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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Friday, September 07, 2007

Scientists find clue in mystery of the vanishing bees

Colony collapse disorder has killed millions of bees

Scientists suspect a virus may combine with other factors to collapse colonies

Disorder first cropped up in 2004, as bees were imported from Australia

$15 billion in U.S. crops each year dependent on bees for pollination

(CNN) -- A virus found in healthy Australian honey bees may be playing a role in the collapse of honey bee colonies across the United States, researchers reported Thursday.

Honey bees walk on a moveable comb hive at the Bee Research Laboratory, in Beltsville, Maryland.

Colony collapse disorder has killed millions of bees -- up to 90 percent of colonies in some U.S. beekeeping operations -- imperiling the crops largely dependent upon bees for pollination, such as oranges, blueberries, apples and almonds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says honey bees are responsible for pollinating $15 billion worth of crops each year in the United States. More than 90 fruits and vegetables worldwide depend on them for pollination.

Signs of colony collapse disorder were first reported in the United States in 2004, the same year American beekeepers started importing bees from Australia.

The disorder is marked by hives left with a queen, a few newly hatched adults and plenty of food, but the worker bees responsible for pollination gone.

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The virus identified in the healthy Australian bees is Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) -- named that because it was discovered by Hebrew University researchers.

Although worker bees in colony collapse disorder vanish, bees infected with IAPV die close to the hive, after developing shivering wings and paralysis. For some reason, the Australian bees seem to be resistant to IAPV and do not come down with symptoms.

Scientists used genetic analyses of bees collected over the past three years and found that IAPV was present in bees that had come from colony collapse disorder hives 96 percent of the time.

But the study released Thursday on the Science Express Web site, operated by the journal Science, cautioned that collapse disorder is likely caused by several factors.

"This research give us a very good lead to follow, but we do not believe IAPV is acting alone," said Jeffery S. Pettis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory and a co-author of the study. "Other stressors on the colony are likely involved."

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This could explain why bees in Australia may be resistant to colony collapse.

"There are no cases ... in Australia at all," entomologist Dave Britton of the Australian Museum told the Sydney Morning Herald last month. "It is a Northern Hemisphere phenomenon."

Bee ecology expert and University of Florida professor Jamie Ellis said earlier this year that genetic weakness bred into bees over time, pathogens spread by parasites and the effects of pesticides and pollutants might be other factors.

Researchers also say varroa mites affect all hives on the U.S. mainland but are not found in Australia.

University of Georgia bee researcher Keith S. Delaplane said Thursday the study offers a warning -- and hope.

"One nagging problem has been a general inability to treat or vaccinate bees against viruses of any kind," said Delaplane, who has been trying to breed bees resistant to the varroa mite.

"But in the case of IAPV, there is evidence that some bees carry genetic resistance to the disorder. This is yet one more argument for beekeepers to use honey bee stocks that are genetically disease- and pest-resistant."

Bee researchers will now look for stresses that may combine to kill bees.

"The next step is to ascertain whether IAPV, alone or in concert with other factors, can induce CCD [colony collapse disorder] in healthy bees," said Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Besides the Columbia and USDA researchers, others involved in the study released Thursday include researchers from Pennsylvania State University, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the University of Arizona and 454 Life Sciences.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

An answer to the bee crisis/CCD???

Asian Parasite Killing Western Bees - Scientist

MADRID - A parasite common in Asian bees has spread to Europe and the Americas and is behind the mass disappearance of honeybees in many countries, says a Spanish scientist who has been studying the phenomenon for years.

The culprit is a microscopic parasite called nosema ceranae said Mariano Higes, who leads a team of researchers at a government-funded apiculture centre in Guadalajara, the province east of Madrid that is the heartland of Spain's honey industry.

He and his colleagues have analysed thousands of samples from stricken hives in many countries.

"We started in 2000 with the hypothesis that it was pesticides, but soon ruled it out," he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

Pesticide traces were present only in a tiny proportion of samples and bee colonies were also dying in areas many miles from cultivated land, he said.

They then ruled out the varroa mite, which is easy to see and which was not present in most of the affected hives.

For a long time Higes and his colleagues thought a parasite called nosema apis, common in wet weather, was killing the bees.

"We saw the spores, but the symptoms were very different and it was happening in dry weather too."

Then he decided to sequence the parasite's DNA and discovered it was an Asian variant, nosema ceranae. Asian honeybees are less vulnerable to it, but it can kill European bees in a matter of days in laboratory conditions.

"Nosema ceranae is far more dangerous and lives in heat and cold. A hive can become infected in two months and the whole colony can collapse in six to 18 months," said Higes, whose team has published a number of papers on the subject.

"We've no doubt at all it's nosema ceranae and we think 50 percent of Spanish hives are infected," he said.

Spain, with 2.3 million hives, is home to a quarter of the European Union's bees.

His team have also identified this parasite in bees from Austria, Slovenia and other parts of Eastern Europe and assume it has invaded from Asia over a number of years.

Now it seems to have crossed the Atlantic and is present in Canada and Argentina, he said. The Spanish researchers have not tested samples from the United States, where bees have also gone missing.

Treatment for nosema ceranae is effective and cheap -- 1 euro (US$1.4) a hive twice a year -- but beekeepers first have to be convinced the parasite is the problem.

Another theory points a finger at mobile phone aerials, but Higes notes bees use the angle of the sun to navigate and not electromagnetic frequencies.

Other elements, such as drought or misapplied treatments, may play a part in lowering bees' resistance, but Higes is convinced the Asian parasite is the chief assassin.

Story by Julia Hayley

Story Date: 19/7/2007

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bee Shortage Could Lead to 'Agriculture Crisis'

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina is trying to boost the buzz surrounding the state's crops. As farmers leave tobacco and move into new crops like cucumbers, melons, and berries, the state is confronting a crisis: it simply doesn't have enough honeybees to pollinate all those flowering plants.

"I feel that if we don't do something now about (this) we may be heading toward an agriculture crisis in the state,'' said David Tarpy, the state's cooperative extension apiculturist and assistant professor at North Carolina State University.

In the late 1980s, the state had some 180,000 managed bee colonies, each of which contained at least 30,000 bees. Now, there are about 100,000 such colonies, and the state's beekeepers last year had to turn down requests for some 10,000 new colonies.

The bees are needed because without their flower-to-flower flights, farmers can't get the maximum yield from crops like cucumbers, apples, blueberries and melons, which now account for $100 million every year, according to state agriculture officials.

As bees visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen, they transfer pollen grains from one flower to another, fertilizing them and boosting seed and fruit production.

Wilson County farmer Bill Harrell is gradually moving out of tobacco, which doesn't need pollination to produce, and into cucumbers, melons and other crops.

At one time, the farm that his grandfather bought during the Depression had roughly 85 acres of leaf under cultivation. Last year, Harrell grew just 38 acres of tobacco. And this year, he's planting 100 acres of cucumbers and some 60 acres of melons.

Six years ago, he said, he could find plenty of bees to pollinate his flowering crops. These days, though, there's a bee shortage.

"Now there just ain't enough to go around,'' Harrell said. "(Without) the bees to help us pollinate you're up against the wall.''

Twenty years ago the state had a healthy population of wild bees, but they have been ravaged by mites. Farmers now rely on a dozen or so commercial beekeepers to pollinate their crops.

But most of those beekeepers are at least 60 years old and, like Chapel Hill's Jack Tapp, got into the business as a second career.

Tapp, a retired sheriff's detective and Army veteran, has run Busy Bee Apiaries since 1998. That was 12 years after he started keeping bees for a hobby.

Tapp warns that startup costs are high and the payoff delayed in the bee business.

"You'll spend $200,000 with no forecast of making any profit for the next two or three years, so you're not going to get many people jumping into it,'' he said.

North Carolina State University hopes that a cost-share program it is starting will lure more people into the hobby, laying the groundwork for an eventual increase in commercial beekeeping.

The school is providing 250 qualified applicants with two hives of Russian honey bees and bee hives. Participants will have to invest $50 to $150 for beekeeper protective clothing, smokers, and additional hive equipment. The program will help put the newcomer in touch with nearby mentors.

The one-year program is being funded with a $164,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, which administers money received by North Carolina from its settlement with cigarette manufacturers.

Tarpy said applicants from traditional tobacco-growing areas will get priority for funding.

The application deadline isn't until Feb. 11, but Tarpy says he's already received about 600 applications. And organizers of annual introductory classes on beekeeping are reporting that their enrollment has doubled and tripled since the N.C. State program was announced.

Tapp believes the money being spent to boost the hobby would be better spent funding newcomers who want to pursue commercial beekeeping from the start.

As currently structured, Tapp said, the program "will support more interest in beekeeping, getting bees out there for gardens and stuff. As for farmers switching to produce crops from the tobacco industry, it's not going to help them.''

