Mysterious disappearance of
US bees creating a buzz
Sunday April 8, 2007
US beekeepers have been stung in recent months by the mysterious
disappearance of millions of bees threatening honey supplies as
well as crops which depend on the insects for pollination.
Bee numbers on parts of the east coast and in Texas have fallen
by more than 70 percent, while California has seen colonies drop
by 30 to 60 percent.
According to estimates from the US Department of Agriculture, bees
are vanishing across a total of 22 states, and for the time being
no one really knows why.
"Approximately 40 percent of my 2,000 colonies are currently
dead and this is the greatest winter colony mortality I have ever
experienced in my 30 years of beekeeping," apiarist Gene Brandi,
from the California State Beekeepers Association, told Congress
It is normal for hives to see populations fall by some 20 percent
during the winter, but the sharp loss of bees is causing concern,
especially as domestic US bee colonies have been steadily decreasing
There are some 2.4 million professional hives in the country, according
to the Agriculture Department, 25 percent fewer than at the start
of the 1980s.
And the number of beekeepers has halved.
The situation is so bad, that beekeepers are now calling for some
kind of government intervention, warning the flight of the bees
could be catastrophic for crop growers.
Domestic bees are essential for pollinating some 90 varieties of
vegetables and fruits, such as apples, avocados, and blueberries
"The pollination work of honey bees increases the yield and
quality of United States crops by approximately 15 billion dollars
annually including six billion in California," Brandi said.
California's almond industry alone contributes two billion dollars
to the local economy, and depends on 1.4 million bees which are
brought from around the US every year to help pollinate the trees,
The phenomenon now being witnessed across the United States has
been dubbed "colony collapse disorder," or CCD, by scientists
as they seek to explain what is causing the bees to literally disappear
The usual suspects to which bees are known to be vulnerable such
as the varroa mite, an external parasite which attacks honey bees
and which can wipe out a hive, appear not to be the main cause.
"CCD is associated with unique symptoms, not seen in normal
collapses associated with varroa mites and honey bee viruses or
in colony deaths due to winter kill," entomologist Diana Cox-Foster
told the Congress committee.
In cases of colony collapse disorder, flourishing hives are suddenly
depopulated leaving few, if any, surviving bees behind.
The queen bee, which is the only one in the hive allowed to reproduce,
is found with just a handful of young worker bees and a reserve
Curiously though no dead bees are found either inside or outside
The fact that other bees or parasites seem to shun the emptied
hives raises suspicions that some kind of toxin or chemical is keeping
the insects away, Cox-Foster said.
Those bees found in such devastated colonies also all seem to be
infected with multiple micro-organisms, many of which are known
to be behind stress-related illness in bees.
Scientists working to unravel the mysteries behind CCD believe
a new pathogen may be the cause, or a new kind of chemical product
which could be weakening the insects' immune systems.
The finger of suspicion is being pointed at agriculture pesticides
such as the widely-used neonicotinoides, which are already known
to be poisonous to bees.
France saw a huge fall in its bee population in the 1990s, blamed
on the insecticide Gaucho which has now been banned in the country.
BECAUSE THERE'S A WAR ON FOR YOUR MIND