World agricultural honeybee disappearance

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A honeybee landing on a milk thistle flower.

At least 24 states across the United States are reporting that honeybees are disappearing and the reason is not known, but scientists have an idea of what might be causing the disappearance.

"Every day, you hear of another operator. It's just causing so much death so quickly that it's startling," said acting state apiarist, Dennis vanEngelsdorp who works for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

At least 30 to 60 percent of the bees on the west coast of the U.S. have died or disappeared. The east coast and the state of Texas have reported a nearly 70 percent loss of bees. A 20 percent drop in bee population is expected each winter and is considered normal.

Cquote1.svg One-third of the food you eat is dependent upon honeybee pollination. If that one-third doesn’t happen, I don’t know what will occur at the grocery store Cquote2.svg

—Lance Sundberg

"Anything above [a] 30 percent [loss] is concerning," added vanEngelsdorp.

"It’s as high as 100 percent in Texas and one guy in Virginia has 27 hives left out of 1,400 hives. It’s to the point now where we’re starting to contact some crisis management people," said David Hackenberg who is one of the largest beekeepers in Pennsylvania.

"I’ve never seen anything like it. My hives are just getting emptied. There’s nobody home," said beekeeper, David Bradshaw.

The bees are reportedly leaving their hives to search for flowers to pollinate, and then never return home. The queen bee, nurse bee and baby bees remain in the hives only to die. Some call it a "colony collapse disorder."

"We see dead bee hives with no dead bees and nothing will live in the hive. If I had to guess, 40 percent of the bees along the East Coast are dead since September of last year. In the West Coast, it’s 25 percent and almost everybody is on either coast," said a beekeeper in Columbus, Montana, Lance Sundberg who runs the Sunshine Apiary bee hives. Sundberg has said that his bee count went from 5,600 in June of 2006 to less than 3,800 in February of 2007. He says mites might have caused at least half of the loss with the other half unexplainable.

Scientists say that the cause of the deaths and disappearances could be natural causes. Some also say that some bees became disoriented or could have been infected with mites, which could cause a lethal virus to overcome the bees. Other theories include the spread of a bee virus or a possible fungus which could cause them to die, poor nutrition and inbreeding. Scientists say that cell phone towers and crops that have been genetically engineered are not suspected of being a cause.

The disappearances could be more serious than they sound-without bees to pollinate crops, in a few years time there could be a dramatic drop in the harvests in the affected states.

Tracheal mites were the cause of a drop in bee population in 1985. After two years passed, the Varroa jacobson mite, which sucks the blood out of the bees, killed nearly 80% of bees in Montana.

Pesticides may also be to blame which could cause the bees to literally get lost on their journey back home.

"One-third of the food you eat is dependent upon honeybee pollination. If that one-third doesn’t happen, I don’t know what will occur at the grocery store," added Sundberg.

Montana is the U.S.'s 5th largest producer of honey and exports hundreds of thousands of bees to California to help with the pollination of almond plants.

Other countries reporting bee disappearances are:

  • Canada
  • Spain
  • Poland
  • Greece
  • Croatia
  • Switzerland
  • Italy
  • Portugal
  • Germany
  • England

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