Tarpy said Golden LEAF did not feel underwriting commercial operations fit its mission.

Instead, the organization hopes to bring new people into the hobby and that they decide to master other aspects of bee cultivation, including breeding and production of honey, pollen and beeswax. All together, those activites generate $10 million annually for the state's economy.

And it's possible that some hobbyists could decide to take the plunge and join the bee business full time.

"We hope that of these 250 new beekeepers, some will take it seriously and expand to the point where they may start doing it commercially,'' Tarpy said.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The following report references Fall Dwindle Disease.

This name has been
changed to Colony Collapse Disorder

What’s in a name?

Symptom’s similar to those described for this disorder have been described
in the past, and the condition has received many different names. These
include autumn collapse, May disease, spring dwindle, disappearing disease,
and fall dwindle disease. The CCD working group felt none of these names
were appropriate for the current condition.

The reasons are as follows:

1) References to the season are inappropriate as there is increasing
evidence that the condition manifests itself throughout the year

2) Dwindle implies a gradual decline of colony population. While the
actual rate of adult bee loss in populations have not been recorded, it
is clear that otherwise strong colonies can quickly lose their entire
workforce in a matter of weeks.

3) Disappearing has been used to refer to a host of other conditions that
do not necessarily share the same symptoms as those presently being

4) The term “disease” is commonly associated with a pathogenic agent.
While the definition of disease does have a broader meaning (i.e.
coronary disease), until (or if) such an agent is found the use of the
word disease would be misleading. Should a biological or other
agent(s) be found the name of this condition will likely be

Symptoms of CCD

1) In collapsed colonies

a. The complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with no or little build up
of dead bees in the colonies or in front of those colonies.

b. The presence of capped brood in colonies.

c. The presence of food stores, both honey and bee bread

i. which is not immediately robbed by other bees

ii. when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive
beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.

2) In cases where the colony appear to be actively collapsing

a. An insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
b. The workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees
c. The queen is present
d. The cluster is reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and
protein supplement

