Tags: Bee | Mystery | Unsolved

Bee Mystery Unsolved

Sunday, 10 June 2007 12:00 AM

Scientists have launched an intense search for the solution to a mysterious honeybee die-off that has hit 35 states, crippled beekeepers, and threatened many crops.

For months, scientists have come across eerily abandoned hives in which the bees seem to have simply left their honey and broods of baby bees.

"We've never experienced bees going off and leaving brood behind," Pennsylvania-based beekeeper Dave Hackenberg tells the Los Angeles Times. "It was like a mother going off and leaving her kids."

Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, it has been reported in 35 states, five Canadian provinces and even in Europe. U.S. beekeepers have lost about $150 million as a result, and farmers have been left scrambling to find bees to pollinate their crops.

According to the Apiary Inspectors of America, 24 percent of 384 beekeeping operations across the country lost more than 50 percent of their colonies from September to March. Some have lost 90 percent.

When Dennis van Engelsdorp, the acting apiarist for the state of Pennsylvania, went looking for clues, he made some startling discoveries. When he examined dead bees under a microscope, he didn't find mites or amoebas, the usual culrpits. Instead, he found internal organs swollen with debris and strangely blackened. The bees' intestinal tracts were scarred, and their rectums were abnormally full of what appeared to be partly digested pollen. Dark marks on the sting glands were telltale signs of infection.

"The more you looked, the more you found," Van Engelsdorp told the Times. "Each thing was a surprise."

Researchers can't pinpoint a pesticide or parasite to blame for the die-off. And now they're looking for viruses and bacteria.

"We were shocked by the huge number of pathogens present in each adult bee," says entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Penn State University.

A large number of pathogens suggests a problem with the bees' immune systems had been suppressed, allowing infections to spread.

Recent experiments conducted by Van Engelsdorp and USDA entomologist Jeffrey Pettis support that. They set up 200 beehive boxes with new, healthy bees from Australia. Fifty of the hives were irradiated to kill potential pathogens. Fifty were fumigated with a common a hive cleanser. Fifty were filled with honey frames that had been taken from colonies before the collapse, and the last 50 were hives that had been abandoned.

A short time later, the bees in the untouched hive were filling only about a quarter of a frame. Bees living on the reused honeycomb were alive but not thriving. A hive that had been fumigated with acetic acid was better.

When he popped open an irradiated hive, bees were crawling everywhere. "This does imply there is something biological," Van Engelsdorp says.

Other theories blame Osama bin Laden, claiming he engineered the die-off to disrupt American agriculture. Another blames cell phone transmissions. That one originated with a recent German study. Entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign calls the theory "a complete figment of the imagination."

The German physicist who conducted the tiny study "disclaimed the connection to cellphones," she told the Times. "What they put in the colony was a cordless phone. Whoever translated the story didn't know the difference."

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Scientists have launched an intense search for the solution to a mysterious honeybee die-off that has hit 35 states, crippled beekeepers, and threatened many crops. For months, scientists have come across eerily abandoned hives in which the bees seem to have simply left...
Bee,Mystery,Unsolved
531
2007-00-10
Sunday, 10 June 2007 12:00 AM
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