Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD is the term given to a mysterious problem which has been affecting bees in many parts of Europe and North America. Some people think the honey bee is headed for extinction!
It’s quite common for a few of a beekeeper’s colonies to die out in the winter. Sometimes known diseases are to blame, very often it’s a lack of stored honey. In such cases when the beekeeper opens their hive in the spring they find a pile of dead bees and no honey. The bees have continued to share the food until it is all gone, then they all die of starvation.
CCD is quite different. The percentage of a beekeeper’s hives can be much higher. I’ve spoken to commercial beekeepers who have lost 70% of their hives and I know there are some who have lost even more.
When the hives are open in the spring there are NO bees alive or dead. The puzzling thing is there is still stored honey in the combs. It’s like the Marie Celeste, food on the table, but no-one in site.
Many theories exist, pesticides, a virus, a mite, migratory beekeeping, modern mono culture farming, even cell phone signals have been blamed. No one knows the answer.
Man’s use of pesticides isn’t new, although the latest class of pesticides know as neonicotinoids sounds extremely worrying. These have been banned in many parts of Europe although they are still used extensively in the U.S.
The EPA allowed the introduction 5 years ago on condition that the effects on bees was studied. Now the EPA refuses to tell the public what it knows.
The Israeli acute paralysis virus which has been in the US and Europe for some years, coming it’s thought, from Australia, might be the culprit. However the Australian bees seem not to be effected unduly by it. CCD has not been reported in Australia.
The Varroa mite, a parasite of bees, has had an impact on colonies both in America and Europe. Colonies can continue despite some infestation, but are weakened. Some bees appear to be more resistant to the mite than others.
Many commercial beekeepers move huge number of bee hive around the country as they follow the blooms of agricultural crops. It is often said that pollination provided by honey bees accounts for as much as one third of all food eaten in America. Moving bees from place to place does cause some stress which can weaken the hives.
Bees, like us, need a varied diet. If we were to eat nothing but pizza for every meal our health would suffer. Today’s mono culture agriculture, with thousands of acres of a single crop, does not provide foraging bees with enough variety in their diet. Bees need to collect pollen and nectar from many different plants to provide them with all the trace nutrients they need.
The cell phone idea originated from a small German scientific study. The scientist who wrote the paper, Stefan Kimmel, said in an email that there is “no link between our tiny little study and the CCD-phenomenon … anything else said or written is a lie.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture top bee researcher Jeff Pettis laughs at the idea, because whenever he goes out to investigate dead bees, he cannot get a signal on his cell phone because the hives are in remote areas.
I think the most likely explanation for CCD is a combination of factors. Any one of those causes, on it’s own, might not effect bees, but two or more together might combine to cause the problem.
More research is vital. This area of research is grossly under funded, if you feel strongly about the health of honey bees, write to your Congressional Representative demanding that this receives more attention and funding, before it’s too late.