Vanishing bees?

Hello – here is a response to the recent question about the disappearance of honeybees in Europe and North America. This phenomenon has been called Colony Collapse Disorder, also known as CCD, is a mysterious and widespread phenomenon of the sudden disappearance of entire colonies of honeybees from their hives and the environment.

 

CAUSES

No single cause of CCD that has been identified by scientists, and speculation as to the ultimate reason for this dramatic loss of honeybees is rife. Many scientists seem to be moving towards a consensus that this may not be the result of a single factor, but more due to the cumulative effects of a number of things, including:

 

Nosema – this is a vicious little parasite that infects the honeybee gut. It is related to fungi-like organisms and similarly to the human gut pathogen Giardia, and has an equally debilitating effect on honeybees. Infection leaves honeybee colonies weakened and vulnerable to other parasites. Scientists have tracked its spread through honeybee colonies in Asia, Europe and North America over the last few years.

 

Pesticides – a number of pesticides are especially toxic to bees, even in very low doses. They are designed after all to kill insects, and honeybees are insects just like the pests the chemicals target. Some pesticides impair the honeybees’ learning ability and others affect their orientation and navigation leading to a breakdown of the colony over time through repeated exposure.

 

Mites and viruses – The mite, Varroa destructor, and the many associated viruses it transmits to honeybee colonies are one likely cause of the demise. Some farmers have resorted to treating mite infestations with chemicals that have also accumulated to levels that affect the honeybees.

 

Electromagnetic radiation – there is little evidence for this apart from one study that embedded receivers inside hives. Emanating from cellular-phone and other telecommunication devices these waves are thought to disorient bees.

 

Genetically-modified crops – again here there are no direct studies. A number of GMO crops produce toxins engineered from bacteria and if these are present in the pollen it could affect foraging honeybees.

 

Bad beekeeping – one characteristic of the modern honeybee industry in the developed world is the trucking around of thousands upon thousand of colonies. These are often mixed and housed in close proximity allowing for the transmission of diseases.

 

Climate change – again here there’s no direct evidence. Colonies that were overwintering now run out of food stores as erratic weather patterns play havoc with flowering cycles and nectar flows.

 

EFFECTS

The full effects of the disappearance of honeybees are yet to come. Bees and other pollinating insects are responsible for one in three bites of food. Some of the effects witnessed so far include:

 

Loss of almond pollination ‘services’ in the Western United States. Some 90 % of the world’s almonds are grown in California. The almond trees flower early in spring and require pollination by honeybees trucked in from far and wide. Due to the lack of honeybees for commercial pollination of the crops, the production of almonds has dropped significantly.

 

The 100 million sterling-pound plus contribution made by honeybees to the UK’s economy was dented severely this past Christmas season as there was virtually no British honey on supermarket shelves. The UK has seen some two-thirds of its honeybee colonies vanish and the remaining ones are stressed and weak. Frighteningly there’s evidence emerging now that bumblebees too are starting to go the same way as honeybees!

 

Honeybees have featured recently in the politics of economic recovery as both the Europeans and the Americans have included honeybees and pollination services as part of their studies and strategies towards overcoming the current financial global crisis. While this has attracted ridicule of the Obama administration by political opportunists, who are laughing at this as ‘frivolous’, many people, including some of the world’s leading scientists are begging politicians and decision-makers to take an interest in solving this problem.

 

Is there hope?

Yes – there is evidence that with help some honeybee colonies can recover. Also, a little known fact is that there are thousands upon thousands of other pollinators available and working hard on our farms. We need to understand and protect these overlooked creatures as we work towards a solution for the current honeybee crisis.

3 thoughts on “Vanishing bees?

  1. Dino – I saw a program on vanishing bees on our local Public Broadcasting Station a while back and these many points were raised. Thanks for refreshing my mind of these facts.

  2. I think many factors may be responsible for the disappear- ance of bees, one possibly being this: in America and England every spring people’s lawns begin to grow and along with the new grass come acres of dandelions which when in bloom become aswarm with honey bees. The property owners then cut the grass to look nice and trim, along with all the dandelions, killing hundreds of bees in the process. I observed this very thing at a large residence one spring; when considering how many millions of well trimmed lawns exist in the above two nations, I would estimate that billions and billions of bees are killed by lawn mowers every spring.

  3. When West Nile Virus raised its head here in the U.S. in the late 90’s – there was a panic to try and kill every mosquito possible (even through the deaths were trivial compared to the yearly flu statistics). Cities and countrysides were sprayed with insecticides like Malathion which of course helped to kill off the honeybees and other pollinators as well as mosquitoes.
    Way too much insecticide being poured into our environment.

    Many thanks for the summary of possible causes for the honeybee collapse. I’ve never seen it so clearly spelled out. Think you are right about the combination of these factors all helping to contribute to this problem.

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