Colony Collapse Cures

With beekeepers constantly trying to find ways to keep their hives healthy and disease free, numerous ways have been hypothesized about the best way to prevent colony collapse disorder, or at least limit it’s affects. The number one way that seems to work the best is simply “Innovative beekeepers.” These beekeepers are trying varied cures, and finding that some things work better for some, and some better for others.  One of the things that beekeepers are trying to do is “Breed for survivors, ” in hopes  of “Developing resistant lines of bees.” These bees will be a super strain of resistant bees, less susceptible to CCD and other diseases.

While selective breeding has been proposed as one solution, another solution is supplementing the bees diets with extra essential nutrients. One such supplement called MegaBEE, is a ” dietary supplement that contains protein, fat, sugar, minerals, and vitamins in liquid or flapjack form.” Given this extra nutritional boost, some say the “colonies were shown to be healthy, energetic,” and in all around better condition. While this does not cure or stop CCD, healthy and strong bees are less likely to get the disease.

A third solution, the ban or cutback on pesticide usages, is popular among the more environmentally conscious, who think that CCD is linked to over usage of  insecticides which can enter the bees system through pollen. “Countries like France have already placed bans on Imidacloprid and pesticides with similar effects,” and although the bee population seems to be returning, the United States is unconvinced of the link to CCD, and would like more research before any bans are put into place.

Since its appearance in 2006, colony collapse disorder has been a mystery to most involved in the business.  It’s cures, just like its causes, are elusive and not easily pinpointed. Most people believe like the local beekeeper I talked to that their not sure “there’s ever going to be a silver bullet.” Perhaps there is not enough information on CCD, or perhaps there truly is no cure, but due to the enormous impact it has had on beekeeping, many bee keepers and those in the industry are rethinking the whole system, and wondering about the future of our bees.



A Beekeepers Perspective

Dave Laney, beekeeper and owner of Laney Honey Company, knows his bees. So in an effort to further research my topic and fulfill the need for a personal source, I made the trip out to North Liberty to meet with Dave and ask him some questions about bees and Colony Collapse Disorder. In our conversation, Dave outlined what he thought were the main contributors to the disappearance of honeybees, how he was keeping his hives healthy, and also the importance of honeybees in pollination.

-Firstly Dave said, “The bees are under tremendous pressure.” Major beekeepers across the country truck their hives thousands of miles across states to the likes of the California Almond crop, the Florida Citrus crop, and other major agricultural crops that are dependent upon honeybee pollination.  It’s not good for the bees, “Its tremendously stressful every time you move bees,” Dave said. He also noted that while out pollinating the crops, bees from Indiana may “commingle with other bees, spreading disease,” and thus adding to the their already stressful lives.

-The second cause he thought is a contributor to Colony Collapse disorder is what he called the “overall ambiance of the bee foraging areas.” Referring to the various chemicals that are sprayed over crops, and also what have become known as GMO’s Dave was very adamant that “poison, sprays, and genetic variations of plants” were all culprits that might have a hand in the ill-health of bees.  “A hundred years ago there wasn’t all these sprays and genetics,” said Dave.  In his eyes, and the minds of many bee keepers, the link between bee disappearance and pesticides is undeniable.

-Thirdly, he made the point that “the diseases of the bees themselves have evolved over the years to be more.” Thirty to Forty years ago, most beekeepers did not have to worry about unexpected losses to their hives due to the likes of Varroa or Tracheal Mites, and although personally Dave’s “losses are exceeding 30%, some people are 90%.” With more diseases out there in current times, there are more hazards and a higher chance that hives will collapse under the pressure of one of these diseases.

So, in response to all this, and in his effort to keep his bees healthy, Dave told me that “My focus is on the survivors.” A sort of super-strain if you will. It’s the old survival of the fittest. He has begun breeding and keeping the strongest and the most durable bees, and for now it seems to be working. In this way, Dave is avoiding Colony Collapse Disorder and keeping his honey business up and running.

Ending our interview, Dave reminded me that bee’s are important because “so many crops are dependent on pollination.” Like I have stressed before,  and also Dave noted,  its not only honey, because “people can live without honey.”  Its all those other foods such as “blueberries, apples, almonds, oranges, and citrus fruits” that are in jeopardy. Its also the clover and alfalfa that supply our beef and livestock industry. But like Dave said, ” I’m not sure there’s ever going to be a silver bullet.”

Not the First Time

After looking into to some further research, I found an interesting paper entitled “Colony Collapse Disorder: Have We Seen This Before?” It had never occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t the first time we had experienced massive bee disappearances, and the article gave some interesting insight into what may or may not have been CCD  in the past.