Working group
Bee Alert, Inc
Jerry Bromenshenk,
Colin Henderson,
Robert Seccomb,
Larry Tarver,
Scott Debnam
Florida Department of
Jerry Hayes
The Pennsylvania State
Diana Cox-Foster,
Maryann Frazier,
David Geiser,
Nancy Ostiguy
Pennsylvania Department
of Agriculture
Dennis vanEngelsdorp
Jeff Pettis
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
“Fall-Dwindle Disease”:
Investigations into the causes
of sudden and alarming colony
losses experienced by
beekeepers in the fall of 2006.
Preliminary Report:
First Revision
Dennis vanEngelsdorp12,
Diana Cox Foster2,
Maryann Frazier2 ,
Nancy Ostiguy2,
Jerry Hayes3
December 15, 2006
Revised January 5th, 2006
During the months of October, November, and
December 2006, an alarming number of honey bee
colonies began to die along the East Coast of the United States. West Coast beekeepers are also
beginning to report unprecedented losses. This phenomenon, without a recognizable underlying
cause, has been tentatively been termed “Fall Dwindle Disease”, and threatens the pollination
industry and production of commercial honey in the United States. This has become a highly
significant yet poorly understood problem for beekeepers. States, like Pennsylvania, can ill
afford these heavy losses; the number of managed colonies is less than one half of what it was 25
years ago. Many beekeepers are openly wondering if the industry can survive. There are serious
concerns that losses are so great that there will not be enough bees to rebuild colony numbers in
order service pollination needs and to maintain economic viability in these beekeeping
This preliminary report consolidates our findings and current thoughts on the symptoms and
causes of “Fall Dwindle Disease”. While our investigations continue, the epidemic nature of this
disease demands that we share information as it becomes available. It is hoped that, despite its
incomplete nature, this report will help to formulate plans of action on how to best tackle this new
challenge to the industry. The apicultural industry has proven resilient in the face of past
challenges; it is our firm belief that it will do so again.
1 Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
2 The Pennsylvania State University
3 Florida Department of Agriculture
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
Survey of Beekeepers Reporting Large Losses Typical of “Fall Dwindle Disease”
A Case History Report
Seven beekeepers (as of 12/15/06) reporting heavy loses in their operations were
interviewed by phone. These interviews detailed management practices employed by the
beekeepers over the last year. Interviews lasted 45 minutes to 2.5 hours, and were often
followed up with a second phone call to clarify certain points. To encourage full
disclosure, all beekeepers interviewed were assured that the particulars of each interview
would be kept confidential, and the reports resulting from the survey would not disclose
their identity. Beekeepers interviewed represented operations based in four States
(Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania). The colonies managed by these
operators were located in these states and moved to and from an additional six States
(California, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Maine, North Dakota). The size of the
operations varied from 200 to over 3000 colonies. All beekeepers were experienced and
knowledgeable. At the time of the interview, beekeepers reported losses of 30 to 90 %.
One beekeeper, having 1200 colonies, expects 9 to survive the winter.
General description of condition:
Beekeepers report the sudden loss of a colony’s population of adult bees. In all cases
few, if any, adult bees were found in or near the dead colonies. Capped brood was often
found in these colonies. Dead out colonies often contained food reserves that had not
been robbed out, despite the presence of living colonies in an area. Most dead out
colonies showed no, or minimal, evidence of wax moth or small hive beetle damage. In
colonies that still have bees, small clusters were reported with evidence of a laying queen.
The surviving workers tended to look young in age.
Practices and conditions common to interviewed beekeepers.
1. All were migratory beekeepers. All had moved their colonies at least 2 times in
the 2006 season, with some colonies being moved as many as five times over the
2006 season.
• Implications:
i. Moving colonies is stressful on bees;
1. Possible reasons: confinement, temperature fluctuations,
and possible reduction (or cessation) of egg laying
ii. Moving colonies is thought to amplify adult bee disease agent
1. Possible reasons: increase rate of defecation in the colony,
forced mingling of young and older (possibly infected and
would otherwise be foraging) adult bees increase chance of
disease transmission
iii. A remote possibility is the bee colonies are more apt to be exposed
to new diseases or pathogens.
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
2. All experienced a cumulative dead-out rate of at least 30% over the course of the
season. It is common that 10% of colonies die after transportation; some
beekeepers claim losses of 30% are not uncommon after pollination of crops such
as blueberries.
• Implications
i. Beekeepers are constantly “splitting” colonies to make up for
losses (see below)
ii. The equipment from the dead-out colonies is continually being
recycled back into the operation in creation of new splits. Existing
food reserves in the dead-outs and comb is provided to the new
colonies; potentially any disease agent or chemical contaminant
would be carried over to the new colony.
3. Upon finding a dead-out colony, all interviewed beekeepers placed the dead-out
equipment on strong neighboring colonies to facilitate comb care and splitting.
When the queen from the strong colony began to lay in the dead out equipment,
the dead-out equipment and brood were removed (split) from the surviving
colony. Some beekeepers then introduced a mated queen or queen cell into the
queenless unit while others allowed the unit to rear a new queen naturally.
• Implications
i. Continual reuse of dead out brood comb
1. Reuse is a known way to transfer disease agents and
possibly other chemical contaminants (e.g. Miticide
buildup in colonies)
2. Reuse can potentially amplify the presence of disease
agents on comb
ii. Large-scale spitting of colonies is stressful on bees and can
amplify disease agent populations
1. The age profile of the worker population is altered by
a. Older bees are forced to act as nurse bees; these
bees are not as efficient in brood provisioning and
may be more likely to be infested with diseases
affecting adult bees
4. All producers experienced some form of extraordinary “Stress” at least 2 months
prior to the first incidence of “die off” associated with “Fall dwindle disease”.
The nature of this stress was variable but included nutritional stress (apiary overcrowding,
pollination of crops with little nutritional value), dramatic pollen and
nectar dearth, or varroa mite pressure. Due to drought in some areas, the bees
may have had limited water resources or contaminated water supplies.
• Implications
i. Stress compromises the immune system of bees, making them
more susceptible to infection by opportunistic microbes.
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
Practices and conditions not common to interviewed beekeepers.
1. Feeding: The practice of feeding was common to most of the interviewed
beekeepers. The reason for feeding varied. Some fed to help encourage build up,
while others fed to hold off starvation in the summer during particularly severe
a. Carbohydrates: some did not feed, some feed HFC, others sucrose. They
used frame feeders, top hive feeders, and barrel feeders. Some added
mineral salts to the feed, some added antibiotics, none used Fumaigillan.
b. Protein: most did not feed, some used pre-made protein supplement.
2. Chemical use:
a. Antibiotic use: While all used antibiotics, the type, frequency of
application, and method of application varied.
b. Miticide use: all but one beekeeper had applied a miticide treatment over
the course of 2006. The products used, method of application, varied.
3. Major income:
a. Some reported that their major purpose was the production of honey,
while others received most of their income from pollination contracts.
Some used both.
4. Source of Queens:
a. All purchased at least some queens throughout the year. One beekeeper
reared a majority of his own cells, but most bought either mated queens or
queen cells. Queens were bought from at least 5 different states (Florida,
California, Texas, Georgia, Hawaii) and 2 foreign countries (Canada and
Continuing Activity:
1. Interviews of beekeepers will continue, especially in other regions.
a. As of 12/15/06, at least seven other beekeepers were known to have large
b. Beekeepers have been asked to “interview” fellow beekeepers based on
questions derived from initial interviews. (Appendix 1)
2. Beekeepers not experiencing problems will be interviewed to determine if there
are other factors that are not shared in common with those experiencing the
losses. This may help pin-point critical factors triggering the colony collapses.
a. Anecdotal second hand reporting suggests
i. that non-migratory operations are experiencing this phenomena
only in split colonies and not parent colonies
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
ii. migratory beekeepers not experiencing this problem either do not
have high losses though out the year or have aggressive comb
management/replacement procedures in place
Suggested future action:
1. Monitoring colonies year round to look for evidence of stress and disease agent
build up. Little is known about the normal levels of some microbes/pathogens
associated with bees, such as fungi causing stonebrood, flagellates, or amoebae.
There is also a potential of other viruses infecting bees to be present, which have
not yet been fully characterized or have developed methods of detection. New
fungal pathogen strains with increased virulence are being reported in other
countries and may have been introduced to the U.S.
Examination of submitted samples
Sample collection
A beekeeper complaining of heavy losses to colonies approached Dr. Diana Cox-Foster
of Penn State University. In response, Diana accompanied by Dr. Nancy Ostiguy, visited
the beekeeper’s home yard and collected samples of 1) bee bread in dead-out colonies, 2)
honey from dead-out colonies, 3) frames of dead brood (no dead bees were found by the
beekeeper at the original location or within the dead-out colonies) and 4) four living
nucleus colonies which were transferred to Penn State and stored in a secure building
until live bees could be collected. Live worker bees and queens were placed in individual
vials and stored at –80OC. An additional ~50 bees were placed in alcohol. Samples of
bee bread and honey were also collected. The bees in alcohol were sent to Dennis
vanEngelsdorp (who is affiliated with both the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
(PDA) and Penn State University), and he analyzed the samples for Varroa mite
abundance, HBTM infection, amoeba disease, nosema disease, and digestive tract
abnormalities. Diana Cox-Foster participated in the examination of the samples, given
her expertise in bee immunity, physiology, and pathology. Fungal isolations and
characterizations were made by Dr. David Geiser at Penn State at the request of Diana
Cox-Foster. Dr. Geiser is an expert in fungal taxonomy and molecular chacterization,
particularly in the group of fungi causing stonebrood disease.
A second beekeeper located in GA, also complaining of high losses, contacted Jerry
Hayes, with the Florida Department of Agriculture. Samples of comb from near dead
colonies were sent to the PDA. Samples of bees from those same near dead colonies were
collected and shipped in rubbing alcohol. Honey and bee bread from the combs were
sent to Dr. Diana Cox-Foster for viral analysis. A sample of dead immature bees (imago
stage) pulled from beneath the capping were also sent. Samples were stored at room
temperature until they were transported to Penn State. These samples were also
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
transferred to David Geiser, when recognizable fungal growth was observed on these
Maryanne Frazier received wax samples from the combs collected from the PA
beekeeper. Theses samples are undergoing pesticide residue analysis.
Examination of the bees, honey, and bee-bread
Varroa mite abundance was examined in those bees received in alcohol (Table 1). While
abundance levels were high, these numbers may be artificially inflated considering that
the bees tested were the last in collapsing colonies and apiaries.
None of the samples examined had evidence of HBTM (n= 25 per sample). However,
when preparing samples for HBTM analysis, morphological peculiarities were found
(Figure 1). Crystal-like formations were observed in the thorax where muscles are
located. Similar structures have been described in some viral infections; however, it is
not clear if these are the same type of structures.
A set of tweezers was used to grab the posterior end of the abdomen and pull the gastro
intestinal tract out of the bees abdomen. Along with the intestinal tract, the venom sac
and sting gland were often removed (Figure 2). The Malpighian tubules (the bee’s
“kidneys”) were examined for the presence of Amoeba disease. Only the occasional
amoeba cyst was found in tubules, but never at levels that would seem pathogenic (Figure
3). However, the tubules were found to be swollen and discolored in many bees, a
condition not normally observed. Pyloris scarring was evident between 0% to 45% of the
samples examined (Figure 4; Table 1). In research done in the early 1950’s, this
discoloration or scarring has been attributed to the infection of the bee by small singlecell
organisms known as flagellates. Both flagellates and amoeba have been claimed to
be non-pathogenic in bees; however, little or no information is readily available to
document these protozoa.
The contents of the rectums of PA and GA bees differed (Figure 5). In the PA bees,
cursory examination of the gut contents revealed many pollen grains of unknown origin.
The pollen grains seemed largely intact and many did not appear digested (which is
abnormal). All PA samples were found to have nosema spores in their rectal contents.
The sting gland of many examined bees were obviously scarred with distinct black
“marks” (Figure 6). This type of pin-point melanization or darkening is indicative of an
immune response to some sort of pathogen. Both yeast and bacteria have been identified
as causal agents for this condition (called H melanosis and B melanosis depending on
casual agent). Fyg (1969) reported this condition in queens. In addition to their sting
glands, evidence of melanosis was found in the ovaries of infected queens. These queens
were superseded by colonies. Subsequent research has documented damage to
hypopharyngeal glands of worker bees.
In several samples, there were distinct debris clumps in the tracheal network examined in
the abdomen of bees (Figure 7). In at least one case what appeared to be fungal
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
mycelium were observed growing from a tracheal branch into a larger tracheal trunk. In
several live bees from PA, other potential fungal mycelium was observed in other tissues
such as the sting gland, the body wall, etc. Potentially these bees have a low –level
fungal infection. Of note, there was few or no dead brood in the colonies exhibiting overt
signs of any type of common brood disease. In particular, there was no indication of
Chalkbrood mummies.
The dead brood from GA were late-pupae or adults that were about to emerge. The
fungal growth on these bees was composed of at least two-different types of fungi. One
was chalkbrood and the other was the species of fungi causing stonebrood. These fungi
are being characterized as to exact species/strain by David Geiser.
Samples from PA and GA were examined for known viral, bacterial, and fungal
pathogens of honey bees using methods to detect the genetic material belonging to these
organisms. Given that few adult bees or brood were available from the "dead out"
colonies, the honey and bee bread were examined. The detection of viruses in the honey
and bee-bread in combs has previously been demonstrated to reflect the viral infections
present in the colony when infected bees were the ones making those food stores (Cox-
Foster and Ostiguy). In the PA colonies (19 to date) and GA colonies (5 to date), the
examination of the honey and bee-bread did not reveal significant infections in the deadout
colonies. The samples collected came from 15 dead-out colonies and the four living
nucleus colonies. In the honey and bee bread samples from the 19 PA samples, only one
had detectable deformed wing virus (DWV), four had sacbrood virus (SBV), and one had
