare species may accidentally be lampooned.

In short:

instead, how about observing bees whilst alive in order to study them?! 

For those interested in my view of pesticide testing on bees, you can read it here.

Did you know?

Elephants are afraid of bees!

Click here to watch a video!