Beekeepers in 24 states across America are encountering a strange phenomenon: bees—which seemed to be healthy days earlier—are abandoning their hives. Millions of these insects have been reported lost, with no trace of where the colonies may have gone, and no apparent cause for their disappearance. In a few other cases, whole colonies have been found dead in their hives.
Scientists and beekeepers alike are unsure as to the source of this problem, which is tentatively being called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Suspected causes include pesticides, mites, viruses, cold weather, fungus, the use of antibiotics and low-quality food for the bees.
There are signs that the immune systems of infected bees are collapsing, again for no known reason, causing some to call it “bee HIV/AIDS.” With weakened immune systems, the bees are unable to fight off diseases. In fact, found in the stomachs of infected bees are traces of nearly every disease that has affected bees over the last 100 years.
Honeybees, contrary to popular belief, do not simply make honey. They are also a crucial element needed to pollinate fruit and vegetable crops—amounting to a $14 billion share in the United States’ fresh produce. Farmers rent hives from beekeepers to ensure widespread pollination and, in turn, a good harvest. The success of crops such as almonds, apples, cranberries, and many other fruits and vegetables are all linked to bee pollination.
The vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation said, “Every third bite we consume in our diet is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate that food” (International Herald Tribune).
Colony Collapse Disorder has been seen before, but under different names. In 1915 it was called Disappearing Disease, and in the 1960s it was Dwindling Disease. Both outbreaks were localized, never widespread, and the causes were never determined.
While beekeepers consider a 20% loss to be normal for a season, losses of 30-60% have been reported this season, and the problem continues to spread. CCD is also being reported throughout parts of Canada and Europe.
If the current CCD outbreak subsides as it has in the past, certain food prices throughout America and Europe will rise for a short time, but drastic damage will be unlikely. However, if the problem continues to accelerate, and the causes of these mysterious disappearances are not determined soon, food supplies on both sides of the Atlantic will be dealt a heavy blow.