Beehives are melting in Arizona’s latest heat wave, another alarm bell ringing in a cacophony of fears about climate change.
Every single day between June 30 and July 30, temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, breaking state and national records during what was the hottest month on record for the entire planet. Experts say that air conditioning is the only thing keeping the desert city livable. According to one, a 24-hour power outage in these conditions would mean 50% or more of the population would require emergency medical care.
And it’s not only the humans suffering.
The heat is “a very major concern,” Shaku Nair, an entomologist with the University of Arizona, said. “Honeybees can forage up to 113 degrees. As of July, we’ve had many days over 113 degrees, so bees are taking a bad hit right now.”
The internal temperature of beehives must be kept between 92 and 104 degrees for brood to hatch and develop. And even in extreme heat, bees can regulate their hive temperature so long as they have access to water. But with temperatures so high, bees are not able to bring water home or use it effectively.
“We are seeing dead bees around hives,” Nair says, “That is because of the heat – it’s too hot in the hives and bees won’t let[other bees] back in.”
Phoenix-based beekeeper Cricket Aldridge, who now spends many of her days saving bees from the heat, said “bees’ homes are being melted” and “other bee colonies are attacking honeybee colonies due to food scarcity.” Food is scarce because the high heat has killed off summer flowers and many saguaro cactuses, important food sources for beehives.
Beeswax melts at 140F, which can be achieved by a hive in the sun. It softens and slumps at much cooler temperatures, which can be catastrophic for the bees inside.
This is all in reference to the domestic honeybee – there is no study being done on how the heat is affecting Arizona’s native pollinators – but many important crops such as melons, citrus, and chocolate all depend on the honeybee.