The honeybee is a key component to $15 billion worth of U.S. agricultural products. They play an essential function in the world's food supply and something is killing them by the millions. This past autumn, beekeepers along the east coast began reporting large die-offs. It was first called fall-dwindle disease but now has been renamed colony collapse disorder (CCD).
When a bee colony is affected the consequences are swift: 30 to 90 per cent of the hive dies quickly. There is usually shrinkage of hive populations during winter months, but this much of a loss is alarming and unusual. Last winter saw the loss of between a half a- million to a million colonies. The cause is currently unknown.
The symptoms are puzzling; extremely low numbers of adult honeybees are in the hive, a living queen and immature bees are present, and honey is often still there.
U. S. Dept. of Agriculture scientists are presently doing research on the phenomenon and trying to develop a response.
The number of controlled honeybee colonies has been steadily declining in the Unites States from 5 million in the 40s to half that number today. The need for colonies to pollinate crops has been increasing steadily and they are being trucked longer distances today than ever before.
The health of honeybee colonies has been declining since the early 80s due to such things as vorroa and tracheal mites and the growth of new pathogens.
CCD is a serious problem for the pollination of various crops but there were enough healthy hives in the spring of last year to prevent a crisis. The future however is in jeopardy. If researchers cannot find a way to combat this new malady there could be a reduction of our agricultural output in the U.S.
There are presently three theories about what may be the cause of CCD.
Pesticides may be having unforeseen harmful effects upon the bee colonies.
It is possible that there is a new pathogen or parasite affecting the bees that was previously overlooked.
A combination of the above two factors may be stressing the bees to the point that their systems are overwhelmed.
There have been instances in the past where honeybees have mysteriously disappeared in much the same manner as in the present case. In the 1880s, the 1920s and the 1960s similar symptoms occurred in the U.S. Perhaps it is a natural phenomenon that occurs every forty years or so.
There were also two isolated cases that were remarkable. In 1903, 2,000 colonies disappeared in Cache Valley, Utah and in1995-96, Pennsylvania beekeepers lost 53% of their colonies to an unknown cause.
There was a recent urban legend that cell phones were killing the bee population, but scientists have said that there is no basis to the myth.
The federal government considers the problem so important to future economic health that it is considering designating tens of millions of dollars in grant programs that target honeybee health.
The tiny honeybee is often overlooked, but without his steady assistance life on Earth would be very different than it is today.