HL beekeeper explains Colony Collapse Disorder

November 19, 2007

By Teresa Jagodzinski

A puzzling phenomenon in the bee keeping industry has raised more questions than answers, and “Every beekeeper has a different theory,” explained John Swanson of Swan-bee in Howard Lake.

It is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

With this disorder, adult worker bees suddenly disappear from a colony or hive and leave behind young bees and food. A live queen bee is also present, but no dead bees are found in the hive.

The disease was recognized in 2006, but hive declines were reported as early as 2004.

No one cause has been discovered that is believed to be responsible for this disorder, but research is being done on different theories.

Some of the theories being looked at include environmental change-related stresses, malnutrition, pathogens, mites, pesticides, radiation from cell phones or other man made devices, genetically modified crops with pest control characteristics, and even bee keeping practices.

Swanson states that there are many stress factors that may affect the immune system of the bees, making them more susceptible to viruses.

Diverse weather conditions, like droughts in some areas, while other areas are having floods, is one factor.

Also, pesticides that are in the nectar are taken to the hive by the bees, and it affects the developing larva .

Mites, which have been around since the 1980s, are now resistant to the chemicals that have been used on them. These mites carry viruses like the crippled wing, Kashmir and Israeli acute paralysis virus.

Moving around the country to pollinate different crops at different times and in different states adds stress to the bees.

Finally, cell phones may possibly affect their navigational systems, causing them to have a hard time finding their way back to the hive.

Swanson also stated that in breeding queen bees to get certain traits, genetics might play a role in the problem. They may be sacrificing the natural resistance for a virus or disease, and then they can’t handle a new virus.

“They may be giving up quality for quantity,” he added.

Swanson has seen 25-30 percent of his hives affected by CCD.

“They are either dead hives, or they may have a handful of bees that won’t produce,” he explained.

A strong population of bees is necessary to sustain the hive, especially through the winter months. Fall is when CCD is noticed the most.

What does it mean for the consumer?

“Honey bees are vital to a variety of agricultural crops in the United States. Beekeepers truck their hives cross country to pollinate almond groves in California, field crops and forages in the Midwest, apples and blueberries in the northeast and citrus in Florida,” according to the American Bee Journal.

If there are fewer bees to pollinate these and other crops, the supply will decrease, which will increase the prices of these and other products.

Thirty percent of what’s on supermarket shelves is pollinated by bees, added Swanson.

Beekeepers are working to try to prevent their hives from succumbing to this disorder.

“Keeping bees as healthy as possible, keeping their immunity up, and reducing stress,” will help the bees according to Swanson.

There are things the general public can do to help, according to the US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Services web site.

The best action is not to use pesticides casually, and not during mid-day when bees are out foraging for nectar.

Also, plant good nectar sources like clover, foxglove, and bee balm.