Bee Colony Collapse
Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the term used to describe the relatively recent phenomenon of the massive die off of honey bees worldwide, especially during the past decade. Honey Bees are themselves native to Africa and were first brought to and bred in Europe. When settlers came to the New World, they brought with them the honey bee. Native Americans were said to call the honey bee white man's fly. The presence of honey bees often preceded the presence of settlers.
The reasons for this collapse in honey bee populations has been a much debated topic with many scientists and some countries questioning the role of new systemic pesticides, genetically modified organisms that produce their own pesticides (GMOs) and the synergistic effects these chemicals may have on pollinators, as they are designed to kill and repel insects. Others argue that disease, loss of genetic biodiversity through breeding, stress from being overworked, overusing antibiotics and other chemicals to fight bacteria and fungal issues, poor beekeeping, electro-magnetic frequencies, mites, or something yet unknown may be the cause.
(CC Image of hive frame with workers bees and brood, courtesy of Malteseman1983 via Wikimedia Commons)
With colony collapse, most of the bees simply leave and never return. This is different than swarming, a normal action whereby the hives queen leaves with about half of the hive (≈ 25,000 bees) to start a new colony, and the remaining younger bees breed a new queen. With CCD, the bees simply leave, usually without the queen, who is usually found in the hive with only a handful of living bees.
One thing is certain, that in recent years honey bee populations that play a part in pollinating roughly one third of all food globally have been decimated over and over. Many scientists, beekeepers, governments and environmental groups are seeking answers and action on the topic.
Some concerned beekeepers and scientists have also begun looking at certain strains of bees in Australia (one of the only countries in the world to not experience CCD), as well as, Africanized (aka killer bees) honey bees that were bred in Sao Palo, Brazil. The Africanized bees escaped and have been migrating up the through south and central America, and have begun colonizing much of the United States south/southwest. These bees are extremely aggressive and have killed at least 13 people due to this aggressive nature. However, they have shown much promise for good honey production and for resistance to disease, mites, and CCD.
New evidence has been found that shows the promise of Australian and Africanized bees for combating the many issues facing the bees.
(CC Image of Africanized Honey Bees with marked queen (right), by Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
With implications on the future global food supply, as well as economic stability for farmers and beekeepers, understanding CCD can help ensure food and economic security in a world of increasing social, environmental and economic insecurity. Furthermore, the problems facing honey bees are likely facing other pollinators. However, most pollinators are not bred or watched closely, and therefore may too be suffering some of the same issues that honey bees are.
(CC Image of common honey bee with pollen stored in 'baskets' on legs, courtesy of peasap via Flickr)