Honey bees throughout North America and Canada are continuing to disappear at an alarmingly rapid rate, signaling a dire threat to the production of countless food sources.
Albert Einstein first famously speculated that “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live.” Although Einstein’s claims were often considered outrageous, the plight of the honey bees has become a documented problem threatening much of the economy’s natural resources.
Nearly five years ago, reports of bees dying in large numbers began to surface, and beekeepers began to report that their hives were becoming defunct, causing the agricultural community to become alarmed and to search for an explanation, which has yet to be scientifically determined. There is little insight into why hives have been completely deserted, with almost all adult bees seemingly disappearing, causing honey production to massively decline, and the bee industry to become crippled.
According to Tom Hill, member of the Macon County Beekeepers Association, the majority of scientists have almost pinpointed the problem down to a mite that was accidently imported to the United States from Asia nearly 20 years ago. “The parasite attacks the honey bees similar to what ticks do to dogs,” said Hill. “The larva of the mite feeds on the larva of the bees, killing them before they are even fully developed.”
In addition to the parasite simply feeding on the honey bees, the open wounds and bite marks are filled with the mite’s salvia, preventing it from ever healing, causing the bees to become extremely susceptible to disease and infections. The diseases obtained from the injuries of the bite slowly weaken a colony, ultimately killing it off over a period of time.
Hill explained that North Carolina’s wild bee population is virtually depleted, and less than two percent of the bees remain in comparison to the population from 20 years ago.
“We are constantly adding more beekeepers, and are replacing the queens of the colonies more rapidly to prevent CCD [Colony Collapse Disorder] from wiping out the bee population in Macon County,” said Hill. “The Beekeepers Association has continued to grow and beekeepers have become the sole factor in sustaining the population. Until the problem is completely solved, it is up to us to keep the bees alive.”
The Macon County Beekeepers Association currently has more than 50 members, and according to Hill, within Macon County, there are nearly 100 individual beekeepers.
Although there is not a specific documented cause, the phenomenon has been deemed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and has continued to threaten the nation’s agricultural community. The honey bee population has been in decline for a number of years now, suffering from the enigmatic colony collapse disorder The latest research on U.S. honey bees only increases speculation over future food production, as bees are directly responsible for pollinating nearly 90 percent of the world’s commercial plants, from fruits and vegetables to coffee and cotton.
Researchers have proposed that multiple factors contribute to CCD, which is why a specific cause can not be identified. Among causes being explored are malnutrition, pathogens, immunodeficiencies, fungus, pesticides, and beekeeping practices such as the use of antibiotics and steroids.
In 2007, The United States Department of Agriculture assembled the CCD Response Effort, which includes the Steering Committee and Working Team, developed the CCD Action Plan to address the increasing concerns in the bee community. According to the CCD Steering Committee’s executive summary, pollination is responsible for $15 billion in added crop value, specifically for crops such as nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables, and if researchers are unable to find a solution, beekeepers will be unable to meet the demands to continue producing the crops.
The committee, which is comprised of scientists throughout the United States, is geared toward four main components in attempt to alleviate the problem. The focus points include survey and data collection, analysis of samples, hypotheses-driven research, and mitigation and preventative action.