a virus similar to Kashmir bee virus (KBV). The identity of the Kashmir bee virus needs
to be confirmed since the detected viral was abnormal. No acute bee-paralysis virus,
blackened queen cell virus (BQCV), or chronic bee paralysis virus were detected. In
addition, no chalkbrood spores, AFB, or EFB were detected in the honey/bee bread
samples from the PA operation. Likewise, the GA honey and bee bread samples had
little viral contamination, except for two samples with DWV and one with BQCV.
Additional analyses were done on five queens and five workers from the living colonies
that were declining from the PA operation. These samples revealed extensive viral and
fungal co-infection, with all bees being infected by DWV, nearly all infected by BQCV, a
significant number having KBV, some SBV, and almost all having chalkbrood infection.
One sample tested positive for AFB. Given the extent of infection in these bees and the
lack of corresponding detection in honey/bee bread in the same colonies, there is a
chance that the reserves remaining in the colonies are remainder reserves present in the
equipment used to make the new splits. These results suggest that it is best to gain data
from any living bees present in colonies undergoing the dwindle disease. The extent of
the infection levels in these bees is also unusual and not comparable to data reported by
others in the literature to date or by the extensive studies done by Cox-Foster and Ostiguy
on over 200 colonies. The characterization of pathogens needs to be performed more
fully before any conclusions can be reached on underlying diseases causing the fall
dwindle disease.
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
Ongoing activities:
1. Additional observation and a more careful review of the literature regarding gut
contents will be initiated.
2. Attempts to positively identify any microbes infecting the bees have been initiated
and continue. These analyses include the detection and characterization of fungal
pathogens in the bees. Additional attempts will be made to determine if other
viruses are present in these bees. These detections of other microbes will not be
definitive in determining the culprit underlying the collapses, but will allow for
future research to determine if these microbes are the cause.
3. A researcher working on characterization of either new or emerging pathogens in
humans has agreed to help determine if other pathogens are present in the bees.
This researcher has developed a method that may allow any type of pathogen to
be identified and provide the means to further characterize these microbes and
determine if they underlie the collapse. This researcher is an international expert,
who is recognized as a leader in this area by many branches of the U.S.
government and by international health organizations. The cost of supplies for
this analysis is expensive (approx. $350 per sample); but this expense is justified
for a small number of samples, since this may be the only viable means to find in
a timely fashion undescribed or new disease agents that may be associated with
the collapse of bee colonies. Of particular note, the researcher having this
technology is willing to donate the time and expertise needed to perform these
analyses, which represents a significant contribution.
Chemical Analysis for Pesticide Contamination
1) To analyze pollen, honey and bees for the presence of neonicotinoid pesticides (and
possibly certain fungicides)
2) To analyze beeswax (brood nest combs) for possible accumulation of Fluvalinate,
Coumaphos and/or Amitraz
The neonicotinioids, for example imidacloprid, are a rather new class of pesticides. There
have been new chemicals of this sort introduced over the past few years (clothianiden and
thiamethoxam). There is conflicting information about their effect on honey bees,
however the EPA identifies these chemicals as highly toxic to honey bees. "Clothianiden
is highly toxic to honey bees on an acute basis (LD50>0.0439 mg/bee). It has the
potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other non-target pollinators
through the translocation of clothianidine residues in nectar and pollen. In honey bees,
the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effect in the
larvae and reproductive effects on the queen". [EPA Fact Sheet on Clothianiden]. Some
researchers have not found this effect but most were looking for mortality and not chronic
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
or behavioral effect. In addition, a study in NC found that some of these neonictinoids in
combination with certain fungicides, synergized to increase the toxicity of the
neonicotinoid over 1,000 fold in lab studies. Both the neonicotinoids and the fungicides
(Terraguard and Procure) are used widely.
Recent research tested crops where seed was treated with imidacloprid. The chemical was
present, by systemic uptake, in corn, sunflowers and rape pollen in levels high enough to
pose a threat to honey bees. Additional research has fond that imidacloprid impairs the
memory and brain metabolism of bees, particularly the area of the brain that is used for
making new memories.
Implication: If bees are eating fresh or stored pollen contaminated with these chemicals at
low levels, they may not cause mortality but may impact the bee’s ability to learn or
make memories. If this is the case, young bees leaving the hive to make orientation
flights may not be able to learn the location of the hive and may not be returning causing
the colonies to dwindle and eventually die. It is also possible that this is not the sole
cause of the dwindling but one of several contributing factors.
Action: Dr. Chris Mullen is a chemist in the Penn State department of Entomology who
has worked on the toxic and behavioral effects of pollen feeding beetles, feeding on
neonicotinoids in pollen. He is willing to work on this problem and will attempt to
analyze pollen, honey, and bees from colonies involved in the die off, for the presence of
neonicotinoides. He is capable of detecting ppm but to detect ppb we would have to do a
more complex analysis (that would cost more) but this would still require the preliminary
work that Dr. Mullen will need to do for the ppm analysis.
Ed Bogas worked for many years as the technical specialist in the Penn State Pesticide
Research Lab and was responsible for most of pesticide residue work conducted by this
lab. He now works for Dr. Consuelo DeMoraes, who is not involved in pesticide residue
work but she has agreed to allow him to do this work, using her lab’s equipment but we
will need to cover the cost of the analysis. Ed will work on the analysis of wax and other
hive materials for the presence of chemicals typically used in colonies for the control of
varroa mites. We are hopeful that he will be able to detect pesticide residues at the ppb
level. Pesticides residues at these levels might not have lethal effects but could have
chronic or behavior effects
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
Table 1: Findings in submitted samples
Sample Varroa
PA-20 8/80 na 6/11 2/11 n.a.
PA-21 8/45 na 10/21 9/20 9/20
PA-23 14/64 na 7/23 15/22 5/24
PA-24 7/37 na 8/14 11/14 1/14
GA-1 1/21 1 8/16 7/16 4/16
GA-2 1/408 0 19/20 0/20 0/20
GA-3 0/63 88 10/20 na na
Figure 1: When thoracic discs were cut from sample GA-2 the musculature of bees was notably soft and
discolored (A) when compared to healthy thoracic cuts (B). This discoloration suggests that the bees were
dead upon collection. When questioned the beekeeper confirmed that the bees were alive at the time of
collection. Further, the tracheal system of these bees did not show signs of desiccation usually associated
with the collection of dead bees. Thoracic discs from this sample, after being placed in KOH for 24 hours,
reveled peculiar white nodules (C). When wet mounts were examined they appeared to have crystalline
arrays (D) which may be indicative of Cloudy wing virus (CWV) (Bailey et al. 1980) . Alternatively these
may also be the same “sharp-edged crystalloids” observed in degrading bee muscle tissue by Willie
(1967)(as reported by (Bailey 1981)). Another possibility is that these are small tyrosine nodules, which
have been reported in the Gasters of bees (Erickson et al. 1997) and more recently observed by FDA (E –
Photo courtesy of Jerry Hayes and David Barnes).
Figure 2: Digestive tract of healthy bee.
Figure 3: The Malpighian tubules were examined for the
presence of Amoeba disease. Only the occasional
amoeba cyst was found in tubules, but never at levels
that would seem pathogenic (A). When compared to
apparently healthy tubules (B), many samples had
Malpighian tubules that were obviously discolored (C).
Examination of these tubules revealed heavy debris load
(D). GA-2 and GA-3 had significantly reduced
Malpighian tubules, a condition reported to have an
association with nosema disease (E).
Figure 4: Pyloris scarring was evident
in some samples (A). Wet mounts of
the scar area showed extensive
melanization (B) that may be the
result of Morison’s cell inclusion.
This immune response has been
previously reported in association
with chronic bee paralysis,
accumulation of flagellates, or
possibly some other microbe. The net
like distribution of this scarring
suggests an immune response to a
fungal infection (C).
Figure 5: The rectal contents of GA bees
(A) were distinctly different then the
contents of PA bees (B). The rectal wall
of GA bees were notably transparent
revealing contents that looked like small
stone packets (C). While (Fyg 1964)
describes similar stone like contents in
poorly laying queens, the stones
observed in the GA bees were not
attached to the epithelium layer as Fyg
(1964) describes. When these packets
were ground and mounted, some
unidentified floating objects (UFO’s)
were observed. A cubic particle (D) that
resembles the cubic bodies of
polyhedrios viruses (this viruses attacks
wax-moths) excepting that the cube
observed was ~10x too big for a virus
particle. There were fragments of pollen
grains husks in all samples examined. All
PA samples were found to have nosema
spores in their rectal contents (E) while
none of the GA samples did. In two
samples epithelial cells were apparently
packed with spores. Amoebae cysts (F)
and what appeared to be flagellates (G)
were also observed.
Figure 6: The venom sac and sting gland of bees were examined. In many examined bees (Table1) there
were obvious black scaring. In some cases the marks were small specks (A), while in other cases damage
was easily visible to the naked eye (B). The sting gland in some bees appeared “swollen” (C). What
appeared to be immune defense cells accumulated in thick layers around the sting gland (D). In some cases
there appeared evidence of fungal mycelium growing from the sting gland (E, my). Examination of the venom
sac also revealed evidence of fungal growth (F).
Figure 7: Distinct debris was observed in the tracheal network associated with the gastrointestinal tract. In
some cases what appeared to be fungal mycelium was observed growing from a tracheal branch into a
larger tracheal trunk.
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
Appendix 1
Honey Bee Management Questionnaire
The following questionnaire is intended to help us identify common and not in common
practices in beekeeping operations. Beekeepers are encouraged to interview other
beekeepers, even if those beekeepers are not experiencing losses. Differences between
those with loses and those without could highlight some of the underlying causes of this
disease. The identity of those who are interviewed will remain confidential.
If the interviewed beekeeper does not know the answer to a question please indicate that
by writing "I don't know" next to the question. If the interviewed beekeeper does not
want to answer a question please write "refuse to answer" next to the question.
To ensure unbiased reporting the person interviewing should not comment on the answers
given by the interviewed beekeepers. A summary report will be made available to all
those who perform interviews, who can in turn pass them on to those they interviewed.
A typical interview will last between 1 and 2 hours. Some of the questions may seem
redundant, this is on purpose, as it acts as an internal check, perhaps jogging beekeepers
Please answer the following questions on separate pieces of paper. Write the question
number beside the answer. Send the results of the survey to:
Dennis vanEngelsdorp
PA Department of Agriculture
2301 North Cameron Street
Harrisburg PA, 17110
Or email them to:
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
A. Questions for the interviewer:
1. Your name (the interviewers).
2. Record your phone number, address, and email address (the interviewer’s).
3. Record the date and time of the start of the interview
4. Assign a number to the beekeeper (note to interviewer: the people processing
these answers will never know who the interviewed beekeepers are, but we may
have follow up questions. In that case we will call you (the interviewer) and
refer to the assigned number to allow follow up questions.
B. Questions for the beekeeper being interviewed:
1. How many living colonies did you have at the beginning of January 2006 and in
which state were they located at that time?
2. How many living colonies did you have at the end of December 2006 and in what
state were they located?
3. At the beginning of the year, was it your intention to increase colony numbers,
keep the same number of colonies, or decrease the number of colonies you
4. Did you move colonies from one location to another over the course of the year?
If so, for each month of the year, how many colonies did you move and where and
why did you move them?
5. Did you find queenless colonies in your operation at any time in the year? If so,
in what months did you find them? How many did you find? What did you do
about the problem? What rate of queenlessness do you consider "normal"?
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
6. Did you find dead out colonies in your operation at any time in the year? If so,
in what months did you find them? How many did you find each month? And
what did you do with the equipment? What rate of dead-outs would you consider
7. Did you make splits over the course of the year? If so, in what months did you
make these splits? How did you make them? Where did you get the queens to
make them? Where did you get the equipment to make them?
8. Did you monitor for Varroa mites over the course of the year? If so in which
months? How did you monitor levels? What levels would you have thought
problematic? What levels did you get? Did you ever get levels higher than you
think acceptable?
9. Did you treat for Varroa mites over the course of the year? If so when? With
what? Was the treatment effective? How did you know?
10. Did you apply antibiotics to colonies over the course of the year? If so, what?
How did you apply it? When did you apply it? Why did you apply it?
11. Did you see any brood diseases or pests in your colonies over the course of the
year (Small hive beetle, sac brood, European foulbrood, American foulbrood,
chalk brood , deformed wing virus, parasitic mite syndrome, wax moth)? When
did you see it? How severe were these infections? Would you have considered
the rates of infection you found normal?
12. Did you provide supplemental feed (sugar or protein) at any time over the past
year? If so in what months did you feed? Why did you feed? What did you feed?
How did you apply the feed? Did you add anything to the feed?
13. Did you collect a honey crop over the course of 2006? If so in what months?
Did you consider the crop average, below average, or above average?
14. Did your colonies experience a dearth at anytime over the last year? If so how
bad was the dearth? When was it? How long did it last?
Fall Dwindle Disease: A preliminary report
December 15, 2006
15. Did you rent colonies for pollination at anytime of the year? If so when? And
for what crops?
16. Did you rear queens over the course of the year? If so, when did you rear them?
How many did you use yourself? How many did you give away or sell?
17. Did you buy queens or queen cells over the course of the year? If so when did
you buy them? How many did you buy (Please indicate if they were queen cells
or caged queens)? How did you introduce them? What was their rate of
acceptance? Did you consider their rate of acceptance normal?
18. Did you experience the phenomena tentatively referred to as Fall Dwindle
Disease? If so when did it start? How many colonies have died in your
operation as a result of this condition? Is the rate of death equal across all your
apiaries? If not, can you think of any difference between the colonies in apiaries
with high rates of loss and those that do not? What do you think is the cause of
this condition? Are your bees still dying? If not when did they stop dying? To
what do you attribute the stop in the death rate?

