Colony Collapse Disorder (or
CCD) is a little understood phenomenon in which worker bees in a
beehive or Western honey bee colony abruptly disappear.
CCD was originally found only in Western honey bee colonies in North
America. European beekeepers were reported to have observed a
similar phenomenon in Poland, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain,
and initial reports have also come in from Switzerland and Germany,
albeit to a lesser degree.
None of the supposed cases outside the
US has been confirmed, as of June, 2007, to show the telltale signs
of CCD (see below for more).
The cause (or causes) of the syndrome is not yet well understood:
even the existence of this disorder remains disputed. Theories
include environmental change-related stresses, malnutrition,
unknown pathogens (i.e., disease), mites, pesticides such as neonicotinoids,
emissions from cellular phones or other manmade devices, and
genetically modified (GM) crops.
That the disappearances
have only been reported from a subset of the commercial beekeepers
in affected areas (i.e., not feral colonies or organic beekeepers),
suggests to some that beekeeping practices can be a primary factor.
From 1971 to 2006 approximately half of the U.S. honey bee colonies
have vanished, but this decline includes the cumulative losses from
all factors such as urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa
mites and commercial beekeepers retiring and going out of business,
and has been somewhat gradual.
Late in the year 2006 and in early
2007, however, the rate of attrition was alleged to have reached new
proportions, and the term "Colony Collapse Disorder" was proposed to
describe this sudden rash of disappearances.
Limited occurrences resembling CCD have been documented as early as
1896, and this set of symptoms has in the past several decades
been given many different names (disappearing disease, spring
dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, and fall dwindle disease).
Most recently, a similar phenomenon in the winter of 2004/2005
occurred, and was attributed to Varroa mites (the "Vampire Mite"
scare), though this was never ultimately confirmed. In none of the
past appearances of this syndrome has anyone been able to determine
Upon recognition that the syndrome does
not seem to be seasonally-restricted, and that it may not be a
"disease" in the standard sense - that there may not be a specific
causative agent - the syndrome was renamed.
A colony which has collapsed from CCD is generally characterized by
all of these conditions occurring simultaneously:
Complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with little or no
build-up of dead bees in or around the colonies.
Presence of capped brood in colonies. Bees normally will not abandon
a hive until the capped brood have all hatched.
Presence of food stores, both honey and bee pollen:
which are not immediately robbed by other bees
which when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small
hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.
Precursor symptoms that may arise before the final colony collapse
Insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
Workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees
Queen is uncharacteristically evident outside the hive
The colony members are reluctant to consume provided feed, such as
sugar syrup and protein supplement.
Possible causes and research
While the exact mechanisms of CCD are unknown, malnutrition,
pesticides, pathogens, immunodeficiencies, mites, fungus,
genetically modified (GM) crops, beekeeping practices (such as the
use of antibiotics, or long-distance transportation of beehives) and
electromagnetic radiation have all been proposed as causative
Whether any single factor is responsible, or a
of factors (acting independently in different areas affected by CCD,
or acting in tandem), is still unknown. It is likewise still
uncertain whether CCD is a genuinely new phenomenon, as opposed to a
known phenomenon that previously only had a minor impact.
At present, the primary source of information, and presumed "lead"
group investigating the phenomenon, is the Colony Collapse Disorder
Working Group, based primarily at Penn State University. Their
preliminary report pointed out some patterns, but drew no strong
Poor nutrition or malnutrition
One of the patterns reported by the aforementioned group at Penn
State was that all producers in a preliminary survey noted a period
of "extraordinary stress" affecting the colonies in question prior
to the die-off, most commonly involving poor nutrition and/or
To date, this is the only factor that all of the
reported cases of CCD have in common; accordingly, there is at least
some significant possibility that this phenomenon is correlated to
nutritional stress, and may not manifest in healthy, well-nourished
Some researchers have attributed the syndrome to the practice of
feeding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to supplement winter stores.
The variability of HFCS may be relevant to the apparent
inconsistencies of results.
European commentators have suggested a
possible connection with HFCS produced from genetically modified
If this were the sole factor involved, however, this should
also lead to the exclusive appearance of CCD in wintering colonies
being fed HFCS, but many reports of CCD occur in other contexts,
with beekeepers who do not use HFCS.
