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May 19, 2008 08:36 PM

Death of the Honey Bee...

Bees have been disappearing and at an alarming rate, threatening not only their livelihoods but also the production of many crops.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Mr. Bradshaw, 50, said from an almond orchard in California. “Box after box are just empty. There’s nobody home.”

The sudden mystifying losses are highlighting the crucial link that honeybees play in the long chain that gets fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and dinner tables across the world.
Beekeepers have fought regional bee crises before, but this is the first national affliction.
Now, in a mystery worthy of Sherlock Homes, bees are disappearing in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their hives. And nobody knows why. Researchers say the bees are likely dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

As researchers try to find answers to the syndrome they have decided to call “colony collapse disorder,” growers are becoming nervous about the capability of the commercial bee industry to meet the growing demand for bees to pollinate dozens of crops, from almonds to avocados to kiwis.
A Cornell University study has estimated that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the United States, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts. “Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food,” said Zac Browning, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation.
“There are less beekeepers, less bees, yet more crops to pollinate,” Mr. Browning said. “While this sounds sweet for the bee business, with so much added loss and expense due to disease, pests and higher equipment costs, profitability is actually falling.”

What can we do?
National Pollinator Week is the last week in June. You, your children and your community groups can become Pollinator Partnership participants and make a difference through actions as simple as creating pollinator-friendly habitat in your back yard! This includes:
• Plant for pollinators in your yard, garden, farm, ranch, local community.
• Reduce your impact on the environment
• Get involved as a Pollinator Partner
• Learn about bees and other pollinators – and teach others of their importance

View video of bee decline at

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  1. This is where education, is a good thing. We're only be told one part of this story.

    Honeybees are an imported insect. They are not a natural insect in america. They were brought over from England.

    Beekeepers are responsible for a lot of this colony collapse, they will transport the hives hundreds of miles and release bees to pollinate fields for a fee, and than take the hives back to their home farm or base, because the bees would always travel back.

    At a recent ag meeting at a Penn State branch, (this was not the topic) the speaker remarked it was a combination of the possiblity of a small virus that the bees weren't immune to, and bad practice standards.

    I'm not saying bees are not important, and we are obviously dependant upon them. But since I've learned that they are not a natural insect, my views have now changed from "save the bee!" to develop other ways to pollinate our fields and crops.

    10 Replies
    1. re: sommrluv

      >>Beekeepers are responsible for a lot of this colony collapse,
      >>bad practice standards.

      That would have been my guess.

      We reap what we sow. Or in this case, what we pollinate for greed.

      1. re: dolores

        That's some info on importing honey bees.

        I've also heard that alot of beekeepers feed corn syrup, or that corn syrup is an ingredient in feed, to their bees..there is corn syrup specifically made for bees, and some that isn't. I have two friends that keep bees, but honestly I never had much of an interest in it, so I just didn't pay attention.

        But we all know corn is genetically modified....

        It bears food for thought.

        1. re: sommrluv

          The syrup is fed over winter to keep the bees alive. They consume all of it as the colony builds up in spring, and can then gather nectar. No syrup gets into the honey crop, harvested from June to October.

          Even if honeybees are not indigenous to North America (Indians called them 'white man's fly'), they are better at pollinating flowers and fruits than any other method because they are industrious, savers, and plentiful.

          1. re: jayt90

            Wild bees collect nectar and pollinate during the spring and summer, and make honey to support themselves through the winter. This is what well-kept domesticated bees do, except that part of the honey is harvested.

            One of the problems I think this whole situation points to is that of monocultures. In a monoculture there isn't enough diversity in flowering times to support a year-round bee population, which is why the bees have to be shipped in to spend two weeks pollinating in one place before being shipped to the next location. They're the insect equivalent of migrant laborers.

            Bees are useful for pollination of human crops because they are social insects (which makes them relatively easy to control -- as opposed to indigenous pollinators such as butterflies or hummingbirds). Applying human values such as "industriousness" doesn't make a lot of sense, imo. It's not a matter of virtue, but of compatibility with human needs.

            1. re: jlafler

              Your point about monocropping is excellent. I'd like to add that there are other kinds of bees, including bumble bees, that are good pollinators. I don't know if they're indigenous, but I do know that they are less social than honey bees, tend to live in holes in ground, and probably are hard for farmers to "use." On the other hand, I see many of them in my garden, more than honey bees, sadly, and I know that they are helping pollinate my fruit trees. But only because I offer them a safe, diverse habitat, not the sterile environment of most farms.

              1. re: Glencora

                Bumblebees are indigenous, social, and can be colonized for greenhouses. They do not do well at low elevations, but are better than honeybees in low temperatures and visit more types of flowers, such as red clover, than bees.
                They live in colonies of about 50, compared to 80,000 for honeybees, so it is unlikely they will be used as pollinators outside of greenhouses. There is also the fear factor: many people fear the rapid-fire successive stings of the bumblebee, although they are not aggressive, and much less likely to kill than an enraged colony of honeybees.

              2. re: jlafler

                Monocultures are simply places that man brings bees to to do their work. It's an interesting idea, but it doesn't take into account that monocultures are not the only conditions in which bees are disappearing. If left to their own devices, bees could easily migrate beyond the monoculture to a richer food variety. It doesn't seem likely to me that "monocultures" play a role in the disappearance of bees.

                Overharvesting of honey for profit, then feeding bees a simulated diet to get them through the winter may well impact on those bee colonies suffering such treatment, but I doubt very much it has any impact at all on wild populations or even other cultivated populations not treated that way.

