Mystery of honey bee die-off puzzles experts

8:54 AM, Apr 6, 2010   |    comments
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SLIDESHOW: Bees buzzing away

DAVIS, CA - For several years, honey bees have been mysteriously disappearing across the country.  Researchers in California are now examining several theories into Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD.

"Unexpectedly, a colony with a pretty good healthy population of bees, suddenly just becomes empty," said Dr. Eric Mussen, UC Davis honey bee expert. "And we have absolutely no idea of exactly what causes that to happen."

Researchers believe the causes of CCD, may include pesticides building up inside hives, viruses or bacteria, parasites, poor nutrition, or a combination of things. But the result is clear.

"The adult bees simply fly off and disappear somewhere," said Mussen, leaving the queen and her brood to die.

Tom Parisian first noticed the die-off two winters ago. His bees were fine at Thanksgiving but after Christmas, many of the hives had deteriorated or died.

Parisian, owner of Honey Bee Genetics of Vacaville, immediately took action.

"We feed our bees much more regularly. We're now feeding through the winter," he said.

He now treats his bees for more diseases. He said in 2010, the bees are back, bigger and better than ever.

For Central Valley almond growers, it's meant bringing in more bees from across the country and even from as far away as Australia to pollinate their crop. That raises costs that eventually must be passed on to consumers.

Bees pollinate an estimated one-third of the food humans consume. The mounting loss of colonies has researchers worried about the possible effect on supply and prices of products ranging from apples to most vegetables.

"If it continued and continued, I don't even want to think about that, because I'm too much of an optimist," Mussen said.

Colony collapse was first noticed four years ago. In 2010 it seems to have become even worse after a long and difficult winter. About 25 percent of beekeepers have been affected, but their losses have often been high enough to put them out of business. According to Mussen, the other 75 percent have their fingers crossed.

Parisian believes new research will eventually find both a cause and a cure for CCD.  And he said bees seem to always find a way to survive.

"We have the bees that are resilient and we have good scientists. It sounds like we have a good reason to be optimistic," he said.

By Dave Marquis,


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