The Return of the Honey Bees

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Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a serious agricultural concern and unfortunately it has been promoted with false information, bad science, and of course people’s opinions. With much of our food supply being dependent on open pollinators like bees, our concern for their health should be on par with our own.

So what exactly is the history of this disorder and what would happen to human food production if bees were to go extinct? Scientists around the world have been working diligently to answer these questions, and they are finding out that the information is not so easy to decipher.

Biscuits and HoneyFound in almost every society throughout history and originally brought over to the Americas by European settlers, bees have played an integral role in evolving the way humans have produced food and industrial crops over the last few thousands of years. From food and cosmetics production to boat sealants, bees have helped make humans smarter and better looking and have made our lives much easier through our symbiotic relationship.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website on Honey Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder, “about one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.” A healthy beehive is imperative to providing the platform for a healthy human community; this symbiotic relationship is as essential to human life as the symbiosis humans have with the bacteria in our guts.

According to the USDA, “The main symptom of CCD is very low or no adult honey bees present in the hive but with a live queen and no dead honey bee bodies present. Often there is still honey in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present.” Contrary to what the mainstream media has been reporting, Colony Collapse Disorder is not a new phenomenon. With documented CCD events occurring through out the world since the mid 1800’s, CCD continues to plague bee keepers with little to no understanding of what has been the source of these mass disappearances. One clue that has been found in recent research is the appearance of Varroa mites, which are a virus-transmitting parasite of the honeybees at the site of CCD affected hives.

Bees in a HiveGenetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have also taken some of the recent accusations as to why CCD occurs. But these untruths have been discarded due to the fact that evidence of the CCD phenomenon had been recorded prior the creation of transgenic organisms.

Pesticide application has also been blamed for CCD, with the USDA’s website stating “The pesticide class neonicotinoids (clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid) has been accused of being the cause of CCD. The neonicotinoids were developed in the mid-1990s in large part because they showed reduced toxicity to honey bees, compared with previously used organophosphate and carbamate insecticides.”

Environmental activist groups have been spouting that cell phone towers and radio signals interrupt bees’ ability to navigate using the earths magnetic field. This also has been proven to not be the culprit due to the fact that most bee hives are located in rural areas with little to no cellular phone service. Also since cellular phones were not in commercial use until the 1990s, recorded CCD events in prior to this time cannot use this as an explanation.

bee2With more funding and better access to information, scientists are chipping away at finding a cause and hopefully a solution to Colony Collapse Disorder. What has been seen is not a single culprit but many factors contributing to CCD. Washington State University’s Department of Entomology has a lab specifically designated to studying CCD and scientist Steve Sheppard is making some serious advancements in this area. A 2012 WSU News Press Release provides insight from recent field research about pesticide applications and over-winterizing which is a process where beekeepers bring their bee hives indoors in controlled environments to avoid death due to freezing:

“For example, pesticide exposure weakens the bees, and then a fungal pathogen, Nosema ceranae, kills them.”

This is not the single cause of colony collapse, Sheppard said, but the findings, published in the January issue of the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, have narrowed the list of suspects.

According to the USDA’s Northwest Region Honey Production Press Release, “United States total honey production for 2013 was estimated at 149 million pounds, up 5 percent from the previous year. There were an estimated 2.64 million colonies, up 4 percent from 2012. The national average yield per colony was 56.6 pounds, up less than one pound from the previous year.”

So good news is on the horizon for our pollen loving friends. With more money being poured into research and a better campaign making people aware of the troubles bees have been facing, we are now seeing an increase in honey production and a decline in bee disappearances which makes everyone happier. Bee breeders and honey producers are working hard to preserve one of the most important food pollinators available to humans.

So the next time you see a bee buzzing around, offer it a flower to land on and say thanks instead of swatting it or spraying it with pesticides.