One of the more common general hypotheses concerns pesticides (or,
more specifically, insecticides), though several studies have found
no common environmental factors between unrelated outbreaks studied.
It is particularly difficult to evaluate pesticide contributions to
CCD for several reasons.
First, the variety of pesticides in use in
the different areas reporting CCD makes it difficult to test for all
possible pesticides simultaneously.
Second, many commercial
beekeeping operations are mobile, transporting hives over large
geographic distances over the course of a season, potentially
exposing the colonies to different pesticides at each location.
Third, the bees themselves place pollen and honey into long-term
storage, effectively meaning that there may be a delay of anywhere
from days to months before contaminated provisions are fed to the
colony, negating any attempts to associate the appearance of
symptoms with the actual time at which exposure to pesticides
Pesticides used on bee forage are far more likely to enter
the colony via the pollen stores rather than via nectar (because
pollen is carried externally on the bees, while nectar is carried
internally, and may kill the bee if too toxic), though not all
potentially lethal chemicals, either natural or man-made, affect the
adult bees - many primarily affect the brood, but brood die-off does
not appear to be happening in CCD.
Most significantly, brood are not
fed honey, and adult bees consume relatively little pollen;
accordingly, the pattern in CCD suggests that if contaminants or
toxins from the environment are responsible, it is most likely to be
via the honey, as it is the adults that are dying (or leaving), not
One recently published view is that bees are falling victim to new
varieties of nicotine-based pesticides; beekeepers in Canada
are also losing their bees and are blaming neonicotinoid
To date, most of the evaluation of possible roles of
pesticides in CCD have relied on the use of surveys submitted by
beekeepers, but it seems likely that direct testing of samples from
affected colonies will be needed, especially given the possible role
of systemic insecticides such as the neonicotinoid imidacloprid
(which are applied to the soil and taken up into the plant's
tissues, including pollen and nectar), which may be applied to a
crop when the beekeeper is not present.
The known effects of imidacloprid on insects, including honey bees, are consistent with
the symptoms of CCD; for example, the effects of imidacloprid on
termites include apparent failure of the immune system, and
disorientation. In Europe the interaction of the phenomenon of
"dying bees" with imidacloprid, has been discussed for quite some
It was a study from the "Comité Scientifique
et Technique" (CST) which was in the center of discussion recently,
which led to a partial ban of imidacloprid in France, primarily due
to concern over potential effects on honey bees.
Consequently when fipronil, a phenylpyrazole insecticide and in
Europe mainly labeled "Regent", was used as a replacement, it was
also found to be toxic to bees, and banned partially in France in
2004 . Five other insecticides based on "fipronil" were also
"accused" of killing bees.
However, the scientific committees of the
European Union still are of the opinion,
"that the available
monitoring studies were mainly performed in France and EU-member-states
should consider the relevance of these studies for the circumstances
in their country."
Recently the British non-governmental
'Institute for Science in Society' published a short review of the
scientific literature on the dying of honey bees and neonicotinoids.
In 2005, a team of scientists led by the National Institute of
Beekeeping in Bologna, Italy, found that pollen obtained from seeds
dressed with imidacloprid contains significant levels of the
insecticide, and suggested that the polluted pollen might cause
honey bee colony death. Analysis of maize and sunflower crops
originating from seeds dressed with imidacloprid suggest that large
amounts of the insecticide will be carried back to honey bee
Sub-lethal doses of imidacloprid in
sucrose solution have also been documented to affect homing and
foraging activity of honeybees.
Imidacloprid in sucrose solution fed to bees in the
laboratory impaired their communication for a few hours.
Sub-lethal doses of imidacloprid in laboratory and field experiment
decreased flight activity and olfactory discrimination, and
olfactory learning performance was impaired.
detailed studies of toxicity or pesticide residue in remaining honey
or pollen in CCD-affected colonies have been published so far, so,
despite the similarity in symptoms, no connection of neonicotinoids
to CCD has yet been confirmed.
Antibiotics and miticides
Most beekeepers affected by CCD report that they use antibiotics and
miticides in their colonies, though the lack of uniformity as to
which particular chemicals are used makes it seem unlikely that
any single such chemical is involved.