Ask if the beekeeper would be interested in interviewing a couple of other beekeepers.

The more responses we get the more information we have.

Thank you.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

Mysterious deaths of bees take broad toll

As scientists try to explain why colonies are vanishing, worried beekeepers and farmers add up their losses.

By Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writers
June 10, 2007

The dead bees under Dennis vanEngelsdorp's microscope were like none he had ever seen before.

He had expected to see mites or amoebas, perennial pests of bees. Instead, he found internal organs swollen with debris and strangely blackened. The bees' intestinal tracts were scarred, and their rectums were abnormally full of what appeared to be partly digested pollen. Dark marks on the sting glands were telltale signs of infection.

"The more you looked, the more you found," said VanEngelsdorp, the acting apiarist for the state of Pennsylvania. "Each thing was a surprise."

VanEngelsdorp's examination of the bees in November was one of the first scientific glimpses of a mysterious honeybee die-off that has launched an intense search for a cure.

The puzzling phenomenon, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, has been reported in 35 states, five Canadian provinces and several European countries. The die-off has cost U.S. beekeepers about $150 million in losses and an uncertain amount for farmers scrambling to find bees to pollinate their crops.

Scientists have scoured the country, finding eerily abandoned hives in which the bees seem to have simply left their honey and broods of baby bees.

"We've never experienced bees going off and leaving brood behind," said Pennsylvania-based beekeeper Dave Hackenberg. "It was like a mother going off and leaving her kids."

Researchers have picked through the abandoned hives, dissected thousands of bees, and tested for viruses, bacteria, pesticides and mites.

So far, they are stumped.

According to the Apiary Inspectors of America, 24% of 384 beekeeping operations across the country lost more than 50% of their colonies from September to March. Some have lost 90%.

"I'm worried about the bees," said Dan Boyer, 52, owner of Ridgetop Orchards in Fishertown, Pa., which grows apples. "The more I learn about it, the more I think it is a national tragedy."

At Boyer's orchard, 400 acres of apple trees — McIntosh, Honey Crisp, Red Delicious and 11 other varieties — have just begun to bud white flowers.

Boyer's trees need to be pollinated. Incompletely pollinated blooms would still grow apples, he said, but the fruit would be small and misshapen, suitable only for low-profit juice.

This year, he will pay dearly for the precious bees — $13,000 for 200 hives, the same price that 300 hives cost him last year.

The scene is being repeated throughout the country, where honeybees, scientifically known as Apis mellifera, are required to pollinate a third of the nation's food crop, including almonds, cherries, blueberries, pears, strawberries and pumpkins.

Vanishing colonies

One of the earliest alarms was sounded by Hackenberg, who used to keep about 3,000 hives in dandelion-covered fields near the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.

In November, Hackenberg, 58, was at his winter base in Florida. He peeked in on a group of 400 beehives he had driven down from his home in West Milton, Pa., a month before. He went from empty box to empty box. Only about 40 had bees in them.

"It was just the most phenomenal thing I thought I'd ever seen," he said.

The next morning, Hackenberg called Jerry Hayes, the chief of apiary inspection at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and president of the Apiary Inspectors of America.

Bromenshenk has been visiting beekeepers around the country, recording hive sounds and taking them back to his lab for analysis. To date, no good candidates have surfaced.

If the cause is not a poison, it is most likely a parasite.

UC San Francisco researchers announced in April that they had found a single-celled protozoan called Nosema ceranae in bees from colonies with the collapse disorder.

Unfortunately, Bromenshenk said, "we see equal levels of Nosema in CCD colonies and healthy colonies."

Several researchers, including entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Penn State and Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a virologist at Columbia University, have been sifting through bees that have been ground up, looking for viruses and bacteria.

"We were shocked by the huge number of pathogens present in each adult bee," Cox-Foster said at a recent meeting of bee researchers convened by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The large number of pathogens suggested, she said, that the bees' immune systems had been suppressed, allowing the proliferation of infections.

The idea that a pathogen is involved is supported by recent experiments conducted by VanEngelsdorp and USDA entomologist Jeffrey S. Pettis.

One of the unusual features of the disorder is that the predators of abandoned beehives, such as hive beetles and wax moths, refuse to venture into infected hives for weeks or longer.

"It's as if there is something repellent or toxic about the colony," said Hayes, the Florida inspector.

To test this idea, VanEngelsdorp and Pettis set up 200 beehive boxes with new, healthy bees from Australia and placed them in the care of Hackenberg.

Fifty of the hives were irradiated to kill potential pathogens. Fifty were fumigated with concentrated acetic acid, a hive cleanser commonly used in Canada. Fifty were filled with honey frames that had been taken from Hackenberg's colonies before the collapse, and the last 50 were hives that had been abandoned that winter.

When VanEngelsdorp visited the colonies at the beginning of May, bees in the untouched hive were clearly struggling, filling only about a quarter of a frame. Bees living on the reused honeycomb were alive but not thriving. A hive that had been fumigated with acetic acid was better.

When he popped open an irradiated hive, bees were crawling everywhere. "This does imply there is something biological," he said.

If it is a pathogen or a parasite, honeybees are poorly equipped to deal with it, said entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Hayes mentioned some bee die-offs in Georgia that, until then, hadn't seemed significant.

Hackenberg drove back to West Milton with a couple of dead beehives and live colonies that had survived. He handed them over to researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

With amazing speed, the bees vanished from his other hives, more than 70% of which were abandoned by February.

