The Dying Bees

Latest: October 9th  2010

MARCH 01 2007
This subject deserves a file on its own. There is no explanation as yet. The only speculation as to a cause is that stress brought on by the continual disorientation of bees, that are shipped endlessly from one site to another as intensive commercial demand for pollenation of crops replaces the sale of honey as the principle income of beekeepers, has caused the collapse of the bees' immune system. It is as if the bees have Aids. They are infested with every  virus and pathogen known to bees. Instinctively, most flee the hives to die alone, leaving the queen(s) behind. As you may know, the individual bees in a colony are intimately related. They are a single genetic entity. In my view they are born with a genetic failure, inherited through their parent queen, who got  The phenomenon dates only from this autumn. I don't think it is confined to America. An informative article is carried in
The Independent.

Species under threat: Honey, who shrunk the bee population?

Across America, millions of honey bees are abandoning their hives and flying off to die, leaving beekeepers facing ruin and US agriculture under threat. And to date, no one knows why. Michael McCarthy reports

Published: 01 March 2007

I shall keep this up to date as news develops

This report was in February 22nd 2007

The Telegraph reports that global warming has allowed a vicious giant asian hornet called Vespa velutina to spread rapidly in France. The hornets are a huge threat to honey bees.
Thousands of football-shaped hornet nests are now dotted all over the forests of Aquitaine, the south-western region of France hugely popular with British tourists.

"Their spread across French territory has been like lightning," said Jean Haxaire, the entomologist who originally identified the new arrival.

He said he had recently seen 85 nests in the 40-odd miles which separate the towns of Marmande and Podensac, in the Lot et Garonne department where the hornets were first spotted.

The hornets can grow to up to 1.8in and, with a wingspan of 3in, are renowned for inflicting a bite which has been compared to a hot nail entering the body.
The article says just a few of the hornets can "can destroy a nest of 30,000 bees in just a couple of hours." It also says that France now has to import honey. 25,000 tons of honey are now imported into France each year. Global warming is already making many changes to ecosystems and the economy in Europe. The hornets are expected to eventually make it to Britain.

Some Asian bees actually have a unique defense trick to protect themselves from the giant hornets called heatballing. They bees surround a hornet and raise the temperature of the hornet with their body heat and literally cook it to death. Unfortunately, the European bees do not share this defensive behavior with Asian bees.

JUNE 30th 2007

The strange case of the vanishing bees

An alarming disease has wiped out 2.4m beehives across 35 states of America and scientists are working flat out to discover the cause, while concern grows that a similar crisis could hit the UK. Peter Huck reports

Wednesday June 27, 2007
The Guardian

Dave Hackenberg, an apiarist from West Milton, Pennsylvania, began lifting the lids off hives at his winter yard in Tampa Bay, Florida, last November and was stunned by what he found: most adult bees had vanished. "They were good-looking bees on October 1," says a still bemused Hackenberg. "But by November 12 they were totally gone. And no one's figured out where they went."

As he inspected the yard, he found that the missing bees, foragers who roam for pollen, had left their queen and brood. Just as mysteriously, the dead colonies contained honey, usually plundered quickly from abandoned hives by other bees, wax moths or hive beetles.

Out of 400 hives in the Florida yard, only about 40 housed live bees. Most were empty of adults. Hackenberg, who has spent 45 of his 58 years as a beekeeper, hauling insects from state to state to pollinate crops, had never seen the like. Gathering dead bees, he ferried the samples to researchers in Pennsylvania.

In the past, hives succumbed to varroa or tracheal mites and amoebic infection. But when researchers examined Hackenberg's bees they found blackened and swollen organs. "We found many abnormalities," says Dennis van Engelsdorp, Pennsylvania's state apiarist. "Scarring on the digestive tract, kidneys swollen and scarred. Even the sting gland had evidence of a fungal or yeast infection."

The dramatic scene in Florida was the first reported instance of an alarming phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder. According to Montana's Bee Alert Technologies, CCD has hit 35 states, and Van Engelsdorp estimates that 25% of apiarists suffered losses, with up to 875,000 out of 2.4m hives infected. Collapse within each hive ranges from 35% to 90% of the bee population.

Bees have vanished in Canada, Brazil, India and Europe, although CCD remains unconfirmed. Barry Gardiner, parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told the House of Commons this month that the National Bee Unit had received reports of isolated UK cases. "However, overall percentage losses are similar to previous years, albeit reflecting the gradual increase seen in the last five years," he said.

