Plight of the honeybee

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117933349232053.jpg’, ”, ‘Important pollinators – Honey bees pollinate a third of our total food crops. According to a congressional report submitted March 26, 2007, the following crops are almost totally dependent on honey bee pollination: almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, kiwi fruit, macadamia nuts, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, onions, legume seeds, pumpkins, squash and sunflowers.‘);

The mysterious deaths of entire beehives have researchers scrambling to find an answer to what’s killing honey bees.

It’s a mystery that threatens not only the production of honey across the U.S., but also the production of fruit and vegetables, and any other plants that require pollination by honey bees. Over this past winter, about a quarter of U.S. beehives inexplicably died off.

There are many suspects in what researchers are referring to as “Colony Collapse Disorder.” At any given time, honey bees are threatened by a grisly assortment of afflictions, such as parasitic mites, invasive beetles, wax moths, and various bacterial, viral and fungal diseases.

Mites attach themselves to honey bees to draw out juices, and may infect the bees with viruses. Some mites infect bee airways. Certain beetles and other insects invade the honeycomb to eat the honey. Wax moths also destroy the comb, but they feed on the wax. Bacteria, viruses and fungi sicken or kill bees in various stages of life, from egg to adult.

Pollutants are also a widespread problem. As honey bees fly about in search of nectar and pollen, they are exposed to toxins present in the air, in the soil and on water surfaces. In fact, bees accumulate toxins so efficiently that scientists have spent the last 25 years monitoring hives to study the overall health of local habitats. The hind legs of honey bees have pollen baskets for transporting protein-rich pollen back to the hives. Pollen and any dust picked up by the bee often contains traces of environmental pollutants such as heavy metals, inorganic compounds, pesticides and even radioactive elements. Once this material reaches the hive, scientists can detect it by checking air quality within the hive, by testing the pollen and by chemically analyzing the bees’ bodies. The effects of pollution can devastate bee colonies and entire local habitats.

Researchers are not certain whether the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder is one or more of the common bee afflictions, or whether it is a new threat. So far, the most likely suspects seem to be viruses transmitted by Varroa mites.

Whether you consume much honey, recent honey bee die-offs will likely have an impact on you. Nearly a third of your diet relies on pollinated crops, and much of that pollination is provided by honey bees in hives stationed near agricultural fields of fruits, vegetables, nut trees, forage crops and other specialty crops.

from the May 16-22, 2007, issue

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