During the long history of human-bee interaction, the first record of this disorder came in 1869. While a lack of science and technology in these times led to beliefs that “death was due to a lack of pollen, poisonous honey, or a hot summer,” later investigations during losses in 1891 and 1896 led scientists to Aspergillus Fungi which was able to “reproduce symptoms very similar to CCD” Following these years, cases of drastic honeybee delcine sprung up between the years of 1905 and 1919, most notably on the British Isle of Wight, where more then 90% of the bees were lost. Attributing losses to this new “Isle of Wight disease”, “Some concluded that the losses were due to acarine disease or the honey bee tracheal mite.

Our path through history does not end here though. Beekeepers continued to notice this strange disappearance, in Portland in 1915,  and in New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Canada in 1917. Continuing  into  the 1960s and 1970’s both Australia and the US had epidemics, and  “many reports of losses were published.” New names continued to spring up, such as “disappearing syndrome,” and hypothesized causes ranged from genetics to poor nutrition. Occurrences were not isolated and were spread across the world. “In the mid-1990’s, losses again became evident in the northeastern United States,” and beekeepers began treating their hives with pest control and nutritional supplements, hoping to find a cure. Later, at the turn of the century, France experienced massive die outs, and speculation continued about causes such as “colony mismanagement, nutrient deficiencies, and chemicals in the environment.”

As we know, the latest bout of CCD, or “Isle of Wight Disease” or “Disappearing Syndrome” has sprung up in the past few years, and has for the most part left beekeepers and scientists alike at a loss for causation, with their best bets hedged on a combination of factors. It is interesting though, that throughout history, CCD as we call it now, has occurred periodically and in a variety of locations, under different names, with different suspected causes, but with the same results every time. Massive bee losses and baffled beekeepers. So,  knowing that recent occurrences have been attributed to modern developments such as pesticides and GMO’s, we should note that “The losses that have been occurring for over 100 years could be completely separate events or part of a cycle of disappearance.”

Colony Collapse Disorder: Have We Seen This Before?

Colony Collapse Culprits

Modern day honeybees stress is through the roof.  “Varroa and tracheal mites, small hive beetles, Africanized killer bees, American foulbrood bacteria, fungi, and viruses of all kinds.” But lets not leave out “pesticides, antibiotics, malnutrition, urbanization, globalization, and global warming.” The list is endless, and as Author Rowan Jacobsen points out in his book Fruitless Fall, beekeepers are surprised that “honey bees are alive at all.” One of the leading culprits according to some scientists is pesticides.

Pesticides used in farming are sprayed over crops to prevent infestations, and crop destruction. On bees foraging runs, it is hypothesized that they pick up small dosages of these pesticides which could possibly weaken their immune systems, or interfere with their internal GPS which may account for their mysterious disappearance from the hives.  One of these pesticides that has been accused of causing CCD is imidacloprid, a neur0active systemic insecticide produced by Bayer Corporation. The focus on this possible contributor or cause of CCD comes from the introduction of it to the French sunflower industry in 1994, after “what had began as 1.5 million bee colonies had dropped below 1 million by 2001.” Although Bayer corporation denies that the pesticide attains a lethal toxicity in the pollen and nectar of crops it is used on, the French Government banned it in 1999.

Weather or not imidacloprid is responsible for the CCD flare up in France is neither here nor there. And while lab testing has been done by the Bayer corporation “showing no connection between Guacho (imidacloprid) and the honey bee crash.” The point is that increased pesticide usage has been linked in one way or another to CCD. Now, as I said before this is not the only factor going into the cause of CCD. Leading experts believe that the most viable answer is a combination of causes. They think that through pesticides, mal-nutrition, over work, and general ill treatment of bees, immune systems are weakened opening the doors for any number of known bee killers such as varroa mites or hive beetles. While blame is easily placed on the the large Corporations, the same blame might easily be placed on the bee keepers themselves. For years, bee keepers have been dosing their hives with the likes of CheckMite in order to curb the influx of bee diseases. Along with this, hives are being trucked hundreds of miles to pollinate crops, only adding to their already stressful life. So, there is no direct answer I nor anyone involved in the bee business can give you. Fingers like to be pointed and blame likes to be placed when your livelihood or hobby is collapsing with nothing you can do to prevent it. The old culprits are still around, and new culprits are being found. Like most die outs, or collapses in a species though, humans themselves are usually the leading culprit.

The research for this post comes from Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen. It is a factual portrayal of The collapse of the Honeybee and the coming agricultural crisis. It is supported by references from both sides of the issue. In my upcoming posts, I hope to get a personal account of CCD, and its ramifications from a local bee keeper. For right now,  that’s all folks! Don’t forget to check out that girly-man blog on the Sensitive Female Chord Progression.

