Beekeepers across the country are reporting that their colonies are dying off. They say that the adult bees have suddenly disappeared from the colonies. Scientists have not been able to identify the cause.
The honey-production industry is threatened by these losses. In addition, there are many crops, notably apples, but also many others, whose growers rely on commercial honeybee fertilization, and their production could be impaired as well.
“One beekeeper who traveled with two truckloads of bees to California to help pollinate almond trees found nearly all of his bees dead upon arrival,” the Associated Press has reported.
The Associated Press said that beekeepers in 22 states have reported dying colonies. Some have lost more than half of their bees.
Scientists do not know why the bees are dying, but they are working at finding an answer. Organizations that have joined forces to try to unravel the mystery, dubbed “Colony Collapse Disorder,” include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Penn State University, the agriculture departments in Pennsylvania and Florida, and Bee Alert Technology Inc.
Researchers are examining the dying colonies, looking for clues, and they are interviewing beekeepers to find out how the beekeepers managed their colonies. While the researchers have uncovered several things that may be contributing to the disorder, they have not been able to pinpoint a single underlying factor as the cause.
Dennis vanEngelsdorp of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture said that mites and their associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic disease, and pesticide contamination or poisoning are likely factors that could be causing or contributing to the disorder.
He said that initial studies found a large number of disease organisms present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit. And while studies and surveys have found a few common management factors among beekeepers with affected hives, no common environmental agents or chemicals have been identified.
Many crops depend on pollination services provided by commercial beekepers. Besides apples, crops that depend at least in part on honeybee pollination include peaches, soybeans, pears, pumpkins, cucumbers, cherries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. In Pennsylvania alone, according to a press release from Penn Sate, honeybee pollination contributes about $55 million to the value of crops in the state.
Mystery ailment strikes honeybees, by Genaro C. Armas, Feb, 11, 2007, Associated Press
Honey bee die-off alarms beekeepers, crop growers and researchers, Jan. 29, 2007, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences News Releases, maarec.cas.psu.edu
Fall Dwindle Disease (Now renamed Colony Collapse Disorder) Preliminary report, maarec.cas.psu.edu
Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group, Penn State Department of Entomology, www.ento.psu.edu