As in the case of the house sparrows, mobile towers are posing a serious threat to honey bees, hitting apiculture, which is a source of additional income to rural folk across Kerala, says a study.
Electromagnetic radiation from the mobile towers and cell phones were potent to kill worker bees that go out to collect nectar from flowers, suggests a study by environmentalist and Reader in Zoology, Dr Sainudeen Pattazhy.
Considering the recent plunge in beehive population reported from different parts of Kerala, the trend, if remedial measures are not taken, could even wipe out bees from Kerala within a decade, Pattazhy, who teaches in SN College at Punalur in Kollam district said.
In one of his experiments he found that when a mobile phone was kept near a beehive it resulted in collapse of the colony in five to 10 days, with the worker bees failing to return home, leaving the hives with just queens, eggs and hive-bound immature bees.
Electromagnetic waves emitted by towers were strong enough to cripple the "navigational skills" of the worker bees, who play a vital role in sustaining bee colonies, he said.
A few months ago, a study conducted by a team of environmentalists led by Pattazhy in different spots in Kollam district in Kerala, had found that radiation from mobile towers threatened the very existence of home sparrow, which live in colonies close to human habitats even in urban areas.
Parackal Chacko, a bee keeper from Wayanad, said it was true that there had been mass destruction of bee hives in the area but it was thought to be due to climatic shifts and attack by hostile insects and pests. "The angle that mobile towers could be a source of threat should be probed," he said.
Pattazhy, however, said though it required detailed study, it could reasonably be understood that insects and smaller animals were "easily penetrated" by microwaves radiated by mobile towers and phones.He claimed to have seen changes in the behavioural pattern of bees when they make hives close to mobile towers.
Besides helping farmers earn an additional income through honey and bee-wax, honeybees do great service in pollinating flowers and plants, a vital process that sustains vegetation.
In a colony of an average size,there would be about 20,000 to 31,000 bees comprising a queen and a few hundred drones. But 90 per cent of the population is made up of the workers.
Recently a sharp decline has been noticed in commercial bee population in Kerala. The official explanation has been that this happens as bees are susceptible to diseases and fall prey to attacks by wasps, ants, and wax moth and that constant vigilance on the part of the bee keepers can check it.
The farmers have also complained that introduction of exotic varieties of bees to promote apiculture have also done harm as they are unsuitable to climatic conditions of the area.
Also, bees and other insects have survived and evolved complex immune system over a span of millions of years. "Considering this, it is vital to ponder as to why they suddenly die out. Naturally, the question would point to human-made factors, Pattazhy said.
The vanished bees are never found, but die far from home. Bee keepers said several hives have been abruptly abandoned.
If towers and mobile phones further increase, honeybees might even be wiped out in 10 years due to bio active radiation, causing significant alternation in the physiological function of living organisms.
"The need of the hour is to check unscientific proliferation of mobile towers and promote more studies and come out with practical solutions", Pattazhy added.
In Kerala there are about six lakh bee hives and 1 to 1.25 lakh people are engaged in apiculture,mostly as an allied activity. A single hive can yield four to five kg of honey.