                My understanding, though I haven't seen a great amount of information about it, is that there is a noticeable reduction in the wild population of bees, as well as the hives of beekeepers. If this is the case, then the cause has to be something more universal than bees on restricted diets to gain specifically flavored honey or bees fed an artificial diet to get them through the winter.

                Logically, that leaves some sort of disease, natural enemy, environmental toxins, or something that induces a serious case of confusion/disorientation for the bees. And whatever the cause proves to be, it obviously has to impact widely in North America.

                For me, the most logical suspect so far is the theory that microwave cells are the culprit. It may or may not prove true, but it is the most reasonable theory to date. So now we should all fear whether it proves to be true. If it is true, then something as "simple" as changing frequencies of carrier signals could save the bees. Simple in theory. But how much funding do you think this country's communications giants would be willing to throw in that direction? It would not only require reprogramming/retooling every microwave cell phone relay station in the country, it would also require replacement of all telephones currently using those frequencies. Oy, the cell phone pollution of landfills! If that's what the problem truly is, then... Well, next time you see a bee, kiss it goodbye.

        2. re: sommrluv

          I'd love to hear of another way to pollinate our fields and crops without bees. And just because the honey bee came here with European colonists in the 17th century does not mean they are not "natural" just that they were not indigenous. 80% of the world's almonds come from California and growers there (and bee keepers) are suffering from the plight of the honey bee.

          1. re: scoopG

            Do a search on Google for China and hand pollination.

            The alternative is millions of people using paint brushes to pollinate crops and plants. Since some portions of China are so toxic that no pollinators can survive they have gone to hand pollinating.

          2. re: sommrluv

            Good luck navigating life if you want eveything to be "natural" . I assume you like the benefits of a computer or you would not be posting here. How is the construction of a computer and the use of the internet "natural" ?

            Wether you like it or not America is teaming with imported plants, trees, animals and insects.....get over it.

          3. Anybody wanting honeybees is welcome to dig out the massive hives that established themselves in my freaking walls. During swarming season this year, local backyards looked like something out of a National Geographic special - and one nearby house is estimated to harbor more than a million bees beneath its plaster: the walls practically throb.

            The problem is poor beekeeping practices, not the lack of habitat.

            1. fwiw, haagen-dazs is getting in on the issue:

              also a new honey flavor:

              1. I was under the impression that the crisis with honey bees was due to the vampire mite. (Varroa Jacobsoni mite)

                The US imports 2 tonnes of Australian honey bees each week, as OZ is the last continent free of Varroa.

                Here's a link to a Tasmanian blog, discussing it.


                6 Replies
                1. re: purple goddess

                  You are right with the fact that Australia does not have this mite. This is one of the reasons we are so strict with our food laws.

                  1. re: purple goddess

                    no one really knows what causes disappearing bee syndrome. varroa is one candidate, plus about a half-dozen others including the issues of monoculture and certain systemic pesticides. it's also worth pointing out that very similar periodic occurences have been reported at least as far back as the 1880s.

                    1. re: FED

                      There are some who believe it is media hype. The almond fruiting in Ca. last year went ahead without a major bee supply problem, and it typically needs almost 60% of all the bees in the U.S. for two weeks.

                      1. re: jayt90

                        As I recall, February 2007 was very, very rainy. This year wasn't. Wouldn't that have an effect?

                        1. re: Glencora

                          You're right. I was referring to The SF Chronicle article linked by ScopeG above, and it was written last October. Mea Culpa.

                          1. re: jayt90

                            doesn't matter. the facts were the same this year. it is a matter of concern ... honeybee rental prices have skyrocketed. here's a more recent piece:

                  2. Um, this is not news. Elizabeth Kolbert had a report on this very issue in the New Yorker almost a year ago. And researchers have tentatively identified a cause - IAPV (Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus). They believe the reason the bees do not return to the hive are not at all related to the global warming myth, or genetically modified foods, but instead are due to the virus literally paralyzing the bees so they cannot fly (or even crawl).

                    That's not to say it's not a disturbing issue; it is. Unfortunately, the idiotic governments where I live (just north of Toronto, Canada) have ridiculous by-laws preventing the establishment of bee-hives within 800 yards of places that might possibly be visited by humans on a regular basis. So, even though we have three apple trees on our property, and our neighbours have pear and crab-apple trees, and we all have large flower gardens that bloom all summer, we can't put a tiny hive in our backyard. So it goes...

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: KevinB

                      I've read some universities have discounted IAPV as a cause.

                      I was just throwing out the fact that some people may not be aware that beekeepers need to feed bees, and the feed is genetically modified. "I" do not eat genetically modified food if I can avoid it, so I find it interesting.

                      I do find this news, as it is currently run in american media as commercials asking for fundraising. People should be aware some fundraising donates money as subsidies back into the beekeepers pockets.

                      People who are possibly causing the problem.

                      I haven't done any research...we all there there are laws in place for good husbandry and care for those who farm cows and chickens, and etc (I'll use the term loosely for those who have visited a feedlot)

                      Are beekeepers also governed in this way?

                      1. re: sommrluv

                        so far there have been no indications that any kind of GMO corn is causing the problem. There are indications that corn syrups that contain high levels of fructose can be problematic if they are stored in certain situations.

                        You can, of course, choose to spend your money as you wish. But it's probably counterproductive to hope that donations don't go to beekeepers since beekeepers are the ones who are going to have to solve the problems.

                        as far as i know there are no regulations controlling how beekeepers treat their bugs, but it is in their best interests to keep them as healthy as possible so the bees can live long and active lives and make the beekeepers lots of money.

                        1. re: FED

                          Than maybe they should start doing so.

                      2. re: KevinB

                        News is anything you didn't know. Or did know and had forgot.