Hackenberg, a talkative, wiry man with a deeply lined face, figured he lost more than $460,000 this winter for replacement bees, lost honey and missed pollination opportunities.

"If that happens again, we're out of business," he said.

It didn't take researchers long to figure out they were dealing with something new.

VanEngelsdorp, a sandy-bearded 37-year-old, quickly eliminated the most obvious suspects: Varroa and tracheal mites, which have occasionally wrought damage on hives since the 1980s.

At the state lab in Harrisburg, Pa., VanEngelsdorp checked bee samples from Pennsylvania and Georgia. He washed bees with soapy water to dislodge Varroa mites and cut the thorax of the bees to look for tracheal mites; he found that the number of mites was not unusually high.

His next guess was amoebic infection. He scanned the bees' kidneys for cysts and found a handful, but not enough to explain the population decline.

VanEngelsdorp dug through scientific literature looking for other mass disappearances.

He found the first reference in a 1869 federal report, detailing a mysterious bee disappearance. There was only speculation as to the cause — possibly poisonous honey or maybe a hot summer.

A 1923 handbook on bee culture noted that a "disappearing disease" went away in a short time without treatment. There was a reference to "fall dwindle" in a 1965 scientific article to describe sudden disappearances in Texas and Louisiana.

He found other references but no explanations.

VanEngelsdorp traveled to Florida and California at the beginning of the year to collect adult bees, brood, nectar, pollen and comb for a more systematic study. He went to 11 apiaries, both sick and healthy, and collected 102 colonies.

A number of the pollen samples went to Maryann Frazier, a honeybee specialist at Penn State who has been coordinating the pesticide investigation. Her group has been testing for 106 chemicals used to kill mites, funguses or other pests.

Scientists have focused on a new group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which have spiked in popularity because they are safe for people, Frazier said. Previous studies have shown that these pesticides can kill bees and throw off their ability to learn and navigate, she said.

Researchers have yet to collect enough data to come to any conclusions, but the experience of French beekeepers casts doubt on the theory. France banned the most commonly used neonicotinoid in 1999 after complaints from beekeepers that it was killing their colonies. French hives, however, are doing no better now, experts said.

Sniffing out the culprit

Entomologist Jerry J. Bromenshenk of the University of Montana launched his own search for poisons, relying on the enhanced odor sensitivity of bees — about 40 times better than that of humans.

When a colony is exposed to a new chemical odor, he said, its sound changes in volume and frequency, producing a unique audio signature.

The honeybee genome has only half as many genes to detoxify poisons and to fight off infections as do other insects.

"There is something about the life of the honeybee that has led to the loss of a lot of genes associated with detoxification, associated with the immune system," she said.

Bee conspiracies

In the absence of knowledge, theories have proliferated, including one that Osama bin Laden has engineered the die-off to disrupt American agriculture.

One of the most pervasive theories is that cellphone transmissions are causing the disappearances — an idea that originated with a recent German study. Berenbaum called the theory "a complete figment of the imagination."

The German physicist who conducted the tiny study "disclaimed the connection to cellphones," she said. "What they put in the colony was a cordless phone. Whoever translated the story didn't know the difference."

Another popular theory is that the bees have been harmed by corn genetically engineered to contain the pesticide B.t.

Berenbaum shot down the idea: "Here in Illinois, we're surrounded by an ocean of B.t. pollen, and the bees are not afflicted."

And so the search continues.

Many beekeepers have few options but to start rebuilding. Gene Brandi, a veteran beekeeper based in Los Banos, Calif., lost 40% of his 2,000 colonies this winter.

Brandi knows plenty of beekeepers who sold their equipment at bargain prices.

Scurrying around a blackberry farm near Watsonville, Brandi was restocking his bees. Dressed in a white jumpsuit and yellow bee veil, the exuberant 55-year-old pulled out a frame of honeycomb from a hive that had so many bees they were spilling out the front entrance.

"When it's going good like this, you forget CCD," he said.

Hackenberg, who has spent his whole life in the business, isn't giving up either. He borrowed money and restocked with bees from Australia.

In April, the normally hale Hackenberg started feeling short of breath. His doctor said he was suffering from stress and suggested he slow down.

Not now, Hackenberg thought. "I'm going to go down fighting.",

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

'Let Them Eat Cake': The Bee Crisis, Part 1

Honeybees and the honey industry are important parts of the world's agricultural process. Many of our fruits, vegetables, nuts, and even livestock crops such as alfalfa are heavily dependent on honeybees to provide pollination. If honeybees continue their rapid decline in numbers, we may see a day when common foodstuffs such as almonds, apples, and potatoes are so expensive and rare that only the rich can afford to enjoy them.

Will Americans and Europeans be able to survive on food from plants that use the wind for pollination? Is the Western world ready to eat wheat, rice and corn exclusively? Will the masses be forced to "eat cake" as the saying goes? Could the situation really become this dire on our watch?

A couple of weeks ago I was watching the HBO political show "Real Time" with Bill Maher. At the end of the episode, Bill discussed some disturbing issues and ended the show with a quote he attributed to Einstein: "If the bees disappeared off the face of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left."

The quote cited is not a documented Einstein quote. In fact, its author is unknown. Yet, regardless of the source, it is a powerful, thought provoking statement.

Being a bee lover and avid organic gardener, I decided to take a much closer look at what was happening with the honeybees. So, I have decided to list as much of what is going on with the worldwide honeybee population, honeybee research, and how this may or may not affect each and every one of us and our daily diet.

What Is CCD?

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the newest affliction to strike the worldwide honeybee population. To date it has been observed in 27 U.S. states, Canada, Brazil, Europe, and possibly Taiwan. CCD is the name given to a specific set of characteristics observed in honeybee colonies that have failed.

These characteristics include the absence of dead bees within or around the collapsed hive, a hive that has sufficient stores of honey, developing larvae in combs, and a delayed invasion of honey raiding pests.

In hives that have recently collapsed, the queen and young bees are still present and alive but are struggling to survive. The events that lead up to the collapse occur very quickly and a hive can go from healthy to collapsed in a week with no apparent warning.

The phenomena that led up to naming this affliction CCD was first observed in November and has quickly spread. However, these symptoms have been documented at different times as different problems since 1896.

In the past, the phenomena was referred to with names that included months or seasons such as "fall dwindle disease," "May disease," and a variety of other names. All of these have now been regrouped and are now simply called CCD.

Never before, have these problems been seen over such a large geographic range, nor have they ever been as prevalent.

As far as how severe the problem is, there is no distinct answer available. Some estimates list the number of bee deaths worldwide in the billions (one billion bees would be approximately 15,000 hives).

It has been suggested that bee losses on the west coast of the United States at 60 percent and 70 percent on the east coast. In Pennsylvania, bee operations that are experiencing CCD have lost anywhere from 55 percent to 100 percent of their hives. Whatever the exact number, this bee die off has become extremely significant.

The Honeybee Industry

To understand why any problem facing honeybee health becomes a worldwide issue very quickly, one needs to know how the honey industry works. Much like human populations, bee populations kept by large honey producing operations become exposed to each other very quickly for a variety of reasons.

Large honey producers will travel with their hives and move to different locations based on which crops are coming into season. This exposes the bees to a much larger geographic range than they would ever meet in the wild.

Also, this practice puts bees in contact with other honeybees that have traveled from other parts of the country. Any new virus or parasite that affects honeybees will spread quickly across a country; even a country as large as the United States.

Also, many northern beekeeping operations in the United States over-winter their bees in warmer climates. For example, the beekeeper who first reported CCD was from Pennsylvania but was keeping his 2,900 hives in Florida for the winter when the hives began to fail.

Another contributor to the spreading of viruses and parasites is the buying and selling of new beehives. Even during a "normal" year, 17 percent of all hives will perish usually during the winter. Eventually all bee hives will succumb to some ailment over time. Because large honey producers usually support hundreds to thousands of hives, they are regularly replacing the hives that die off.

Some of these replacement hives are imported from other countries where bee populations are in peak season. Others are purchased from a few breeders that raise bees solely for the purpose of replenishing hive losses. So, any affliction striking honeybees becomes a worldwide issue very quickly. Usually, before researchers can identify the culprit.

So What Could Be Causing CCD?

This is the million-dollar question that has researchers scratching their heads at the moment; the possible suspects are many.

Recently, a study done at Landau University in Germany showed that cell phones had a negative affect on honeybee hives. Researchers placed cell phones in and near active hives and the bees lost their desire to return to the hive. These results have also been documented in bees that live near power lines.

There is always the possibility that mankind's increasing reliance on genetically modified crops will end up have a negative effect on species that are thought to be unaffected. Most genetically modified crops include triggers that tell the plant to produce toxins and "pesticides" that are contained in the plant itself. If these toxins do appear in the pollen of the modified crop, the bees would be bringing it back into the hive and spreading it within the hive. If found in the nectar of the plant, these toxins could be killing the bee as it feeds and forages, before it returns to the hive.

