Sticky situation

Scientists remain baffled as to why bee populations are vanishing in North America. Should European beekeepers be worried about Colony Collapse Disorder?

By Nathan Johnson

Bee populations in some parts of the world are dying off in astonishing numbers. The phenomenon, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is triggering widespread concern in both the scientific and agricultural communities; and while several theories have been put forward to explain a cause (or causes), it appears that no one is really certain why so many bees are flying away from the hive and never coming back. While there have been reports of some bee die-offs in parts of Europe, the problem appears to be most pronounced in North America, and the US in particular.

KEEPING BUSY: Some might argue that American bees work too hard. Photo: istock

According to an article published in the UK's Independent on April 15, CCD has struck half of all US states, with the east and west coasts reporting bee population losses of 70 percent and 60 percent respectively. The article alleged that CCD has spread to continental Europe, and possibly to the UK. A CNN article appearing two weeks later claimed that CCD has spread to 27 US states, and reported "similar collapses" in Brazil and Canada.

With alarming frequency, hive inhabitants are suddenly disappearing, leaving behind them only queens, eggs and undeveloped workers. It is normally the case when a colony dies that a hive will be taken over by parasites, wildlife or other bees making a raid on the honey and pollen left behind. Not so with many of the CCD hives, it appears: Nothing is going anywhere near them.

And while most of the vanished bees seem to be dying singly in undetermined locations, consider the following episode described by an anonymous poster from California on a bee-related forum: "I recently witnessed a hive self-destructing. I saw 200 to 2,000 bees circling next to the intake of a new industrial-sized air conditioner in Burbank. The sun had become hidden by late-afternoon clouds. To me it looked as if the bees were lost: They thought they were near their hive, but they [weren't].

"The next day, janitors were sweeping up thousands of dead bees. I got down on my hands and knees with a paper cup afterward, and still managed to pick up about 50 to 200 bees that were left. Fewer than five showed any signs of life. They appeared to have starved from flying around in circles until they dropped."

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