The Economic Impact

Many of you have been asking so what? Who cares about the bees? There are a lot of Tom Gustafson’s out there who have no respect whatsoever. So, in response to that, lets look at Colony Collapse Disorder from an Economic standpoint.

When we think of bees, we think of honey. Honey nut cheerios, Honeycomb cereal, and those little bears filled with the golden stickiness usually come to mind.  What many don’t realize though, is that honey is the least of our concerns when we are looking at the disappearance of bees from an economic perspective.  As a Fortune Magazine article titled “As bees go missing, a $9.3B dollar crisis lurks” states, the bees are involved in some big money. This money is mostly wrapped up in their agricultural pollination services. Bee’s are used in the pollination of numerous crops including “almonds, blueberries, melons, cranberries, peaches, pumpkins, onions, squash, cucumbers, and scores of other fruits and vegetables.” If populations continue to dwindle, some experts like Secretary of US agriculture Mike Johanns say that its possible for CCD to cause a”$15 billion direct loss of crop production and $75 billion in indirect losses.”

The indirect losses he talks about come from the alfalfa and clover that is needed to raise cattle and livestock. So as you can see, its not just the honey. Its the fruits and vegetables we eat, even the beef we consume which could be taking a hit should the bees continue to disappear. One of the more drastic examples of their much needed services is through the California almond crop. This harvest alone requires about half of all domesticated honey bee colonies in the United States. With their annual almond harvest bringing in around $1 billion dollars each year, the health of bee populations is critical to both the almond growers and the state of California.

So, its not just the honey we will be missing. Its everything from coffee to almonds, apples to kiwis. Everywhere across the world bees pollinate and provide billions of dollars worth of food. Less bees means higher prices for their services which means inflated food prices which equates to you spending more money on food. Yes, I will agree that most articles seems overly dramatic about the plight of the bees, and perhaps I am guilty of dramatizing their story, but if articles about CCD appear in magazines such as Fortune, it is something to pay attention to.

This research as I previously stated, comes from Fortune Magazine, a worldwide magazine devoted to business. It seemed to be unbiased and provide a critical summary of the affects CCD might have in terms of money. One important thing it noted is that in recent years, CCD has slowed down, and a “bee apocalypse seems unlikely at this point.” Keeping this in mind, don’t stress out out too much over the plight of the bees. I know, like myself, you were very worried. There is definitely a problem though,  and we might just be at a pause in the action. Hopefully we will solve the problem because right now, there’s no plan bee.



Now that the basics have been laid out, lets get down to the real stuff. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). What is it? When did it start? What is the extent of the problem? Questions that you may have, and that I also have myself. All of which will be answered.

CCD was first noticed in late 2006 by bee keepers on the East Coast. Categorized by sharp declines in honey bee colonies, the loss of bees was initially written off as another attack of the Varroa mites, the bee keepers mortal enemy. Varroa mites, an infestation that is largely responsible for the Honey Bee losses in the 1990’s, soon was thrown out as a cause for this mysterious disappearance of the bees. The symptoms were unlike anything else apiarists (bee keepers) had ever seen. Because of the “severity and lack of precedent, scientists coined a new term, Colony Collapse Disorder.”  USDA has reported that colony losses have been somewhere around “17%-20% per year since the 1990s,” which were mainly caused by any things such as mites, pesticides, or general stress that occurs on the bees. During 2006 and and the emergence of Colony Collapse disorder the losses have spiked, and now average more then 30% per year. The numbers are not looking good. Some areas in the United States have been hit harder then others, and individual bee keepers have been known to lose 75% of their bees, resulting in financial ruin.

Possible causes for CCD include, but are not limited to pesticides, parasites, environmental sress, and poor nutrition. While none of these seem to be the single culprit, scientists who have been researching the topic have removed some possible causes, and question weather it may be a combination of interacting culprits that leads to the collapse of bee colonies. An interesting and popular internet topic is the connection between CCD and cell phone usage. Some believe that cellular signals interfere with bees navigation systems, resulting in their inability to find their way back to their hives. This is speculation though, and no research has been done to provide validity to this argument. It does raise the interesting question of our increasing technological usage, and its affect on the natures cycle.

This majority of research on this post comes from a congressional report on the collapse of the honeybee population. What struck me about it was the urgency it carried, and also that  it was an issue being raised to the governmental level. The extent and enormity of CCD and its consequences are wider and deeper then I first imagined, and it seems as thought my initial thought about how the coverage on this issue is lacking is changing.  More and more people are becoming interested and worried about the plight of the bees, and I continue to be astonished at the increasing material out there about this problem. I hope in the coming posts, to further explore the economic impact and the agricultural impact,  and to go more in depth about the causes and their related issues.

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