However, it is possible that
not all such chemicals in use have been tested for possible effects
on honey bees, and could therefore potentially be contributing to
the CCD phenomenon.
Some reports indicate that "organic" beekeepers
(who do not use antibiotics or miticides) are not affected by CCD,
despite proximity to non-organic beekeepers that have been affected.
Pathogens and immunodeficiency
Some researchers have commented that the pathway of propagation
functions in the manner of a contagious disease; however, there is
some sentiment that the disorder may involve an immunosuppressive
mechanism, potentially linked to the aforementioned "stress"
leading to a weakened immune system.
Specifically, according to
researchers at Penn State:
"The magnitude of detected infectious
agents in the adult bees suggests some type of immuno-suppression."
These researchers have further suggested a connection between
destructor mite infestation and CCD, suggesting that a combination
of these bee mites, deformed wing virus (which the mites transmit)
and bacteria work together to suppress immunity and may be one cause
This research group is reported to be focusing on a search
for possible viral, bacterial, or fungal pathogens which may be
When a colony is dying, for whatever cause, and there are other
healthy colonies nearby (as is typical in a bee yard), those healthy
colonies often enter the dying colony and rob its provisions for
their own use. If the dying colony's provisions were contaminated
(by natural or man-made toxins), the resulting pattern (of healthy
colonies becoming sick when in proximity to a dying colony) might
suggest to an observer that a contagious disease is involved.
However, it is typical in CCD cases that provisions of dying
colonies are not being robbed, suggesting that at least this
particular mechanism (toxins being spread via robbing, thereby
mimicking a disease) is not involved in CCD.
Some have suggested that the syndrome may be an inability by
beekeepers to correctly identify known diseases such as European
foulbrood or the microsporidian fungus Nosema.
The testing and
diagnosis of samples from affected colonies (already performed)
makes this highly unlikely, as the symptoms are fairly well-known
and differ from what is classified as CCD. A high rate of Nosema
infection was reported in samples of bees from Pennsylvania, but
this pattern was not reported from samples elsewhere.
A recent paper, published by the Journal of Invertebrate
Pathology reports that when hives of European honey bees were
infected with Nosema ceranae, a recently-described microsporidian
fungus, the colonies were wiped out within eight days. Various areas
in Europe have reported this fungus, but no direct link to CCD has
yet been established.
Highly preliminary evidence of N. ceranae was recently reported in a few hives in the Merced Valley
area of California (USA).
"Tests of genetic material taken from a
"collapsed colony" in Merced County point to a once-rare microbe
that previously affected only Asian bees but might have evolved into
a strain lethal to those in Europe and the United States."
The researcher did not, however, believe this was conclusive
evidence of a link to CCD:
"We don't want to give anybody the
impression that this thing has been solved."
A USDA bee
scientist has similarly stated,
"while the parasite nosema ceranae
may be a factor, it cannot be the sole cause. The fungus has been
seen before, sometimes in colonies that were healthy."
a Washington State beekeeper familiar with N. ceranae in his own
hives discounts it as being the cause of CCD.
antibiotic used against Nosema is Fumagillin, which has been used in
a German research project to reduce the microsporidian's impact, and
is mentioned as a possible remedy by the CCDWG.
According to a 2007 article, Varroa mites remain the world's most
destructive honey bee killer due in part to the viruses they carry.
As such, Varroa have been considered as a possible cause of CCD,
though not all dying colonies contain these mites.
Genetically modified crops (GMO)
Potential effects of
gathering pollen and nectar from
genetically modified (GM) crops
that produce Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin have not been
Corn (maize), the major such crop, is not a
preferred plant for honey bees, although beekeepers who keep bees
near corn fields state that "corn is an excellent source of pollen
when in tassel".
Cotton, the second important Bt crop, is highly
subject to bee visitation for nectar (pollen is only consumed if
there is no other pollen available), but there is no credible
evidence of toxicity of GM cotton, other than that from insecticides
used during bloom.
The primary effects of Bt on insects is in the larval stage. Thus
the studies on Bt-toxins and effects on honey bees originally
concentrated more on larvae and their development. However, as
pollen is an important part of bee bread, which is also food for
adult bees, some beekeepers think that adult bees may be more
affected by ingredients of pollen, because adult bees are something
like a filter for larvae.
