Monday, March 31, 2008

Another colony collapse disorder...

We spent several shows talking about Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees last year on USFR (Now on Channel 225 of DirecTV!!). Despite our best efforts, a lot of people still think it was caused by pesticides and GM crops. Mostly because they want it to be - not due to any particular hard evidence. And because it's way sexier than "bee flu".

And we are still not out of the woods on that battle.
After a year of research, scientists have not been able to come up with a cause for CCD, which killed millions of honeybees last year, according to Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University.

“No one thing yet can account for CCD,” vanEngelsdorp said. “It is probably a lot of things working together.”

VanEngelsdorp updated participants at the beekeepers seminar held at the University at Albany about ongoing research to find a cause of CCD.

VanEngelsdorp talked about his research, offered possible causes of CCD and gave the beekeepers advice about how to keep honeybees healthy.

Researchers from across the country are helping to study CCD, including those from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Penn State and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The public became aware of CCD in fall 2006, but vanEngelsdorp said the phenomenon probably started a couple years before that but was dismissed as varroa mites.

“Clearly, varroa mites can’t explain these loses,” vanEngelsdorp said.

VanEngelsdorp said the symptoms of CCD are the appearance of the queen honeybee, dead bees are not present, the remaining bees appear young and there are an insufficient amount of bees to care for the eggs.

Many believe that CCD is due to stress on the honeybees when they are moved, especially in commercial beekeeping operations that have thousands of hives.

VanEngelsdorp said he doesn’t believe the disorder is caused by stress from movement because beekeepers have been moving honeybees for hundreds of years. He said CCD is probably due to a bacteria or virus.

“It is increasingly likely that we are dealing with the bee flu,” he said. “Like the flu in humans it is worse some years than others.”

He said the researchers are currently gathering data to see how bad the CCD problem was this year. He said anecdotal evidence shows that it was about 80 percent as bad as the previous year. [More]
Well, that exercise could happen again, albeit in a less "children's book-y" species: bats.
It was broad daylight in the middle of winter, and bats flew out of the mine about one a minute. Some had fallen to the ground where they flailed around on the snow like tiny wind-broken umbrellas, using the thumbs at the top joint of their wings to gain their balance.

All would be dead by nightfall. Mr. Hicks, a mammal specialist with the state’s Environmental Conservation Department, said: “Bats don’t fly in the daytime, and bats don’t fly in the winter. Every bat you see out here is a ‘dead bat flying,’ so to speak.”

They have plenty of company. In what is one of the worst calamities to hit bat populations in the United States, on average 90 percent of the hibernating bats in four caves and mines in New York have died since last winter.

Wildlife biologists fear a significant die-off in about 15 caves and mines in New York, as well as at sites in Massachusetts and Vermont. Whatever is killing the bats leaves them unusually thin and, in some cases, dotted with a white fungus. Bat experts fear that what they call White Nose Syndrome may spell doom for several species that keep insect pests under control. [More]
Maybe we've all been watching too much "CSI - Pittsburg" on TV. We now expect a gorgeous scientist/spokesmodel to do a 10-minute test and announce THE ANSWER in time for the commercial. Real science rarely works that way. Or with folks who look like that, either.

There are several possible ways to think about this phenomenon. Has it happened before? Will it spread? Are there any valid comparisons with CCD?

Without doubt, agricultural practices will somehow be brought into this discussion, and my guess is local farmers will be outraged at being accused of anything.

It's time we grew up and realized that hazard goes with the job. We yammer on and on about working with nature and being out in the fields 24/7/365 (or more!). Who else are people going to point to when odd things happen outside - Wall Street bankers?

When people are scared and angry they will say screwy things - even rational, calm people like me. I have several posts on this blog to demonstrate that. Before we rev up the public relations machine (at the urging of PR professionals usually) why not just listen and wait for more information? Despite popular thought, instantaneous response has not always been shown to be a winning strategy. Devotion to the truth and respect for other has.

We'll be hearing more about the bats and the bees. And then we'll work to find an answer and move on to get overwrought about something else.

It's not a perfect system, but it works.


Ol James said...

I don't know about the bats, but I have a theory about the bees. My brother has a 3-super,(stack of hive boxes for the bees to build their nest and raise their young, and queens). We keep it near one of our garden spots and near the woods. They greatly help with pollination and there is plenty for them to forage on.
Last year I noticed a swarm of bees up in a tree next to the super. I thought this was something they did. After awhile they left, about 30-45 minutes. I told my brother and dad. Their thinking about this was a stray swarm was trying to settle in the hive or possibly enlist workers.
Here's my theory- Hives raise queens to replace a queen who died or left the hive or is no longer productive. Would it not be reasonable for a junior queen to just take part of a hive with her and start her own? Sorta like a rebellious teen who wants to run everything.
There would be no dead bees and the colony would lose numbers, possibly enough to make it look like something,( either disease or predation), has occurred.
I'll leave it to the experts, but that's my guess...

Brian said...

It is a bee virus related to the Asian Bird Flu
H5N1. It can be detected in the bees tears in the eyes, and mucus in the nostrils. It affects all of their organs. The queens should be tested. All farm equipment should be kept clean from colided bees. Don't allow yellowjackets to invade your colony because you don't know whos hive they may have been in. Don't transport hives, start new hives and leave them. The hives should have some kind of feather duster applicator that brushes the top and bottom of each bee entering and leaving the hive as well as an application on the comb frame. If dead bees are found in the comb remove them.