Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) sounds horrible, and it is when you consider the repercussions. It’s the umbrella term for what’s occurring in beehives around the world, where essentially what’s happening is that entire colonies of bees are dying off. The overall cause is still under speculation, as detailed in the wiki article linked above. Mites, viruses, pesticides, electromagnetic radiation and environmental-change related stresses are all potential contributors.
I learned about CCD years ago during a lecture by a local bee keeper. He was skeptical about it because at the time there was some yellow journalism about the sudden mysterious loss of entire colonies being linked to cell phone use and GMO crops. He didn’t think that those two reasons were viable, and with time and research it seems as though scientists have found more probable causes. I hadn’t heard about it in a while, though, until the other day when I spoke with one of the honey producers in California that we buy from at the Deli.
He said that it’s still very much a problem affecting many beekeepers around the world- he hears and sees it every day. He himself started this year with five hives, and currently has only two remaining. In his instance, they’ve linked the deaths to a mite that lives in the honey-making cells. It chews off the wings of the bees, preventing them from being able to fly. In his experience it’s worse in the fall, winter and early spring. They’re not able to treat the colonies with pesticides during the honey-making process for fear of it getting into the honey. There is a new pesticide that’s being reviewed for safety that if passes, could be used year-round to kill the mites.
To put it in perspective, honeybees are responsible for pollinating “about 100 flowering food crops including apples, nuts, broccoli, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, celery, squash and cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, melons, as well as animal-feed crops, such as the clover that’s fed to dairy cows. Essentially all flowering plants need bees to survive.”
PBS is a good resource for further reading. They suggest a few things that we can do, including becoming a backyard beekeeper, though not everyone has the space or the interest in keeping a hive. On a more approachable level, you can grow ‘bee friendly’ plants to give your local bees something to pollinate. Some plants attract bees more than others, but they like large patches of flowers planted in close proximity to one another.