Reduced pollination

Faced with a dramatic die-off among Apis mellifera, the non-native honeybees that pollinate a third of US crops, scientists are working flat out to isolate the cause and find a remedy. Without bees, pollination is dramatically reduced and crops are put at risk. Fewer bees have already triggered higher US pollination fees. As bees pollinate 90 crops worldwide, the threat to food supplies is grave. Next week, two new bills will be tabled in the US Congress, to raise the alert about the threat and to appropriate desperately needed research funds.

Vanishing bees are not entirely new. The earliest known instance dates from the 18th century. Disappearances in the US were noted in 1869, 1923, 1965 and the 1970s. Since then, Pennsylvania's bee colonies have dwindled from 80,000 to 38,500. Unusual deaths surfaced in some eastern states in 2004, but last winter's hive collapses eclipsed any mite infestations.

So why would socially sophisticated insects abandon their young and their queen? Theories abound, ranging from an al-Qaida plot to wreck US agriculture to wireless waves from cell phones.

Bees found in hives with CCD were "infected with an extremely high number of different disease organisms", Penn state entomologist Diana Cox-Foster told Congress in March. Did this indicate catastrophic immune collapse, perhaps destroying foragers' navigational systems? The same Congress also heard that the economic worth of the honeybee in the US is valued at more than $14.6bn a year.

The absence of pests such as varroa suggested the presence of some toxin, perhaps from fungi known to be pathogenic since the 1930s.

In April, Californian investigators said a single-celled parasite, Nosema ceranae, might be to blame, but cautioned that their findings were "preliminary." Other researchers say the fungus indicated a suppressed immune system.

"Nosema may be a player," says Van Engelsdorp, "but not the smoking gun." American researchers, he says, are focusing on three broad possibilities: a viral disease caused by a new or mutated pathogen; environmental contaminants, such as pesticides applied in the field, or used to control mites in hives; and nutritional stress, perhaps linked to drought conditions last summer. Or the disappearances might be caused by a combination of some or all these factors in a "perfect storm," with fungi executing the coup de grâce.

The pathogen angle is being pursued by Cox-Foster. "We have found some new organisms that appear to be correlated with CCD," she explains. "They may potentially be a cause." Her research, shared with Columbia University's Ian Lipkin, is due to be published shortly in the journal Science. Still, this remains a grey area. "There are places this pathogen is found that have not reported CCD, so we do expect to find additional triggers," says Cox-Foster.

When I spoke with Hackenberg, he was in Maine getting ready to load hives used to pollinate the blueberry crop and then truck them south to New York for the cranberry crop. To date, CCD has cost him $460,000 - "We went from 2,950 to less than 800 hives," he says - and he has restocked with Australian bees. He is leaning towards an environmental culprit. "I think something causes memory loss in bees," he says, a possible explanation for navigational failure. He lays the blame on nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids, which, Cox-Foster told Congress, are "known to be highly toxic to honeybee and other pollinators". Have neonicotinoid concentrations accumulated in plants, with fatal consequences for bees? Hackenberg cites anecdotal evidence of bees that vanished after foraging in corn, sunflowers, lawns or golf courses sprayed with neonicotinoids. Yet how do scientists explain the CCD outbreak in France, which banned the pesticide in 1999?

Others have blamed genetically modified crops, although entomologist May Berenbaum, who will address a congressional committee next week, notes that CCD is officially absent in Illinois, which grows GM corn. Intriguingly, she says the honeybee genome, published last October, shows the species has half the enzymes other insects use to fight poison.

The nutritional theory, perhaps precipitated by severe drought, evokes climate change - as does the possibility that global warming opened a window for a new pathogen, although this, too, remains little more than theory.

And while climate change is linked to die-offs in species unable to adapt fast enough to changing conditions, Van Engelsdorp suggests bees are unlikely candidates because they can survive in a whole range of temperatures. At the same time, he says much remains unknown about bee pathology. There is even debate about whether we can regard a single bee as a living organism, or as part of a super organism in which individuals survive as members of a collective.

Trucking hives

Then there are management issues with commercial bee operations, notably trucking hives thousands of miles to pollinate commercial crops. California's almond crop was serviced this year by more bees than exist in Pennsylvania, a perfect contagion scenario. As apiarists such as Hackenberg haul hives around the US, maybe bees are declining due to the stress induced by having to pollinate ever more crops, even as natural ecosystems are wiped out by urban growth.

