Bees are disappearing

>> Sunday, June 10, 2007

I found this article in the LA Times, written by Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writers. dated June 10, 2007.

I have been following this story with great interest as it affects all gardeners. Here, are some excerpts from that article.

Scientists are at a loss to pinpoint the cause. The die-off in 35 states has crippled beekeepers and threatened many crops.

Scientists have discovered that the traditional cause in the decline of the number of bees is not what is happening this time. Typically, when dead bees are “autopsied” the cause of death is due to mites or amoebas. The damage caused by mites and amoebas is quite different than what is happening now.

Dennis VanEngelsdorp, the acting apiarist for the state of Pennsylvania, discovered that internal organs are swollen with debris and strangely blackened. The bees' intestinal tracts were scarred, and their rectums were abnormally full of what appeared to be partly digested pollen. Dark marks on the sting glands were telltale signs of infection. His examination of bees in November 2006 was one of the first scientific glimpses of a mysterious honeybee die-off that has launched an intense search for a cure.

The puzzling phenomenon, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, has been reported in 35 states, five Canadian provinces and several European countries. The die-off has cost U.S. beekeepers about $150 million in losses and an uncertain amount for farmers scrambling to find bees to pollinate their crops.

Scientists have scoured the country, finding eerily abandoned hives in which the bees seem to have simply left their honey and broods of baby bees.

"We've never experienced bees going off and leaving brood behind," said Pennsylvania-based beekeeper Dave Hackenberg.

Researchers have picked through the abandoned hives, dissected thousands of bees, and tested for viruses, bacteria, pesticides and mites. So far, they are stumped.

According to the Apiary Inspectors of America, 24% of 384 beekeeping operations across the country lost more than 50% of their colonies from September 2006 to March 2007. Some have lost 90%.

Honeybees, scientifically known as Apis mellifera, are required to pollinate a third of the nation's food crops, including almonds, cherries, blueberries, pears, strawberries and pumpkins.

VanEngelsdorp says that Varroa and tracheal mites have occasionally wrought damage on hives since the 1980s. At the state lab in Harrisburg, Pa., VanEngelsdorp checked bee samples from Pennsylvania and Georgia. He washed bees with soapy water to dislodge Varroa mites and cut the thorax of the bees to look for tracheal mites; he found that the number of mites was not unusually high.

His next guess was amoebic infection. He scanned the bees' kidneys for cysts and found a handful, but not enough to explain the population decline.

Bee disappearances have been reported over the past hundred years or so in places such as Texas, Louisiana, California, Florida and Georgia. The reports gave no cause and reported the bee population increased shortly afterwards.

Bee specialists have been investigating the effects of pesticides and insecticides on bees. Studies have shown that pesticides can kill bees and throw off their ability to learn and navigate.

Several researchers have been sifting through bees that have been ground up, looking for viruses and bacteria and discovered a large number of pathogens that suggests the bees' immune systems had been suppressed, allowing the proliferation of infections.

One of the unusual features of the disorder is that the predators of abandoned beehives, such as hive beetles and wax moths, refuse to venture into infected hives for weeks or longer. It’s as if the affected hives have become toxic to bee predators.

In the absence of knowledge, theories have proliferated, including one that Osama bin Laden has engineered the die-off to disrupt American agriculture. This one really had me shaking my head.

One of the most pervasive theories is that cellphone transmissions are causing the disappearances — an idea that originated with a recent German study. This theory "is a complete figment of the imagination." The German physicist who conducted the tiny study "disclaimed the connection to cellphones." "What they put in the colony was a cordless phone. Whoever translated the story didn't know the difference."

Another popular theory is that the bees have been harmed by corn genetically engineered to contain the pesticide Bt. Illinois is surrounded by an ocean of Bt pollen, and the bees are not afflicted."

Please don’t spread any of these foolish notions.

I for one am trying to go towards a more organic lifestyle and have been amazed at the number of natural methods of pest and disease control available. I have tried some of them and have had mixed results. But at the same time I don't believe it is reasonable to go for a 100% kill rate when it comes to pest control. After all, beneficial insects need something to feed on. and when we use a pesticide to 'kill-off' a threat to our crops we are unintentionally killing the beneficials as well.

We can afford to loose some of our crop to pests but it is doubtful that we will loose the whole crop. Granted, we have all heard of cases where there has been a total wipe out of crops, but that has been because there was an imbalance created by man's use of pesticides that killed off every insect and then left room for a different insect or disease to come in and destroy everything.

Here is a website that has a very extensive list of organic methods that I have found useful, it is

This website is very helpful in identifying any pest or disease you may have if you send them a description.

There are also many other sites, just go to Google, or your favorite search engine and type in 'organic pest control'.


Colleen June 12, 2007 at 5:04 AM  

Thanks for sharing this information. It was especially interesting/scary that even the bee's predators refused to go near the hives. It's also very good to see some of the more common myths about CCD debunked.

There's so much to learn when you start blogging! A website I really like (and still have to visit on occasion to remind myself how to do things...) is W3School's Page on building links. They give very clear instructions.

You have a very nice blog here...full of great information :-)

Greg W June 14, 2007 at 5:31 PM  

Thank-you Colleen for the nice comments. I have that site on my list of things to check out and haven't gotten to it yet. I'll try to soon. I need a lot of help to learn blogging. This is fun, isn't it.

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