What's Happening To The Bees?

Here are some more fascinating facts of bee life.

If a hive gets too large, the old queen will leave with part of the hive as her entourage. You may have seen a ball of bees hanging from a tree. The queen is inside this ball, protected by the workers. Since she has already mated - only that one time - she will be able to lay the necessary eggs needed to establish a future hive.

The concept of the hive as an organism also explains why individual bees die in its protection. For honeybees, death is the result of stinging as the barbed stinger prevents the bees pulling it out of the victim.

Apis mellifera is not a specialist. This bee will feed on anything that is in bloom at any given period of time. The common honeybee gets out earlier in the season and earlier in the day than do other insect pollinators. This is important because it means that the honeybee has greatly replaced many of the native bee species here in North America.

Modem agriculture has evolved around the honeybee. There are just not enough native species of bees present to pollinate an orchard, so beekeepers have been bringing the bees to the orchards. Almonds, cucumbers, squash, blueberries, cranberries, peaches, apples, and many other fruits depend on honeybees. What would happen to us if all the honeybees completely disappeared? We wouldn’t starve because the grains - wheat, rice, corn and barley - are all wind-pollinated. But life would certainly change.


The biggest problem for hon­eybees in the mid-1990s was the parasitic mite. The mites trans­mit viruses to hives. The use of pesticides led to the selection of pesticide-resistant mites and the problem worsened. American foulbrood, a bacterial disease, has developed antibiotic resistance as well.

In 2006 beekeepers and researchers in the United States, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and other countries, noted bee colony collapse disorder. This refers to the demise of entire hives of bees.

It should be noted that this is not the first time in recorded history that bees have disappeared. Bees disappeared in the 1880s, the 1920s, the 1960s and in the mid-1990s. (Every 40 years?)

Workers that leave the hive to forage are younger than they were previously. Dead bees don’t pile up near the hive entrance as they do when a hive is infested with a disease. When beekeepers try to feed the remaining colony to sustain the hive there is often little response from the remaining bees. What is causing this? In recent years researchers are looking for some new cause of hive collapse. This problem is not well understood, yet. Researchers at Cornell University and Penn State emphasize that they are still only in the earliest stages of trying to figure out what is happening. Possible causes include vims, pesticides such as imidacloprid (that affect the insect nervous system) and malnutrition.

Interestingly, 96.1 percent of samples taken from hives with CCD by the USDA have been found to have Israeli acute paralysis virus, which is transmitted by a mite. However, this is a correlation. It is not a proof of cause.

Many migrant beekeepers spend winters in the southern states and most beekeepers in the northern states purchase their bees from southern states such as Georgia. Africanized bees, which cannot survive northern winters, have interbred with the southern bees. This is just another component of the problem that researchers are exploring.

Look for more on this important and complex issue in the months and years to come.

Forever Young Magazine - September 2008