Last September, the US National Academy of Scientists reported that honeybees, solitary bees and bumblebees are in steep decline. "There is real concern that CCD is an indicator of problems in the wider environment and with pollinators in general," says Van Engelsdorp.

Researchers talk about breeding new bees. But as bees disappear around the globe, there are fears that CCD is evidence of the deadly fallout visited on societies out of kilter with nature.

Defra urged to take threat seriously

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) has not yet arrived in the UK - officially at least. Despite some beekeepers reporting the disappearance of most of their bees when they opened their hives this spring, the government's National Bee Unit (NBU), based in York, says there is no evidence that the losses are caused by the mystery CCD plague sweeping the US.

Of the 6,500 colonies examined by government bee inspectors so far this year, 16.8% were found to be dead - slightly higher than at the same time last year. But by the end of the summer, when some 20,000 colonies will have been inspected, the government predicts that the mortality rate will be nearer 11% - the same as in the last few years.

According to a spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which oversees the work of the NBU, bee inspectors are attributing current mortalities in honeybee populations in the UK to the varroa mite.

The parasite, which feeds off the bees and their larvae, significantly weakening the colony's immune system, wiped out millions of western honeybees from the 1970s until the late 1990s. Its increasing resistance to chemical controls explains its alarming re-emergence.

Yet John Chapple, head of the London Beekeepers Association, who lost two-thirds of his 40 hives this year, says he does not know the cause of his bees' disappearance and the many deaths. "In my 20 years of beekeeping, there was no logic to it," he says. And he accuses Defra of not taking the problem seriously enough. "The bee losses are very patchy. They think it is varroa-related, but they haven't got the knowledge."

Tim Lovett, chairman of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), which has 11,000 members, warns that it would be "foolhardy in the extreme" for government to deny the possible emergence of CCD in the UK. To do so, he says, would put at risk the economic contribution bees make to agriculture and horticulture - an estimated £1bn per year. He criticises Defra for slashing bee research budgets, which has led to world experts on bee viruses being laid off from UK research institutes.

Next week, beekeepers will confront Defra officials, at an emergency meeting convened by the BBKA, over the "paltry" £180,000 being allocated to research.

John Howat, secretary of the Bee Farmers' Association, will raise the concerns of its 300 members, who own around 13% of the 240,000 hives across the UK. "Less than 1% of the hives' value to the economy is being spent on research and development," he says. "What kind of company would do that? The government seems totally oblivious to the consequences of honeybees being wiped out."
Alison Benjamin

Programme details
Sunday 08 July 2007
The plight of the honeybee is the focus of The Food Programme. A commercial beekeeper in Pennsylvania, USA - was the first to discover what's being called 'colony collapse disorder.' He describes the effect on his business. Scientists in the USA and in the UK discuss the possible causes of CCD and the wider implications of their research findings.

Reporter, Jean Snedegar visits Pennsylvania to meet commercial beekeeper Dave Hackenberg and speaks to scientists at Penn State University about their latest research.

Sheila Dillon is joined in the studio by Dr Richard Jones, director of The International Bee Research Association and by Dr Norman Carreck, bee scientist and keeper.
Further information
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites

The burden of the evidence and opinion aired in the above programme is that intensive research should lead to an understanding of the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder and a technological remedy should be possible. The likelyhood is that a combination of factors have brought about an increase of pathogens, some of which may be resistant to and even stimulated by human intervention, pesticides or other intensive agricultural practices and a decrease in the resistance of bees to the subsequent concentration and assault. The remedy may be a change in several practices, but the first, urgent step is to find out the cause(s). This is extremely difficult but possible with the very considerable task force now on the case.

JULY 3rd 2008
There is as yet no consensus on the exact nature and cause of the trouble that honey bees in the US and to a lesser extent Europe are suffering from. The statistics make grim reading. The immunne system of the bees has been damaged, possibly by poor nutrition caused by monculture, possibly by the use of chemicals and insecticides which have destabilised the balance of parasites and vuruses.
If China is about to modernise its agriculture on the same lines as the US, and if their modernisation of agriculture has caused the Colony Collapse Disorder, the outlook is not good.

