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The Vanishing Bee

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Honey bee colonies across North America are being hit by an unexplained phenomenon christened ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD). When beekeepers open their hives, they find virtually complete die-off of the colony, with just the queen, some brood and a small number of workers. CCD has been observed in 22 US states as well as parts of Canada. In some states the loss of honey bee colonies is estimated as high as 75 percent of the population . In Europe, a similar phenomenon has been recently reported in Spain and Poland, and to a lesser degree in Switzerland and Germany.

Why should we worry? Well, obviously this is a major threat to honey growers, but there are wider and very worrying implications for agriculture in general. Honey bees are the primary pollinator for many crops, particularly fruit and nuts. Almond growing in California had a 2006 crop value of $1.5 billion. In 2000, the total U.S. crop value that was wholly dependent on the honey bee pollination was estimated to exceed $15 billion. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating approximately one third of the US crops of almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, pumpkins, cucumbers, cherries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. The commercial viability of these crops is therefore strongly tied to the beekeeping industry.

The fact that this condition, as well as accelerating across North America, has now also appeared in Europe is being taken very seriously. In spite of extensive research, no definite causal link has been identified, although a number of contributory factors have been put forward. A CCD Working Group has been set up working out of Penn State University.

Pollination is one of those eco-system services to which environmental economists are so keen for us to assign a monetary value. It looks as if we’re going to find out exactly how much this little piece of the bio-diversity jigsaw puzzle is actually worth.

Every year, the list of predators, diseases and other threats to honeybees seems to grow.


Written by Pete Smith

March 15, 2007 at 10:53 am

9 Responses

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  1. This weeks BBC Radio 4 ‘File on Four’ programme did an update on H5N1. That was just as cheery. Maybe this virus likes beehives as well as chickens …. backyard chickens wandering around beehives …. bees landing on chicken shit. Who knows! Don’t think H5N1 outbreaks are occurring in the CCD zones though.

    So it’s;

    CCD for the ‘developed’ world.
    H5N1 for developing countries.
    Aids for underdeveloped areas.

    I haven’t been to church for some time now.


    March 15, 2007 at 11:41 am

  2. There’s no evidence CCD is caused by a virus. For a list of possible causes that are under investigation see

    Pete Smith

    March 15, 2007 at 12:08 pm

  3. The Vanishing Bee

    University Update

    March 15, 2007 at 12:09 pm

  4. Googled your attempted link and ended up here!;

    Wonder if bully hornets or killer bees are responsible. A bees-in-the-hood kind of thing.


    March 15, 2007 at 12:37 pm

  5. It’s a weird one. No corpses, no sign of a struggle. Perhaps they’ll all be returned one day, like an apian version of “The 4400”.

    Pete Smith

    March 15, 2007 at 12:46 pm

  6. Never heard of The 4400. But get the gist of it from here;

    That wiki does everything doesn’t it. Maybe wiki got the bees. 🙂


    March 15, 2007 at 1:07 pm

  7. But seriously. I’ve finally managed to find a reference for the situation in Spain.
    Two points of interest:
    CCD symptoms date back to 2004 in Spain, although a trawl of the interweb would lead you to believe it’s mainly a recent US problem.
    And you can add Spanish bee-keeping to the long list of industries being undercut by Chinese imports (1 Euro a kilo!). I have an image in my head of a mile-long tanker full of Chinese honey being washed up on the rocks somewhere. Makes a change from oil pollution I suppose.

    Pete Smith

    March 16, 2007 at 9:09 am

  8. This from a BBC article ;

    ‘The investigators are exploring a range of possibilities to explain the losses, which they are calling “colony collapse disorder”. These include viruses, a fungus and poor bee nutrition.

    They are also studying pesticides banned in some European countries to see if they are affecting the bees’ innate ability to navigate their way back to their hives.

    In some cases, bees are being raised to survive a shorter offseason, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. This could have lowered their immunity to viruses.

    Mites have also damaged bee colonies, and the insecticides used to try to kill them are harming the ability of queen bees to spawn as many workers.’

    So, pesticides, insecticides, viruses and breeding manipulation are all being looked into it appears.


    March 16, 2007 at 1:23 pm

  9. For an account of how beekeepers and the California almond industry are locked in a ‘deadly embrace’ of monoculture agriculture and pressure from cheap Chinese honey imports, see

    “No farmers: no food. No beekeepers: no farmers” – Beatrice Tassot, President of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association

    The honey bee is the state insect of New Jersey.

    Pete Smith

    March 23, 2007 at 10:46 am

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