Solving the Mystery of Our Vanishing Bees


One-third of our world’s growing fields rely on the European honeybee, the type of bee kept by beekeepers in western countries. But according to a study conducted to solve the mysteries of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) honeybees are dying of infections that are difficult to identify and cure.

Research highlighted in Scientific American finds there are many possible contributing factors but no single culprit in the deaths of colonies. Bees suffering from CCD appear to be infested with multiple pathogens (including a newly discovered virus) and solving the problem may require “taking better care of the environment and making long-term changes to our beekeeping and agricultural practices.”

As I’ve described in past posts on CCD, many of the varieties of super foods and fruits and vegetables we consume –  apples, blueberries, broccoli and almonds – are greatly at risk as they require bees to flourish. The study reports that even before the onslaught of CCD, farmers watched their honeybee populations diminish because of a number of ailments.

While colonies have always collapsed, the drop in 2006 was major. The population was estimated at around 2.4 after the disorder took out colonies in large numbers, reducing the overall population to half of what it was in 1949. The losses got worse in 2007 and 2008. So much attention has been focused on this issue that there even is a website devoted entirely to CCD news, opinions and research.

SciAm says the concern now is not the extinction of our friend the honeybee but rather the disappearance of the skilled bee keeper.

“If beekeepers’ skills and know-how become a rarity as a result, then even if CCD is eventually overcome, nearly 100 of our crops could be left without pollinators and large-scale production of certain crops could become impossible,” states the report. It says we would still have starchy staples like corn, wheat, potatoes and rice, but much of the important and nutritious food we consume today we become “the food of kings.”

Here are a few major points from this important research:

  • Millions of beehives worldwide have emptied out as honeybees mysteriously disappear, putting at risk nearly 100 crops that require pollination.
  • Research is pointing to a complex disease in which combinations of factors, including farming practices, make bees vulnerable to viruses.
  • Taking extra care with hive hygiene seems to aid prevention. And research into antiviral drugs could lead to pharmaceutical solutions.

Image: Kuribo

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.