So y'all remember how much I love bees, right? (Yeah, it's weird since I'm allergic to them...) and surely you remember all about Colony Collapse Disorder and how necessary bees are to our production of foods in this country? Bees have been having a rough time in the US since 2004, when CCD was first observed. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security's Army research lab, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, in Maryland and an academic bee-study group at University of Montana have collaborated on research into CCD, the bizarre syndrome which causes bees to become (or so it seems) disoriented and to flee their hives permanently. The NY Times had a nice piece on their research.
Necropsy of bee cadavers has proven a complex business. Bees from apiaries fly in all directions and die, usually alone, when suffering from CCD. Even collection of bees to necropsy has been challenging. Challenging, but fruitful.
The researchers, who have published their preliminary findings on PloSOne, found that to a worker, every bee cadaver recovered from a CCD'd colony was co-infected with an Iridovirus, an type of virus first noted in Asian Honeybees, that generally infects invertebrate species along with Nosema ceranae, a unicellular parasite that infests bees. Their studies show that co-infection appears to substantially weaken bees. Control bee species in Australia and the Montana Bee lab's apiary indicated that healthy bees were not co-infected with these contagions.
From study co-author Roger Cramer's NPR interview, on All Things Considered, we have the firm statement though that it's "not even close" to being the only answer to CCD. The short piece on CCD gives measure to the frightening rapidity with which bees can up and disappear.
"Pennsylvania beekeeper Dave Hackenberg recalls the experience from 2004 of checking on a hive one morning after noticing a loss of bees. He estimates there were several thousand in the hive.
"But by 1 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon, nobody was home," Hackenberg says. "They just totally disappeared."
Ultimately, the real concern is that no one knows why bees are getting so sick. Many of the diseases found in CCD bees have been known for some time. The suspected culprit? Pesticides. Sprayed on pollen-bearing crops that are dependent upon bees.
If you want to encourage honeybees in your yard, don't spray unless you absolutely have to. And check out Penn States' Pollinator Friendly Garden series.
How much of what you eat is pollinated by bees? Well if you're a fruit and vegetable eater like me, you'd be stunned. But even if you're not, what do think all those cattle, sheep and other livestock are eating? Is some of what they eat pollinated by bees? Hmmm. Maybe you should check that out. ;)