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Posts Tagged ‘Honeybees’

As we could see all around us, dark bees, probably of the Carniolan race, were coming and going.  Some were entering the middle hive, with the Carniolans, and others were going into the third hive, the other Italians.  When we checked the Carniolans in early October, we could see the entire top box filled with capped honey, and so we didn’t look too deep.  “They would be fine,” we thought.  “So much honey they gotta make it through the winter.”  From our initial glance, it seemed like the other Italian hive had died, and the Carniolans coming and going were robbing the other Italian hive of its left over honey.

All that was lost.

“That’s okay,” I thought.  “At least the Carniolans made it.”

Terrance and I cracked the Carniolans open.  A couple of living bees, but primarily just a top box filled with honey.

We went down a level.  Half-filled frames of honey abounded, but no nest or cluster of bees, just the odd stragglers.

At the bottom, there was nothing.  No dead bees, no dead cluster, no dead anything.  Literally an empty hive filled with honey.  There is absolutely nothing to report.  130 lbs of honey and no bees.  Those few stragglers were from a neighbor’s hive, presumably, come to rob this empty hive.

In the other Italian hive, a similar situation appeared, just not so much honey left-over.  There were a lot of dead bees on the screen at the bottom, but upon closer examination they must have been from the summer, or even from the bottom of the package when we introduced them because they were nearly decomposed.  A mouse had moved in beneath the carcasses under the bottom board.  I did find a few Varroa mites on the bottom board, but no signs of infestation.  There was no dead cluster of bees, no sign of supersedure, just an empty hive with some honey.  Ironically, these bees were observed in the top box when I fed them in January, so some time in the last month they just disappeared.

Is this CCD, aka Colony Collapse Disorder?  I’m not sure.  Could we have done things differently last fall?  Yes.  The two Italian colonies were borderline strong enough to survive the winter, and they should have been combined.  Did that kill them?  Probably not.  Is it possible that we killed the queens when we were performing maintenance, and the colonies failed because of that?  The occasional accident with a queen is not unprecedented, and maybe that happened in the first hive we opened, but the likelihood of all three perishing that way is highly unusual.  For these two hives, I don’t know what to call the phenomenon, but I had the same first thought as the guy who first reported CCD, “All the bees are gone.”

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A World Without Bees, Benjamin, A. and McCallum, B., Pegasus Books, New York, NY, 2009

Even when I have little money, a new hardback book on bees is tempting, especially when it has as extensive a bibliography as A World Without Bees.  To some extent, I had been waiting for a book like this to be written.  A lot of people ask me if the bees are in danger and I say, “Yeah, that’s what I keep hearing,” but to what extent I did not know.  This book elucidated the extent of the horror quite well.

The modularity of pollination networks

But first, let’s cite some examples from the book of how incredible bees are: 1.2 million hives are driven into California each spring to pollinate almonds.  Each acre of orchard is given two hives or about 80,000 bees.  Just estimating, the bees of each hive will have to make an average of 45,000 trips a day just to acquire enough pollen and nectar to raise its young and survive the winter.  30 years ago, an acre of orchard would produce 500 lbs of almonds.  Today, with bees brought in for pollination service, that same acre will produce 3000 lbs of almonds.

So consider now how dependent we are on bees, not just individually but on the scale of our culture and civilization, when around 70% of the food we eat is dependent upon insect pollination, and for our needs, honeybees do it best.  So now consider this statistic: during 2007 and 2008, over one third of all honeybees disappeared.  800,000 losses in 2007, and a million in 2008, all due to what has been called “Colony Collapse Disorder” or CCD, for short.

Varroa Mites

What is causing it?  No one knows.  Let me repeat that; no one knows.  Culprits?  1) The stress of agri-industrial beekeeping, in which bees are shipped from Maine to Florida to California to Montana on the backs of trucks.  Honeybee pests and diseases have been known to spread more rapidly because of this practice, and many if not all migratory beekeepers supplement their diet with sugar-water and substitute pollen to increase colony sizes in late winter.  2) A narrowing gene pool, in which the new colonies created by bee-breeders are drawing from limited stock and diversity to respond to new stresses in the environment.

USDA: Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the US

3) Varroa Mites, new strains of familiar viruses, fungi, beetles, and potentially viruses mutating to cooperate with mites.  And 4) Pesticides, GMOs, and monoculture.  A bee slurps nectar from a flower whose DNA has a fragment of shellfish DNA in it… is that okay?

Unfortunately, all research to date has been inconclusive because scientists can not isolate which problem for bees is causing the major problem for bees.  It’s either a perfect storm of all conditions, or something has changed.  If you don’t read this book, please start paying attention.  This is a really big deal.

Additional reviews:

http://thealternativeview.org/AWorldWithoutBees.html, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jul/20/scienceandnature

And a commercial beekeepers letter to bee journals:

http://www.biotech-info.net/bee_j_editorial.html

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