Entomologists, geneticists and virologists are still searching for the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Yes, they're still searching, and no, there' s no known cause yet.
CCD is a mysterious phenomonen characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive. They leave behind the brood and stored food.
When we attended the 55th annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America in December 2007, one of the highly attended seminars dealt with the plight of the honey bees. Pennsylvania State University entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp and USDA entomologist Jeff Pettis were among those addressing the crowd.
In research just published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed science publication, they and their colleagues found that a higher total load of pathogens--viruses, bacteria and fungi--appears to show the strongest link yet with CCD.
The researchers examined 91 colonies from 13 apiaries in Florida and California. They screened for bacteria, mites, Nosema (protozoan parasites) numerous viruses, nutrition status and 171 pesticides. They also sampled adult bees, wax comb bee bread (stored and processed pollen) and brood.
"Of 61 quantified variables (including adult bee physiology, pathogen loads, and pesticide levels), no single measure emerged as a most-likely cause of CCDm" they wrote. "Bees in CCD colonies had higher pathogen loads and were co-infected with a greater number of pathogens than control populations, suggesting either an increased exposure to pathogens or a reduced resistance of bees toward pathogens. Levels of the synthetic acaricide coumaphos (used by beekeepers to control the parasitic mite Varroa destructor) were higher in control colonies than CCD-affected colonies."
Their research, the first comprehensive survey of CCD-affected bee populations, suggests that CCD "involves an interaction between pathogens and other stress factors," they wrote. They presented evidence that CCD is "is contagious or the result of exposure to a common risk factor."
Bottom line: High pathogen loads are linked to CCD symptoms, but scientists still don't know what causes bees to become infected with SO MANY pathogens.
What this research does is narrow the direction of future CCD research. It's a big step in the right direction.
"Help the bees" continues to be a resounding cry. Helping to fund the research is Häagen-Dazs (about 50 percent of their ice cream flavors depend on bee pollination). Those visiting their educational Web site can donate funds to Penn State and UC Davis.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD), the mysterious phenomonen characterized by honey bees abandoning their hives, is still with is, and the cause is still mysterious.
Over the past three years beekeepers throughout the United States have reported losing from one-third to 100 percent of their colonies to CCD, says UC Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology Faculty since 1976 and a noted authority on honey bees.
The bees just vanish, leaving behind the queen, the immature brood (eggs, larvae and pupae) and stored food.
The calamity of CCD.
The queen, in peak season, lays about 2000 eggs a day. The worker bees serve as the nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, heating and air conditioning specialists, foragers, guards and undertakers. They feed their mother (the queen) and their brothers, the drones. The sisters are their brothers' keepers. The drones' only function is to mate with the queen.
The worker bees pollinate about 100 crops in California, including nuts, fruits and vegetables. They just finished pollinating California's 700,000 acres of almonds. Now they're pollinating pomegranates, tangerines, lemons, squash, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables in orchards and gardens near you.
Bring on National Pollinator Week, June 22-28.
Meanwhile, it's good to see that Häagen-Dazs Häagen-Dazs is continuing to support honey bee research at UC Davis and Pennsylvania State University. Back in February 2008, the premier ice cream brand launched an educational campaign to save the bees and just unveiled a newly updated site. One of the next projects: the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. Designed by a Sausalito team, the haven will be implemented this summer and publicly dedicated in October.
The haven will be a year-around food source for bees and other insects, such as butterflies, bumble bees and syrphids. Other goals: to create a public awareness of the plight of the honey bee, and to educate visitors about bees and the kinds of bee friendly plants they can choose for their own gardens.
Bottom line: let's keep our bees healthy. Mussen suspects that CCD is caused by a combination of factors: malnutrition, pesticides, parasites, diseases and stress.
If CCD has a face, then two photos can tell the story. First, look at the photo of healthy bees and then look at the photo from an abandoned hive. The bee antenna poking through an abandoned cell is just plain sad.
The queen bee, the sisters, the brothers, the brood--all gone.
The calamity of CCD.
What's happening with the honey bees?
Those following the mysterious phenomonen known as colony collapse disorder (CCD)--characterized by bees abandoning their hives--are eagerly waiting the latest developments.
So, when UC Davis bee breeder-genetist Susan Cobey recently offered a class on queen-bee rearing at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, she invited Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen to address the group.
Mussen, who is entering his 33rd year as a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is considered one of the top authorities on honey bees in the country, and indeed the world. News media--including the Associated Press, New York Times, Boston Globe, BBC, Los Angeles Times and Good Morning, America--seek his expertise.
Lately he's been asked if the newly published research work in Spain "solves" the global mystery of CCD. It does not.
"It is true that we have available to us an antibiotic that, when used properly, practically eliminates the disease-causing fungus, Nosema ceranae, from our colony populations," he wrote today in answer to an inquiry. "However, in many cases, nosema-free colonies continued to dwindle to nothing very quickly in many parts of the country. Whatever the causes of that collapse may be, elimination of nosemosis, alone, is not adequate to improve the health of our colonies enough that they survive."
"We need to increaes our research efforts on this malady," Mussen said, "so that we can assure the existence of healthy honey bee colonies for the production of the fruits, vegetable and nuts that make up the healthiest one third of our daily diets."
Freerk Molleman, a postdoctoral scholar in professor James Carey's lab at UC Davis, kindly video-taped Mussen's hour-long lecture to Cobey's class.
Here it is: what's happening with the bees.
The BBC this week examined colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious phenomonen characterized by bees abandoning their hives. The adult bees buzz off, leaving the brood and stored food behind. They do not return.
Many bee specialists believe it's not just one thing causing CCD--it's a combination of factors or a "perfect storm": parasites, pesticides, malnutrition, stress, diseases and global weather changes.
The blood-sucking varroa mite, a parasite of honey bees, is a contributing factor in the decline of bee health.
When the BBC interviewed Cooperative Exension Apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Entomology Department faculty about varroa mites, he said that the European or western honey bee doesn't "do a good job" of removing them. To a human, the varroa mite would be about the size of a softball "running around on you."
The varroa mite, Mussen said, is problematic because of three things:
1. It sucks the so-called bee blood, making the bee nutritionally weaker
2. It interferes with the immune system
3. The varroa can get viruses on its mouthparts so it inoculates bees with viruses as it travels from one bee to another.
Listen to Mussen talk about the varroa mite as he examines it under a microscope. Then imagine a softball-sized bloodsucker on you.
It's a sad photo.
The antenna of a honey bee pokes out of an abandoned hive. Victim of colony collapse disorder (CCD)? Perhaps.
Everytime I look at the bent antenna, I think of a plea for help. Help me! Help me! Please help me! This bee should have been nectaring flowers or gathering pollen.
This hive once belonged to entomologists Robert and Lynn Kimsey of UC Davis. She's the director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and chairs the Department of Entomology. He's the sole forensic entomologist in the department.
CCD was one of the topics at the eighth annual international conference of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC), held Oct. 22-24 in Washington, D.C.
The participants--farmers, scientists, and environmental advocates--agreed that we need to find ways to increase public awareness of pollinators. Pollinator Partnership chair Robert Lang described the loss of pollinators as "a potential health crisis for the planet."
Scores of beekeepers have witnessed a crisis in an individual bee hive.
Like the one below.
(Like to help with the honey bee research at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis? Access this site.)