Disappearing Bees

The NY times has an excellent article about the bee colony die offs, which covers in detail the research ongoing in the US. It’s amazing the amount of wacky ideas that have surfaced to account for this:

As with any great mystery, a number of theories have been posed, and many seem to researchers to be more science fiction than science. People have blamed genetically modified crops, cellular phone towers and high-voltage transmission lines for the disappearances. Or was it a secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture? Or, as some blogs have asserted, the rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven? Researchers have heard it all.

The volume of theories “is totally mind-boggling,” said Diana Cox-Foster, an entomologist at Pennsylvania State University. With Jeffrey S. Pettis, an entomologist from the United States Department of Agriculture, Dr. Cox-Foster is leading a team of researchers who are trying to find answers to explain “colony collapse disorder,” the name given for the disappearing bee syndrome.”

It’s a serious issue–almost 25% of the US beekeepers have reported losses. You can see the report from the National Academy of Science to Congress here. To borrow from their statement:

“Approximately 3/4 of the 250,000 + species of flowering plants on the planet rely on mobile animal partners—pollinators—to carry out this vital process. Over the past two decades, concern has grown around the world about apparent reductions in the abundance of pollinators of all descriptions, with declines reported on no fewer than four continents. “

This. Is. A. Very. Big. Deal.

We are looking at major problems for fruit, nut, and vegetable production if this continues. (Not to mention hardship for the many families that make a living as beekeepers.) The Academy also issued a major report last October that documented general pollinator declines, both domesticated and wild. I’ll link directly to the part of the book that covers the importance of pollinators. It’s dry and academic, but you get the gist–we really need these little helpers!

You may also find the Xerces Red List of endangered pollinators shocking–it goes on for pages and pages.

I hope to have some time in the future to write more about this, and how it’s exposing some interesting divisions in the field of entomology in the search for answers.

Edited 10/29/07 to add link to summary of all items on bees and colony collapse here, since this post seems to be getting lots of traffic!

12 thoughts on “Disappearing Bees

  1. I have heard that the species identified in the article as being in trouble isn’t native to the Americas, nor are the plants they polinate. I know nearly nothing about bees- can you help me understand what’s going on here?

  2. That is true, in part. Domesticated Honey bees are actually NOT native to the Americas–they are of European orgin.
    Those are the colonies undergoing the massive collapse. They are also responsible for most of the commercial pollination of our food, so their loss will have severe consequences to our (human) food supply.

    However, there are many, many *native* pollinator bees (usually solitary) and bumblebees. These bees have been competing with the European honeybees in some cases, which caused declines.
    Mostly, though, the native bees have declined from habitat loss, and general development. All the insects listed on the Xerces list are native pollinators.

    Xerces has a nice publication about native bees and pollinators here:
    http://www.xerces.org/Pollinator_Insect_Conservation/biology.htm

  3. Hi bug girl,
    This happened to be a topic that I was curious about. I tought the honey bee population has just gone through a major die off due to mites and some other disease and the last I heard people were talking about trying to increase the genetic diversity of the honey bees in the US by importing bees from Europe that had the capability to deal with the mites. What went on with that? Have the honey bee populations recovered significantly before this new problem?

    A major cause of the honey bee die off before was postulated to be the American approach of dragging hives all over the country thereby facilitating the spread of bee diseases. Has that practice continued? Supposedly they didn’t have as many problems in Canada because that wasn’t the standard practice.

  4. it seems to be an international problem–it’s occurring in Europe as well.

    I think it’s going to be a whole bunch of things that are involved, ultimately.

    The bees were already on the ropes with tracheal mites, and then varroa mites, and now some mystery fungus/bacteria/other thing.

    I don’t think moving hives is going to be the culprit. They actually tolerate that pretty well.
    The hive movement and shipping of queens/package bees is very heavily regulated, in addition.

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  6. I went to southwest Va this past weekend, where I grew up. I noticed a bush that as a kid always had honey bees buzzing around it. Now there isn’t a single honey bee but now bumble bees. While I was there I also notice the disappearence of June bugs. Growing up there would be literally hundreads flying around the yard. If this wasn’t enough the lightning bugs have disappeared as well. I saw one the entire time I was there. As a child my sisters and I would catch them by the hundreads. Is this just a honey bee problem or are all insects being effected?

  7. CCD is only a honey bee problem. However, *all* pollinating species have suffered declines in the last 10 years due to habitat loss/changing floral landscapes.

    Fireflies are also suffering from habitat loss, but for a different reason– they breed in swampy areas. Draining wetlands kills fireflies :(

    Look for an upcoming post on Firefly conservation…

  8. Newtimes, had you taken the time to read some of those links, you would have discovered that:

    A. You have completely misinterpreted the studies you reference. The earth’s magnetic field is not radiation. Sheesh. Try reading a basic physics textbook.

    and

    B. the Cell phone study is completely discredited.

    and

    C. I have continued to write about the continuing research on CCD, which points to a role of a virus.

    Now go away and peddle your new age crap elsewhere.

  9. It really makes me worry about how the bees and lightning bugs have dissappeared. I live in the woods, and it’s amazing how much it has changed in just this year. Last summer, you could look out into the woods at night and see millions of lighning bugs. This year, I usually only see two every night. Same with the bees. They used to attack our flowers and we’d see two or three on a single plant at all times. Now, I see one bee a week usually. It’s a truely scary thing and people really need to take this more seriously.

  10. I live in an old neighborhood near St. Louis. Over the past 3-5 years I’ve seen just about every kind of insect disappear, including butterflies, moths, fireflies, ladybugs, you name it. Even flies and yellow jackets. I think it’s the mosquito spray over spraying to get rid of west Nile virus. I got on a no spray list and tried to make my back yard more wildlife friendly, with water set out so that even bugs can drink. Saw more butterflies this year. But I learned that weeding and mowing destroy eggs and crysalis and caterpillars, so I think other insects are also destroyed along with their food. We need a different approach to yards and roadsides. And the chemicals are unhealthy for us, too.

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