And as the CCD phenomenon involves the
disappearance of the adult bees, some think there could be a direct
connection despite the absence of symptoms in the larvae, and
despite any evidence that the bees experiencing CCD have ever been
exposed to GM crops.
Most of the short summaries of US risk assessment studies on Bt in
relation to honey bees are published on the United States
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) homepage for Biopesticides
Registration Action Documents; in particular, there is a
document concerning the environmental effects of Bacillus thuringiensis as plant incorporated protectant.
references of studies, which are in the public domain, are included.
For Bt cotton there are written some paragraphs in a fact sheet with
the title "Bacillus thuringiensis Cry2Ab2 protein and the Genetic
Material Necessary for Its Production in Cotton".
were usually made according to "Honey bee testing Tier I". Such
tests seem to have a rather short duration time. ("Control and
treated bees should be observed for at least 30 days after dosing.")
The fact sheets for plant-incorporated protectants - retrievable
and not retrievable - are listed in a special EPA homepage. The
original studies on the effects of Bt pollen on honeybees do not
seem to be in the public domain.
In 2005 Bt maize, which is commercially planted in the US since
1996, accounted for 35% (10.64 million ha) of total US maize
plantings. GM insect resistant Bt cotton has also been grown
commercially in the US since 1996 and by 2005, was planted on 52%
(2.8 million ha) of total cotton plantings.
According to David Hackenberg, former president of the American Beekeeping Federation
and leading the public information concerning CCD as a beekeeper,
"beekeepers that have been most affected so far have been close to
corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, sunflowers, apples, vine crops and
pumpkins", though Hackenberg personally attributes CCD to
Thus, some of the commercially grown Bt plants seem
to be included in gaps of pollination management. However, similar
massive bee die-offs have been recorded for decades prior to the
introduction of these crops, and also occur in areas in Europe and
Canada where there are no GM crops grown at all.
In 2004 the knowledge of GMO authorization agencies was mainly based
on a comprehensive review of the scientific literature published in
Bee World which examined the effects of various commercialized
and uncommercialized transgenes on honey bees. The review concludes
that "evidence available so far shows that none of the GM plants
currently commercially available have significant impacts on honey
However, in 2005 a new publication in the
Apidologie suggested that (though in the treatment with CRY1Ab-enriched feed no significant differences in bee mortality were found
at different treatment stages) foraging activity of bees fed with
CRY1Ab may decline continuously through the treatment stages without
any recovery between treatments.
The European Union GMO Panel of the
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) did not share the view by the
authors “that the above results were mainly CRY1Ab dependent.”
Panel was of the opinion that “negative effects on bees are likely
not directly associated with exposure to the CRY1Ab protein because
of the design of the experiment and lack of simultaneous controls or
Research conducted in Germany suggests that exposure to maize pollen
containing genes for Bt production may weaken the adult bees'
defense against Nosema, though in the absence of such an infection,
there were no detectable effects:
"When the trial was repeated the
colonies were treated prophylactically with antibiotics to prevent
This indicates that healthy bee colonies are not
impaired in any way by the toxin in any of the tested vital
functions of colony size, foraging activity, brood care activity or
development, even when exposed to extreme levels of Bt maize pollen
over a period of six weeks."
"the bee colonies
happened to be infested with parasites (microsporidia), this
infestation led to a reduction in the number of bees and
subsequently to reduced broods….This effect was significantly more
marked in the Bt-fed colonies."
It has further been suggested that
"genetically modified corn may have altered the surface of the bee's
intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites
to gain entry - or perhaps it was the other way around" though it was
"Of course, the concentration of the toxin was ten times
higher in the experiments than in normal Bt corn pollen. In
addition, the bee feed was administered over a relatively lengthy
Other more recent studies have failed to show
any adverse effects of Bt pollen on healthy bee colonies. The
preliminary report of the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group
concerning "Fall Dwindle Disease" indicated that,
"all PA samples
were found to have Nosema spores in their rectal contents. The sting
gland of many examined bees was obviously scarred with distinct
black “marks”; this type of pin-point melanization or darkening is
indicative of an immune response to some sort of pathogen."
bees in Pennsylvania were gathering Bt-toxin-containing corn pollen,
it could potentially have interacted with Nosema and thus
contributed to CCD in those colonies.
