Bees - Honey Bee Colony Collapse
Honey bees pollinate an estimated 1/3 of the human diet and the importance of the honey bee population is reflected in the fact that more has been written about honey bees than any other insect in the world. The human fascination with bees began thousands of years ago when people found out just how good honey tastes.
Honey bees are social insects and even in the wild they create elaborate nests called hives containing up to 20,000 bees. They gather nectar in the appropriate months and during the winter they live off the honey in order to not freeze to death.
They see the world through compound eyes that are made up of hundreds of small simple eyes called ommatidia, so they see the world a bit differently. They protect themselves and the hives with a venom gland that creates a stinger at the end of the abdomen only found in females and it hurts!
NATURE | Silence of the Bees | Inside the Hive | PBS
One Queen Bee per Hive
Hives have only one queen bee and her main purpose is to produce more bees. The queen can lay over 1500 eggs daily and she will live from 2-8 years. The bee begins work the day it is born. The rest of the hive is made up of drones and workers. Drones are males and have no stingers. They live about 8 weeks and their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. Their eyes are larger to spot the queens in flight and any drones left at the end of the season are driven out of the hive to die.
The female worker bees make up the vast majority of the bees, and they do several different jobs as they grow from cleaning, keeping the temperature regulated, and they defend the hive. The older workers (after 3 weeks) are the ones that forage to gather nectar, pollen, water and certain sticky plant resins used for hive construction.
Honey has multiple medical benefits beyond satisfying the palate and I will discuss those in more detail in Honey Bees -Part II. There are also many different types of honey bees and their honey often has some unique characteristics depending of where they have gathered their pollen.
Queen Bee in Hive
Honeybees are extremely important as pollinators as I stated in the opening paragraphs. As they gather nectar, the pollen sticks to the fuzzy hair covering their bodies and some rubs off on the next flowers they visit. Honey farms will take a truckload of bees to a farm for pollination in the appropriate season, then load up the hives and take them to the next farm that needs pollination. These bees are extremely important to our agricultural community and to us as consumers.
The video is well worth watching. It shows how the bees communicate with each other.
Bumble Bee Queen
Colony Collapse Disorder
In late 2006, honeybee colonies started collapsing in the United States and after much scientific study it seems there are a whole set of problems causing what is now called “colony collapse disorder.” This phenomenon causes worker bees to suddenly disappear from a beehive. The number of managed honey bee hive colonies dropped an estimated 31.8% to 35.8% in the winters of 2006/2007 and 2007/2008. And, for 2008/2009 the expected drop is 28.6%. This problem is not limited to the US, as most European countries and even Taiwan have reported this problem.
Honey bees were imported from Australia about this time and they may possibly have had some impact on this collapse. Australian Officials insist their bees are not the problem, but they are facing an invasion of exotic Asian honeybees. Some scientists think the Asian bees might carry different viruses and mites than bees from Europe or the US. The causes are not yet fully understood and apparently very complex. Honey bees are the most valuable pollinators of agricultural crops worldwide.
The monetary value of the honey bee as commercial pollinators in the US is estimated to be $20-$25 billion annually. Loss of honey bees is not uncommon, but it is very unusual for worker bees to leave the hives and fail to return. Some have dubbed this crisis the “Mary Celeste syndrome” due to the absence of dead bees in the many empty hives. This is a very serious problem for farmers and consumers.
Looking for Answers
Washington State University completed a study that gives us some answers. First, they noted pesticide levels in older honey combs and found fairly high levels. Pennsylvania State University also found unprecedented high levels of 2 pesticides and lower levels of 70 others as well in an earlier study.
Washington State researchers found another probable cause which is the pathogen Nosema ceranae, which entered the US in 1997. It interacts with other chemicals contributing to colony collapse disorder. It has since spread to hives across the country.
The pathogen attacks the bee’s ability to process food and makes them more susceptible to other chemicals and infections.
Currently researchers are focusing of three major possibilities of colony collapse:
- Pesticides have an unexpected negative effect.
- New parasites (nosema ceranae), pathogens or viruses may be attacking the bees.
- A combination of these stressorsis thought to compromise the immune system of bees making them more susceptible to disease and infection. Stressors include infection by the Varroa mite. Poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding, pollination of crops with low nutritional value, honey bee pollen or nectar scarcity, exposure to limited or contaminated water supplies and migratory stress may all be factors.
There is more money being poured into research to find and fix the cause of this collapse.
The copyright, renewed in 2018, for this article is owned by Pamela Oglesby. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.