Mystery Illness Wipes Out Bee Colonies
Honey Production, Crop
Pollination May Be Affected
By GENARO C. ARMAS, AP
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (Feb. 11) - A mysterious illness
is killing tens of thousands of honeybee colonies across the country,
threatening honey production, the livelihood of beekeepers and
possibly crops that need bees for pollination.
Reports of unusual colony deaths have come from at least 22 states.
Some affected commercial beekeepers - who often keep thousands
of colonies - have reported losing more than 50 percent of their
bees. A colony can have roughly 20,000 bees in the winter, and
up to 60,000 in the summer.
"We have seen a lot of things happen in
40 years, but this is the epitome of it all," Dave Hackenberg,
of Lewisburg-based Hackenberg Apiaries, said by phone from Fort
Meade, Fla., where he was working with his bees.
The country's bee population had already been
shocked in recent years by a tiny, parasitic bug called the varroa
mite, which has destroyed more than half of some beekeepers' hives
and devastated most wild honeybee populations.
Along with being producers of honey, commercial
bee colonies are important to agriculture as pollinators, along
with some birds, bats and other insects. A recent report by the
National Research Council noted that in order to bear fruit, three-quarters
of all flowering plants - including most food crops and some that
provide fiber, drugs and fuel - rely on pollinators for fertilization.
Hackenberg, 58, was first to report Colony Collapse
Disorder to bee researchers at Penn State University. He notified
them in November when he was down to about 1,000 colonies - after
having started the fall with 2,900.
"We are going to take bees we got and make more bees ...
but it's costly," he said. "We are talking about major
bucks. You can only take so many blows so many times."
One beekeeper who traveled with two truckloads
of bees to California to help pollinate almond trees found nearly
all of his bees dead upon arrival, said Dennis vanEnglesdorp,
acting state apiarist for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
"I would characterize it as serious,"
said Daniel Weaver, president of the American Beekeeping Federation.
"Whether it threatens the apiculture industry in the United
States or not, that's up in the air."
Scientists at Penn State, the University of Montana
and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are among the quickly growing
group of researchers and industry officials trying to solve the
Among the clues being assembled by researchers:
Although the bodies of dead bees often are littered
around a hive, sometimes carried out of the hive by worker bees,
no bee remains are typically found around colonies struck by the
mystery ailment. Scientists assume these bees have flown away
from the hive before dying.
From the outside, a stricken colony may appear
normal, with bees leaving and entering. But when beekeepers look
inside the hive box, they find few mature bees taking care of
the younger, developing bees.
Normally, a weakened bee colony would be immediately
overrun by bees from other colonies or by pests going after the
hive's honey. That's not the case with the stricken colonies,
which might not be touched for at least two weeks, said Diana
Cox-Foster, a Penn State entomology professor investigating the
"That is a real abnormality," Hackenberg
Cox-Foster said an analysis of dissected bees
turned up an alarmingly high number of foreign fungi, bacteria
and other organisms and weakened immune systems.
Researchers are also looking into the effect
pesticides might be having on bees.
In the meantime, beekeepers are wondering if
bee deaths over the last couple of years that had been blamed
on mites or poor management might actually have resulted from
the mystery ailment.
"Now people think that they may have had
this three or four years," vanEnglesdorp said.
February 5, 2007
NHB Funds Research for “Colony Collapse Disorder”
Firestone, Colo.- The National Honey Board (NHB)
recently approved an emergency request for $13,000 to support
research into significant bee losses sustained in recent months
to undetermined cause(s), a phenomena termed “Colony Collapse
Disorder.” The research group requesting the funds will
use it as seed money to begin the research, and is seeking additional
funding from other sources.
In late 2006, beekeepers throughout the United
States began reporting large losses in honey bee colonies. Although
bee experts have identified several possible culprits, a prevailing
theory has yet to emerge.
The research group, the Colony Collapse Disorder
(CCD) work group, is composed of university faculty researchers,
state regulatory officials, cooperative extension educators and
The CCD group and Bee Alert Technology are asking
beekeepers’ assistance in reporting instances of honey bee
Colony Collapse Disorder and narrowing down management practices
and environmental factors that might be common to these losses.
Beekeepers can assist with this effort by participating in the
National Bee Loss Survey at www.beesurvey.com.
NHB conducts research, advertising and promotion
programs to help maintain and expand domestic and foreign markets
for honey. These programs are funded by an assessment of one cent
per pound on domestic and imported honey.