However, there is no evidence
that these colonies were gathering corn pollen at any point prior to
their deaths, nor has it been reported that colonies afflicted by CCD elsewhere had been collecting corn pollen.
The vast majority of
the colonies reported to be dying from CCD occur in locations where
GM corn is not grown (at least in the United States; also, 5 of the
10 states with the greatest amount of corn production - Illinois,
Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska - have had no reported cases
of CCD), nor have bees from other areas outside of Pennsylvania
been reported to be significantly infected by Nosema (e.g.,).
In 2006 the,
"Committee on Status and Trends of Pollinators" of the
United States National Research Council published a report on the
"Status of Pollinators in North America".
It suggested that GMO,
besides other factors, might contribute to pollinator decline
because, according to one scientific review of "the small literature
on this topic,…in some cases, there are negative but sublethal
effects attributable to consumption of transgenic pollens." The
report goes on to say that,
"These effects varied with the identity
of the transgene and the amount of its expression, but in no case
have any effects of transgenic crops on honey bee populations been
The Sierra Club Genetic Engineering Committee recently published a
letter to Senator Thomas Harkin on the web with the title "GE and
bee Colony Collapse Disorder - science needed!"
They are of the
opinion that "highly respected scientists believe that exposure to
genetically engineered crops and their plant-produced pesticides
merit serious consideration as either the cause or a contributory
factor to the development and spread of CCD." Nine literature
references which might support this theory are cited.
On March 28 2007, the "Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and
Extension Consortium" published a new "Summary of Research on
the Non-Target Effects of Bt Corn Pollen on Honeybees", which states
that according to,
"a field study… (soon to be published in the bee
journal Apidologie) there is no evidence thus far of any lethal or
sub-lethal effects of the currently used Bt proteins on honey bees",
and, specifically regarding the possible causal connections between
Bt pollen and CCD, stated, "While this possibility has not been ruled
out, the weight of evidence reported here argues strongly that the
current use of Bt crops is not associated with CCD."
Bee rentals and Migratory Beekeeping
Moving spring bees from South Carolina to Maine for blueberry
Since US beekeeper Nephi Miller first began moving his
hives to different areas of the country for the winter of 1908,
migratory beekeeping has become widespread in America. It is a
crucial element of US agriculture, which could not produce anywhere
near its current levels with native pollinators alone. US beekeepers
collectively earn much more from renting their bees out for
pollination than they do from honey production.
Researchers are concerned that trucking colonies around the country
to pollinate crops, where they intermingle with other bees from all
over, helps spread viruses and mites among colonies. Additionally,
such continuous movement and re-settlement is considered by some, a
strain and disruption for the entire hive, possibly rendering it
less resistant to all sorts of systemic disorder.
One major US
beekeeper reports moving his hives from Idaho to California in
January, then to apple orchards in Washington in March, to North
Dakota two months later, and then back to Idaho by November - a
journey of several thousands of miles.
Others move from Florida to
New Hampshire or to Texas; nearly all visit California for the
almond bloom in January. Keepers in Europe and Asia are generally
far less mobile, with bee populations moving and mingling within a
smaller geographic extent (although some keepers do move longer
distances, it is much less common).
This wider spread and
intermingling in the US has resulted in far greater losses from Varroa
mite infections in recent years.
In April 2007, news of a University of Landau study appeared in
major media, beginning with an article in The Independent that
stated that the subject of the study was mobile phones and had
related them to CCD.
Cellular phones were in fact not covered in
the study, and the researchers have since emphatically disavowed any
connection between their research, cell phones, and CCD,
specifically indicating that the Independent article had
misinterpreted their results and created "a horror story".
The 2006 University of Landau pilot study was looking for
non-thermal effects of radio frequency ("RF") on honey bees (Apis
mellifera carnica) and suggested that when bee hives have DECT
cordless phone base stations embedded in them, the close-range
electromagnetic field ("EMF") may reduce the ability of bees to
return to their hive; they also noticed a slight reduction in
honeycomb weight in treated colonies. In the course of their
study, one half of their colonies broke down, including some of
their controls which did not have DECT base stations embedded in
The team's 2004 exploratory study on non-thermal effects on learning
did not find any change in behavior due to RF exposure from the DECT
base station operating at 1880-1900 MHz.
