Bee-ware of the Disappearing Honey Bee
Here’s a scary thought: Honeybees are disappearing at an alarming rate and nobody knows why. You are personally affected because bees are the glue that holds modern agriculture together. Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.” Yikes!
No bees, no honey; no work, no money
Honey bees are vital for pollinating 130 crops in the United States. That's worth more than $15 billion in annual crop yield. Some crops are almost completely dependent on the honey bee for pollination. They include apples, almonds, onions, broccoli, carrots, sunflower, cantaloupe, and honeydew. For instance, without honey bees California’s almond trees would produce 40 pounds per acre, but with bees, production increases to 2,400 pounds. Overworked American bees are trucked from state to state to follow the crop seasons. California almonds in February, Washington apples in March, and then East for cranberries and pumpkins before reaching the Maine blueberries in May. Busy bees never get a break.
During the winter of 2006, when beekeepers checked their hives, box after box would be empty. The beekeepers didn’t find dead bees; the bees were simply gone, except for the queen and a few babies. The BBC News reported that researchers think the bees died in the fields. Perhaps they became exhausted or disoriented and eventually fell victim to the cold. The mysterious disappearance is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). It has claimed billions of bees around the world. In the winter of 2006-2007, beekeepers lost 30 to 90 percent of the bees, although losses decreased to 32 percent in a 2008-2009 survey. Still, the magnitude of the loss remains economically unsustainable.
Still No Answer
No single variable has been found to explain CCD. Scientists look for pathogens - bacteria, parasites and viruses - and for pesticide residues. Overall, CCD colonies are co-infected with more pathogens than are healthy colonies, but it is unknown whether the pathogens are a cause or result of CCD. Apiaries across the world are dominated by a species of gentle honeybee from Italy and that might have diminished the pool of genes that fight diseases.
In 2007, the USDA finalized an action plan for dealing with CCD. They are analyzing bee samples for unusual factors and conducting experiments to find the cause. A micro parasite, Nosema ceranae, caused colonies to die-off in Spain, but not in the US. Neither are pesticides to blame because, as with Nosema, there is no difference in levels between bee colonies that do and do not have CCD. But cheer up! This problem is getting better (at least it is not getting worse). Bee colonies in North America, Europe and Australia have been hit before and still survived. Meanwhile the race for the cure is on. And also, perhaps Einstein’s quote is urban legend.
Are you troubled by the disappearing honeybee?