JULY 31st 2008
25% of UK Bees are 'missing presumed dead'. A mite that spreads a virus is suspected. Government is funding inspections. There is a Bee Health Strategy
The 'western' bee is not able to deal with this mite but some other honey bees are.

SEPTEMBER 14th 2009

City life is a honey trap for France's beleaguered bees

By Alexandra Mauviel in Paris

Insects swarm to haven on Champs-Elysées as apiarist highlights danger of rural life

In Aesop's fable, the country mouse scurried home from the city with his tail between his legs. But in Paris, French bee-keepers are finding their charges have better luck in the buzz of the big smoke than they do in rural climes - living longer and producing more honey.

While bee colonies across rural France are dying in swarms, two beehives that have been on the roof of a giant exhibition hall beside the Champs-Elysées since last spring are thriving.

The experiment in urban living for bees is intended as a warning signal to the French government, which has been accused of ignoring the plight of rural bees and bee-keepers.

In May, the Grand Palais exhibition hall decided to place two beehives on the edge of its huge glass and steel dome. Each beehive contains over 80,000 "buckfast bees", a British species described by experts as "gentle, prolific and resistant". Four months later, more than 100lb of honey has been gathered from the two hives.

It is not the prestigious address or magnificent views which make the bees so productive. What they adore is the urban environment, even though it is heavily polluted by car exhaust.

"We notice that apiaries located in the heart of Paris get better results than those in the countryside," explained Nicolas Géant, the French bee-keeper who initiated the project at the Grand Palais in order to draw attention to the predicament of rural bees.

"Towns offer myriad small flowers in parks and on balconies, as well as a wide variety of trees along streets and in public gardens. By contrast, there is no longer enough food for bees in rural and cultivated areas. The mortality there is 30 to 50 per cent but very small in Paris."

Henri Clement, president of France's main apiarist union, Unaf, says changes in French agriculture have damaged the bees' habitat. "Both monoculture and the intensive use of pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers kill massive numbers of bees," he explained.

For the moment the new tenants of the Grand Palais seem to be enjoying their life in the busy capital. "We have not received complaints from them yet," jokes Majorie Lecointre, one of the managers of the exhibition hall. Three additional beehives will be placed on the Grand Palais roof early next year.

But the city slickers will not be enough on their own to save beekeeping - and the crucial role it plays in agriculture, severely under threat because of a dramatic decline in bee populations.

"People have to keep in mind that the future of beekeeping is not in cities," said Mr Clement. "Bringing bees into cities is just a way to ring the alarm bell for the French government. We need to have bees back everywhere in France because 35 per cent of global food resources depend on insects and 80 per cent of that is from pollination by bees."


NOVEMBER 9th 2009
It appears there is no likelihood that the United States will modify its practises in the shipping and generally high-powered exploitation of bees. The mooculture practice, like any other, contains the seeds of its own destruction and if its own economic logic drives it to abuse, it will damage America's bees, its agriculture, and the whole country. Of course what we see as damage, Nature experiences as a healing process, the damage being Americans running out of control in the illusion that their partially formed and half understood political and economic ideas are universal truths on which to base the hope of the world.

MAY 16 2010
More good initiative from the Bee Bee Cee - BEE. PART OF IT

AUGUST 3rd 2010
Hygienic Bees - it seems I missed this back in November 2008, but it's coming to the fore now as an important element in recovery
A British scientist is hoping to reverse the critical decline of the honeybee by breeding 'cleaner bees' to protect hives from potentially devastating diseases

OCTOBER 9th 2010
"The cause of the mysterious decline of the honey bee in the United States – and elsewhere in the world – may have been found in the form of a "double whammy" infection with both a virus and a fungus."

This could be an advance in our understanding of the troubles besetting our bees, however we need to know why there was a surge in the fungi and viruses or an increase in vulnerability of the bees. In every case of an epidemic there are at least two sides to the prime equation and some times there are more elements simultaneiously involved. In general, nature moves to act against excess because excess renders available an opportunity for some life forms to get a 'free lunch' for a while. In the meantime it is possible that some remedial actions can be taken on the lines suggested earlier in this file. In the long run, we must decide whether to continue on the same track of blind growth, economy of scale, excessive monoculture etc. that has led us through crisis after crisis in the belief that we can and should control all nature through  hands on science and technology, moulding it to our will and feeding as many people we bring into being on the planet.