Catastrophic Honey-Bee Die-Off in Progress

Spring is springing. Or trying to. Meteorological spring begins today in the northern hemisphere, and with it comes warmer weather and, at last, blossoms. But one thing that will be missing in many parts of the United States are honey bees. The news for the honey bee has been poor these past few years, and it’s getting worse.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that if the die-off continues, it would be disastrous to U.S. crop yields. Sandy Bauers writes:

Something is killing the nation’s honeybees.

Dave Hackenberg of central Pennsylvania had 3,000 hives and figures he has lost all but about 800 of them. In labs at Pennsylvania State University, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and elsewhere in the nation, researchers have been stunned by the number of calls about the mysterious losses. “Every day, you hear of another operator,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, acting state apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “It’s just causing so much death so quickly that it’s startling.”

At stake is the work the honeybees do, pollinating more than $15 billion worth of U.S. crops, including Pennsylvania’s apple harvest, the fourth-largest in the nation, worth $45 million, and New Jersey’s cranberries and blueberries. While a few crops, such as corn and wheat, are pollinated by the wind, most need bees. Without these insects, crop yields would fall dramatically. Agronomists estimate Americans owe one in three bites of food to bees.

The problem caps 20 years of honeybee woes, including two mites that killed the valuable insect and a predatory beetle that attacked the honeycombs of weak or dead colonies. “This is by far the most alarming,” said Maryann Frazier, an apiculture — or beekeeping — expert at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

One of the first to notice the latest die-off was Hackenberg, who lives in Lewisburg, north of Harrisburg in Union County. He and his son truck about 3,000 hives up and down the East Coast every year as part of a large but little-known cross-continental migratory bee industry. Hackenberg’s bees pollinate oranges in Florida, apples, cherries and pumpkins in Pennsylvania, and blueberries in Maine. Come summer, they are buzzing along the Canadian border, making honey.

This season, Hackenberg hauled his hives to Florida by Oct. 10, just as he has done for 40 years. By November, some hives were empty; others had just sickly remains. He made some calls and found out a beekeeper in Georgia had seen the same thing. Since then, with concern mounting, experts have been investigating. A few months ago, they were referring to the die-off as “fall dwindle disease.” Now, they have ratcheted up to “colony collapse disorder.”

For more on this fascinating subject, read the entire article. Also check out:

[The Philadelphia Inquirer: Mystery killer silencing honeybees]

2 Comments »

  1. Bees In My Easter Bonnet - Telic Thoughts said,

    March 31, 2007 @ 9:27 am

    […] So it has been quite alarming to me over the past month to read incoming reports of what they’re calling “The Great Bee Die-Off of 2007.” Something really, really bad is happening, and no one’s quite sure what it is. They call it Colony Collapse Disorder [CCD], and some are likening it to Bee AIDS. The Congress is holding hearings, and the situation is characterized as “Catastrophic”. […]

  2. Susan Bacon said,

    April 10, 2007 @ 6:02 am

    It is a common practice among bee keepers all over the country to routinely dust(healthy) bee hives with several antibiotics. Some put antibiotics in the bees water. I have always thought this was a dangerous practice that would eventually produce superstrains…I learned about this in 1993, and it is still going on today.

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