Many possible biological effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic
fields have been postulated but it is generally accepted that the
most significant effects are thermal. The amount of RF radiation
routinely encountered by the general public is too low to produce
significant heating or increased body temperature.
At present the link of either cordless or cellular phones to CCD is
entirely speculative, and no research has been done to suggest or
demonstrate such a link between the two phenomena. Regardless, such
an explanation is not compatible with the historical and present
patterns of CCD appearance, which have been intermittent and sudden.
Scale of the disorder
In North America, at least 35 different states as well as
portions of Canada have reported cases of Colony Collapse
There are also cases reported from India, Brazil and
parts of Europe. It is far from certain, however, that all
reported cases are indeed CCD: there has been considerable
publicity, but only rarely was the phenomenon described in
In Germany, for example, where some of the first
reports of CCD in Europe appeared, there has been no subsequent
confirmation; as of early May 2007, the German media are reporting
that no confirmed CCD cases seem to have occurred in Germany.
In America, where diagnostic criteria were first established and
where reports of CCD by now usually refer to actual cases, the
disorder has been identified in a geographically diverse group of
states including Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and
The phenomenon is particularly important for crops such as almond
growing in California, where honey bees are the predominant
pollinator and the crop value in 2006 was US$1.5 billion. In 2000,
the total U.S. crop value that was wholly dependent on honey bee
pollination was estimated to exceed US$15 billion.
Honey bees are not native to the Americas, therefore their necessity
as pollinators in the US is limited to strictly
agricultural/ornamental uses, as no native plants require honey bee
pollination, except where concentrated in monoculture
situations - where the pollination need is so great at bloom time that
pollinators must be concentrated beyond the capacity of native bees
(with current technology).
They are responsible for pollination of approximately one third of
the United States' crop species, including such species as: almonds,
peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries,
blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and
strawberries. Many but not all of these plants can be (and often
are) pollinated by other insects in small holdings in the U.S.,
including other kinds of bees, but typically not on a commercial
While some farmers of a few kinds of native crops do bring in
honey bees to help pollinate, none specifically need them, and when
honey bees are absent from a region, there is a presumption that
native pollinators may reclaim the niche, typically being better
adapted to serve those plants (assuming that the plants normally
occur in that specific area).
However, even though on a per-individual basis, many other species
are actually more efficient at pollinating, on the 30% of crop types
where honey bees are used, most native pollinators cannot be
mass-utilized as easily or as effectively as honey bees - in many
instances they will not visit the plants at all.
Beehives can be
moved from crop to crop as needed, and the bees will visit many
plants in large numbers, compensating via sheer numbers for what
they lack in efficiency.
The commercial viability of these crops is
therefore strongly tied to the beekeeping industry.
A chilling prediction about the importance of bees to humans popular
in the press recently is,
"If the bee disappears from the surface of
the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more
bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more
This quote has been attributed to
Albert Einstein; however,
the original source for this quote has not
been reported, and the earliest known use of the quote is
from 1994, 39 years after Einstein's death.
As of March 1, 2007 MAAREC offers the following tentative
recommendations for beekeepers noticing the symptoms of CCD:
Do not combine collapsing colonies with strong colonies.
When a collapsed colony is found, store the equipment where you can
use preventive measures to ensure that bees will not have access to
If you feed your bees sugar syrup, use Fumagillin.
If you are experiencing colony collapse and see a secondary
infection, such as European Foulbrood, treat the colonies with Terramycin, not Tylan.
Back to Contents
Radiation Could Be Killing Bees
by Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross
The Independent on Sunday
04/16/07 8:56 AM PT
A mysterious condition known as Colony
Collapse Disorder is destroying bee hives around the world.
Scientists are still debating the exact cause of the epidemic, but
researchers at Landau University suggest that radiation from mobile
phones may be at least partially to blame.
Scientists found that
placing mobile phones near hives causes bees to refuse to go inside.
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It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film.
Some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could
cause massive food shortages as the world's harvests fail.
They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by
mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one
of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world --
the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last
week, some beekeepers claimed that the phenomenon -- which started
in the U.S., then spread to continental Europe -- was beginning to
hit Britain as well.