Many of our newer "hi-tech" pesticides could also be the source of the recent problems. The insecticide imidacloprid has been studied as a possible bee killer in Europe. Imidacloprid operates in much the same way as genetically modified plants. The toxin is used in the soil and enters the plant's tissues (including the pollen and nectar) as it grows.

Here it stays until the plant is eaten by the target pests. What is intriguing about this bug killer is that studies have shown that it affects another social insect, the termite, with many of the same symptoms seen with CCD in bees.

The bees could also be becoming victims to a new unknown parasite. Parasites have long been the biggest threat to honeybee survival. The Varroa mite, a mite that was once restricted to Asian bees where it is not considered a major threat, has been a major killer of honeybee populations since it started infesting American and European honeybee hives in the 1970s and 1980s. A new, unrecognized parasite would quickly become a major problem for honeybee populations already threatened by Varroa mites.

Like all social situations, beehives are constantly under attack from a variety of viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Many of these are well known and are controlled with chemicals by most major honey producers. The possibility always exists that a new lethal viral disease, deadly bacterial strain, or aggressive fungi has emerged and is now threatening bee populations. Also, the chemicals used to control fungi and virus, along with chemicals used to control the Varroa mite could, in combination, be impacting the health of the bees themselves.

Another problem working against the bees is a reduced gene pool within the honeybee industry. For years, beehives have been bought and sold among a dwindling number of beekeepers worldwide. Replacement queens and hives are sold by a limited number of breeders devoted to producing replacement broods. Bees are bred as specialists with the focus on honey production. Rarely are wild strains introduced into this mix and the gene pool continues to shrink as bigger and better producing bees are created. Some organic beekeepers blame this shrunken gene pool for many of the problems seen with today's honeybee populations.

This shrinking gene pool comes from a species that may not have the strongest genes to begin with. Recent scientific research has opened the door to the possibility that the honeybee, despite existing for 35 million years, is predisposed to extinction. In 2006, the honeybee became the third insect to have its genome mapped, following the mosquito and the fruit fly. What was discovered is that the honeybee has significantly fewer genes than the fruit fly dedicated to fighting off toxins. Insecticides, herbicides, constant chemical treatments, cell phones, natural parasites and viruses may all add up and could be pushing the honeybee past the breaking point.

With all of these problems facing the world's honeybee populations, it is no wonder that one cause has not yet been isolated. In fact, testimony given to the United States House of Representatives recently by the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group and the National Academy of Sciences suggested that "combination of stressors" maybe the cause of the recent CCD epidemic.

What Is the Present Prognosis?

At present there are many scattered groups working on determining the cause of CCD. Recently some of these scientific groups went before the U.S. Congress seeking financial support to increase research. The lack of money is a major factor that is limiting research into the causes of CCD. Considering that thousands of hives have perished in the United States alone, funding needs to be found to pay for the bevy of tests that need to be done on each of these hives to try and determine the source of the collapse.

Earlier this week, the Working Group released an update on their findings. So far, they have only positively eliminated Varroa mites from the list of possible causes. The best news in this report is the increased number of research groups that are now focusing attention on the recent situation with honeybees.

The present CCD data is based almost entirely on volunteer surveys that are filled out by beekeepers that are experiencing or have experienced hive losses. To properly determine what actually happened, trained researchers need to be sent to investigate the problems.

The first question that needs to be answered is how many of the reported hive losses to CCD are actually due to CCD or may be due to some other already identifiable cause. Very possibly, the recent media attention on CCD could be influencing survey results. Without on-site confirmation, the true scope of the problem cannot be determined.

Not only do the bees themselves need to be examined, but, the surrounding area and environmental factors around the hives need to be looked at by researchers. Both the failed beehives and any healthy hives surviving nearby need to be studied thoroughly. Funding must be in place to support this on-site research and an on-going permanent structure for studying bee populations needs to be established.

Presently, in the United States, the Department of Agriculture operates only four honeybee research stations. A surprisingly small number, considering that the Department recently claimed that honeybee pollination adds over $14 billion to the value of U.S. crops. The leading authority on honeybees is located at the Penn State University. The University was named to head research conducted in the fight against CCD and is home to the Colony Collapse Working Group. Unlike many other large agricultural organizations in the United States, the National Honey Board was only able to pledge $13,000 to the Working Group in January to fund research. Certainly, $13,000 will not go very far, if field research is to be done.

Based on the information that the Working Group gave to Congress in late March, they have not isolated any single target item to focus research on. They did list a few possible causes -- all of which I listed above. The Working Group did not consider genetically modified crops or cell phones as possible problems in their report to Congress. They did specifically name two possible suspects by name, fungi that were found growing in colonies that have collapsed. These fungi are much like Aspergillus and Mucor, two fungi that were considered lethal to bees in the 1930s but have not been a threat since.

The most recent research on CCD causes came out of the University of California, San Francisco in late April. At UCSF, DNA analysis conducted by biochemist Joe DeRisi, well known for identifying the SARS virus, and Dr. Don Ganem identified the DNA of two pathogens in honeybees from hives that had recently perished. One of these, a parasite called Nosema ceranae, is associated with the deaths of Asian honeybees. This parasite has recently been able to change species and may now be attacking American and European honeybee stocks.

The lab also identified the DNA of a virus of the genus Iflavirus. This virus has been known to cause stress to honeybees and may have mutated to become even more lethal. Future studies on a larger demographic of samples will be needed to determine if these two ailments are common to all failing hives.

All of this leads to the fact that everyone seems to be "stumped" by CCD and the recent worldwide honeybee losses. Continued losses on the magnitude seen over the last 6 months in the United States will directly impact the production of many fruits, vegetables, alfalfa, and other crops. Any even slight impact on these crops will have a direct impact on their availability and cost. The cost of honey had already risen 10% in 2006 before CCD began showing up. We can expect a much larger price increase for honey this year.

Rising prices, limited supplies, and heightened media attention are the early results of this epidemic, but future problems may turn out to be much more severe and pronounced.

In part 2, I will look forward at what could happen. I will cover what we should expect from CCD research, what other problems are associated with crop pollination, and what honeybee extinction may mean for mankind. Would mankind really have just four years left?

2007/05/17 2:07
© 2007 Ohmynews

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Alternate Opinions Regarding Colony Collapse Disorder...

Are Media Hyping Bee Crisis to Divert Attention From Cold-related Crop Damage?

Posted by Noel Sheppard on May 6, 2007 - 19:45.

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard about the bee crisis in America. Currently termed “colony collapse disorder,” it is the massive die-off of a bee hive or colony for oftentimes inexplicable reasons.

Of late, this malady has resulted in a 25 percent reduction in colony totals here in the U.S., setting off alarmist media reports like the following from the Associated Press (emphasis added throughout):

Unless someone or something stops it soon, the mysterious killer that is wiping out many of the nation's honeybees could have a devastating effect on America's dinner plate, perhaps even reducing us to a glorified bread-and-water diet.

Yummy. Even worse, look at this list of delectable delights supposedly at risk:

[A]pples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash and cucumbers. And lots of the really sweet and tart stuff, too, including citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons.

There’s only one problem with the AP’s position: some of the crops on this list actually don’t require bees to pollinate them. As reported by Kansas State University:

Sweet corn is wind pollinated -- by pollen falling from the tassel (male) to the silk (female) part of the plant. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, and peas are nearly completely self-pollinated. The flowers of these plants are arranged so that the flowers are pollinated by the natural growth process of the flower shedding pollen from the male to female parts. It is the vine crops -- including squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, muskmelons, watermelons and gourds -- that are bee pollinated.


Of course, many crops develop their edible portions without any relation to flowering. These include potatoes, sweetpotatoes, leafy green crops, cabbage and rhubarb. A few crops are grown for their large, edible flowers including broccoli and cauliflower but pollination is not involved.

Obviously, despite the AP’s claims, there are many crops which do not require bees for pollination thereby making the suggestion that without the little buzzers, we’re going to be reduced to a “glorified bread-and-water diet” totally preposterous.

In fact, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

Furthermore, this problem isn’t as new as the media would like you to think:

But even before this disorder struck, America's honeybees were in trouble. Captive colonies in the United States shrank from 5.9 million in 1947 to 2.4 million in 2005.

The number of bees is steadily shrinking because their genes do not equip them to effectively fight poisons and disease, experts say.

So, why the recent media fascination with bees? The website Ice Age Now thinks it could all be a way of diverting attention from the late-season freezes that have damaged crops all around the country (h/t NB member dscott).

Before you scoff, consider this:

And, this isn’t just a local problem, as “[a]n estimated 90% of Poland's fruit crop has been destroyed by late season frosts prompting some Polish farmers to commit suicide.”