The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with
bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously home-loving
species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it
may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants
suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature
workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are
never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites,
wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left
behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned
The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all
American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 percent
of its commercial bee population, with 70 percent missing on the
CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy
and Greece. Last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest
beekeepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly
Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and
northwest England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in
The Need for
The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world's
crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that
if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life
No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites,
pesticides, global warming and GM (genetically modified) crops have
been proposed, but all have drawbacks. German research has long
shown that bees' behavior changes near power lines.
Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse
to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr.
Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to
a possible cause.
Dr. George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the U.S. government
and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the 1990s,
said: "I am convinced the possibility is real."
Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing.
However, proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest
perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up.
Most research on cancer has so far proved inconclusive. However, an
official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for
more than 10 years were 40 percent more likely to get a brain tumor
on the same side as they held the handset.
Equally alarming, blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation
from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today's
teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.
Studies in India and the U.S. have raised the possibility that men
who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts. More
prosaically, doctors have identified the condition of "text thumb,"
a form of RSI from constant texting.
Professor Sir William Stewart, who has headed two official
inquiries, warned that children under eight should not use mobiles
and made a series of safety recommendations, largely ignored by
Back to Contents
Bees Are Simply Vanishing
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.
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
"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
"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
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 crops, including almonds, cherries,
blueberries, pears, strawberries and pumpkins.
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
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.
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, 37, 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
His next guess was amoebic infection. He scanned the bees' kidneys
for cysts and found a handful, but not enough to explain the
VanEngelsdorp dug through scientific literature looking for other
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. 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
French hives, however, are doing no better now, experts
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.
Bromenshenk has been visiting beekeepers across 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."
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
"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
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
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
"This does imply there is something biological," he
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.
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.
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
Another popular theory is that the bees
have been harmed by corn genetically engineered to contain the
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
Scurrying around a blackberry farm near Watsonville, Brandi, 55, was
restocking his bees. In a white jumpsuit and yellow bee veil, he
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."
Back to Contents
Further Information -
Bee Die-Off Alarms Beekeepers, Crop
Growers and Researchers",
Penn State University College of
Agricultural Sciences, Jan 29, 2007.
sueddeutsche.de, March 12, 2007.
Amy Sahba. "The
mysterious deaths of the honeybees"
Disorder Working Group
"Are mobile phones
wiping out our bees?"
"GE and bee Colony
Collapse Disorder -- science needed!"
Organic Bee Losses",
information liberation, May 10 2007.
of the dying bees", Cosmos
vanEngelsdorp, Diana Cox Foster, Maryann
Frazier Nancy Ostiguy, and Jerry Hayes.
Collapse Disorder Preliminary Report",
Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and
Extension Consortium (MAAREC) - CCD
Working Group, 2006-01-05, pp. pp. 22.
phenomenon of Colony disorder collapse
Hackenberg (former president of the
American Beekeeping Federation)
"Letter from David
Hackenberg to American growers from
March 14, 2007"
bees threaten US crops",
Requiem for the
Regierung verlängert Teilverbot von
Gaucho - Bienensterben jetzt auch in
Summen - Französische Forscher:
Insektizid ist Grund für Bienensterben",
CGB Network, 2003-11-23.
Betrayed and sold
out–German bee monitoring- Walter
Haefeker, Deutscher Berufs- und
Imidacloprid den Bienen - von Eric
Gaucho – ein
Risiko, Studie: Mitschuld des Bayer-Pestizids
für Bienensterben (Neues Deutschland)
utilisé en enrobage de semences
(Gaucho) et troubles des abeilles -
Rapport final - 18 septembre 2003
Governmental report claims BAYER's
pesticide GAUCHO responsible for
bee-deaths Coalition against
Bayer-Dangers is calling for a ban
Millions of bees
dead - Bayer's Gaucho blamed
Alarm Sounds on
Bee-Killing Pesticides (by Julio Godoy)
Report (2006) 65, 1-110, Conclusion
regarding the peer review of the
pesticide risk assessment of the active
Requiem for the
Honeybee: Neonicotinoid insecticides
used both in sprays and seed dressing
may be responsible for the collapse of
honeybee colonies. By Prof. Joe Cummins
Times " Penn State
Bee Mites Suppress
Bee Immunity, Open Door For Viruses And
M., R. Martin, A. Meana (2006). "Nosema
a new microsporidian parasite in
honeybees in Europe"
Dr Wolfgang Ritter.
- Asiatischer Nosema-Erreger
festgestellt – neu verbreitet oder erst
Dr Wolfgang Ritter.
- Asian Nosema Disease Vector Confirmed
– is this a new infestation or only now
scientist tracks down suspect in
Identify Pathogens That May Be Causing
Global Honeybee Deaths"
Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II. "Experts
may have found what's bugging the bees"
Die-Off Threatens Food Supply, The
Associated Press (5/2/2007)"
vanEngelsdorp, M.Frazier, and D. Caron
(March 1, 2007).
Recommendations for Hives Experiencing
Collapse Disorder (CCD) in Honey Bees",
University of Florida, April 16, 2007.
of the German Beekeeper Federation in
the German Bundestag
Registration Action Documents".
thuringiensis as plant incorporated
thuringiensis Cry2Ab2 protein and
the Genetic Material Necessary for Its
Production in Cotton"
Pesticide Test Guidelines - OPPTS
885.4380 - Honey Bee Testing
- Tier I"
"Fact Sheets for
"GM Crops: The
First Ten Years - Global Socio-Economic
and Environmental Impacts"
Research on the Non-Target Effects of Bt
Corn Pollen on Honeybees" - Department
of Entomology, University of Maryland
Opinion of the
Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified
Organisms on a request from the
Commission related to the safeguard
clause invoked by Greece according to
Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC and
to Article 18 of Directive 2002/53/EC1
"Effects of Bt
maize pollen on the honeybee"
"Are GM Crops
Killing Bees?" (2005-03-22)
Pollinators in North America - Committee
on the Status of Pollinators in North
America - The National Academies Press
Washington, D.C. www.nap.edu; title page
Pollinators in North America - Committee
on the Status of Pollinators in North
America - The National Academies Press
Washington, D.C. www.nap.edu; page 81
Policy on Genetic Engineering".
"GE and bee Colony
Collapse Disorder - science needed!"
Apiculture Research and Extension
Alexi Barrionuevo. "Honeybees,
Gone With the Wind, Leave Crops and
Keepers in Peril"
Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross. "Are
mobile phones wiping out our bees?"
Eric Sylvers. "Wireless:
Case of the disappearing bees creates a
buzz about cellphones"
Chloe Johnson. "Researchers:
Often-cited study doesn't relate to bee
researchers claim data misinterpreted"
W., Kuhn, J., Stever, H. (2006). "Can
Electromagnetic Exposure Cause a Change
in Behaviour? Studying Possible
Non-Thermal Influences on Honey Bees –
An Approach within the Framework of
H. J., Kuhn, (2004). "How
Electromagnetic Exposure can influence
Learning Process - Modelling Effects of
Electromagnetic Exposure on Learning
Protection: Non-Ionising Radiations.
Answers about Wireless Phones.
Strange times for bees,
The Vancouver Courier.com,
Imker - Deutschen Bienen geht es gut.
Version of May 11, 2007.
Lovgren, Stefan. "Mystery
Bee Disappearances Sweeping U.S."
National Geographic News.
Reference Pages: Einstein on Bees.
Deborah Zabarenko. "Vanishing
honeybees mystify scientists"
Michael Leidig. "Honey
bees in US facing extinction"
vanishing act baffles keepers",
Stefan Lovgren. "Mystery
Bee Disappearances Sweeping U.S."
Gone With the Wind, Leave Crops and
Keepers in Peril"
Genaro C. Armas. "Mystery
Ailment Strikes Honeybees"
John Finnerty. "Agriculture:
Disease Killing Bees"
Funds Research for “Colony Collapse
sounded over bee die-off"
Up Call, Colony Collapse Disorder"
Vanish, and Scientists Race for Reasons"
Rick Weinzierl. "Neonicotinoids
and Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder",
Illinois Fruit and Vegetable News,
2007-05-10. Vol. 13 , No. 5.
Benjamin Lester. "Mystery
of the dying bees"
Kevin Berger. "Who
killed the honeybees?
Back to Contents