With this in mind, as some have blamed the bee problem on global warming, and we do indeed appear to be destined to pay higher prices for a lot of different crops this summer due to late-season cold-snaps, isn’t it better for an alarmist media to focus attention on bees?

After all, wouldn't people like soon-to-be-Dr. Al Gore and his sycophant devotees rather American consumers think that higher produce prices and poor selections this summer were the fault of a dwindling bee population instead of the more factually accurate freezes that destroyed crops across the nation?

Think about it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Taiwan stung by millions of missing bees

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's bee farmers are feeling the sting of lost business and possible crop danger after millions of the honey-making, plant-pollinating insects vanished during volatile weather, media and experts said on Thursday.

Over the past two months, farmers in three parts of Taiwan have reported most of their bees gone, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported. Taiwan's TVBS television station said about 10 million bees had vanished in Taiwan.

A beekeeper on Taiwan's northeastern coast reported 6 million insects missing "for no reason", and one in the south said 80 of his 200 bee boxes had been emptied, the paper said.

Beekeepers usually let their bees out of boxes to pollinate plants and the insects normally make their way back to their owners. However, many of the bees have not returned over the past couple of months.

Possible reasons include disease, pesticide poisoning and unusual weather, varying from less than 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) to more than 30 degrees Celsius over a few days, experts say.

"You can see climate change really clearly these days in Taiwan," said Yang Ping-shih, entomology professor at the National Taiwan University. He added that two kinds of pesticide can make bees turn "stupid" and lose their sense of direction.

As affected beekeepers lose business, fruit growers may lack a key pollination source and neighbors might get stung, he said.

Billions of bees have fled hives in the United States since late 2006, instead of helping pollinate $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and other crops annually. Disappearing bees also have been reported in Europe and Brazil.

The mass buzz-offs are isolated cases so far, a Taiwan government Council of Agriculture official said.

But the council may collect data to study the causes of the vanishing bees and gauge possible impacts, said Kao Ching-wen, a pesticides section chief at the council.

"We want to see what the reason is, and we definitely need some evidence," Kao said. "It's hard to say whether there will be an impact."

Monday, April 23, 2007


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An alarming die-off of honey bees has beekeepers fighting for commercial survival and crop growers wondering whether bees will be available to pollinate their crops this spring and summer.

Researchers are scrambling to find answers to what's causing an affliction recently named Colony Collapse Disorder, which has decimated commercial beekeeping operations in Pennsylvania and across the country.

"During the last three months of 2006, we began to receive reports from commercial beekeepers of an alarming number of honey bee colonies dying in the eastern United States," says Maryann Frazier, apiculture extension associate in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Since the beginning of the year, beekeepers from all over the country have been reporting unprecedented losses.

"This has become a highly significant yet poorly understood problem that threatens the pollination industry and the production of commercial honey in the United States," she says. "Because the number of managed honey bee colonies is less than half of what it was 25 years ago, states such as Pennsylvania can ill afford these heavy losses."

A working group of university faculty researchers, state regulatory officials, cooperative extension educators and industry representatives is working to identify the cause or causes of Colony Collapse Disorder and to develop management strategies and recommendations for beekeepers. Participating organizations include Penn State, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agriculture departments in Pennsylvania and Florida, and Bee Alert Technology Inc., a technology transfer company affiliated with the University of Montana.

"Preliminary work has identified several likely factors that could be causing or contributing to CCD," says Dennis vanEngelsdorp, acting state apiarist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. "Among them are mites and associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic disease and pesticide contamination or poisoning."

Initial studies of dying colonies revealed a large number of disease organisms present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit, vanEngelsdorp explains. Ongoing case studies and surveys of beekeepers experiencing CCD have found a few common management factors, but no common environmental agents or chemicals have been identified.

The beekeeping industry has been quick to respond to the crisis. The National Honey Board has pledged $13,000 of emergency funding to the CCD working group. Other organizations, such as the Florida State Beekeepers Association, are working with their membership to commit additional funds.

This latest loss of colonies could seriously affect the production of several important crops that rely on pollination services provided by commercial beekeepers.

"For instance, the state's $45 million apple crop -- the fourth largest in the country -- is completely dependent on insects for pollination, and 90 percent of that pollination comes from honey bees," Frazier says. "So the value of honey bee pollination to apples is about $40 million."

In total, honey bee pollination contributes about $55 million to the value of crops in the state. Besides apples, crops that depend at least in part on honey bee pollination include peaches, soybeans, pears, pumpkins, cucumbers, cherries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.

Frazier says to cope with a potential shortage of pollination services, growers should plan well ahead. "If growers have an existing contract or relationship with a beekeeper, they should contact that beekeeper as soon as possible to ascertain if the colonies they are counting on will be available," she advises. "If growers do not have an existing arrangement with a beekeeper but are counting on the availability of honey bees in spring, they should not delay but make contact with a beekeeper and arrange for pollination services now.

"However, beekeepers overwintering in the north many not know the status of their colonies until they are able to make early spring inspections," she adds. "This should occur in late February or early March but is dependent on weather conditions. Regardless, there is little doubt that honey bees are going to be in short supply this spring and possibly into the summer."

A detailed, up-to-date report on Colony Collapse Disorder can be found on the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium Web site at


Colony Collapse Disorder
Vanishing honeybees mystify scientists

• Billions of bees have mysteriously vanished since late last year in the U.S.
• Disappearing bees have also been reported in Europe and Brazil
• One-third of the U.S. diet depends on pollination, mostly by honeybees
• Some beekeepers are losing 50 percent of their bees to the disorder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Go to work, come home.

Go to work, come home.

Go to work -- and vanish without a trace.

Billions of bees have done just that, leaving the crop fields they are supposed to pollinate, and scientists are mystified about why.

The phenomenon was first noticed late last year in the United States, where honeybees are used to pollinate $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and other crops annually. Disappearing bees have also been reported in Europe and Brazil.

Commercial beekeepers would set their bees near a crop field as usual and come back in two or three weeks to find the hives bereft of foraging worker bees, with only the queen and the immature insects remaining. Whatever worker bees survived were often too weak to perform their tasks.

If the bees were dying of pesticide poisoning or freezing, their bodies would be expected to lie around the hive. And if they were absconding because of some threat -- which they have been known to do -- they wouldn't leave without the queen.

Since about one-third of the U.S. diet depends on pollination and most of that is performed by honeybees, this constitutes a serious problem, according to Jeff Pettis of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service.

"They're the heavy lifters of agriculture," Pettis said of honeybees. "And the reason they are is they're so mobile and we can rear them in large numbers and move them to a crop when it's blooming."

Honeybees are used to pollinate some of the tastiest parts of the American diet, Pettis said, including cherries, blueberries, apples, almonds, asparagus and macadamia nuts.

"It's not the staples," he said. "If you can imagine eating a bowl of oatmeal every day with no fruit on it, that's what it would be like" without honeybee pollination.

Pettis and other experts are gathering outside Washington for a two-day workshop starting on Monday to pool their knowledge and come up with a plan of action to combat what they call colony collapse disorder.

"What we're describing as colony collapse disorder is the rapid loss of adult worker bees from the colony over a very short period of time, at a time in the season when we wouldn't expect a rapid die-off of workers: late fall and early spring," Pettis said.
Small workers in a supersize society

The problem has prompted a congressional hearing, a report by the National Research Council and a National Pollinator Week set for June 24-30 in Washington, but so far no clear idea of what is causing it.

"The main hypotheses are based on the interpretation that the disappearances represent disruptions in orientation behavior and navigation," said May Berenbaum, an insect ecologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

There have been other fluctuations in the number of honeybees, going back to the 1880s, where there were "mysterious disappearances without bodies just as we're seeing now, but never at this magnitude," Berenbaum said in a telephone interview.

In some cases, beekeepers are losing 50 percent of their bees to the disorder, with some suffering even higher losses. One beekeeper alone lost 40,000 bees, Pettis said. Nationally, some 27 states have reported the disorder, with billions of bees simply gone.

Some beekeepers supplement their stocks with bees imported from Australia, said beekeeper Jeff Anderson, whose business keeps him and his bees traveling between Minnesota and California. Honeybee hives are rented out to growers to pollinate their crops, and beekeepers move around as the growing seasons change.

Honeybees are not the only pollinators whose numbers are dropping. Other animals that do this essential job -- non-honeybees, wasps, flies, beetles, birds and bats -- have decreasing populations as well. But honeybees are the big actors in commercial pollination efforts.

"One reason we're in this situation is this is a supersize society -- we tend to equate small with insignificant," Berenbaum said. "I'm sorry but that's not true in biology. You have to be small to get into the flower and deliver the pollen.

"Without that critical act, there's no fruit. And no technology has been invented that equals, much less surpasses, insect pollinators."

Copyright 2007 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Friday, April 06, 2007