Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What's Killing the Honeybees of America?

The pedigree of honey / Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him / Is aristocracy.

-- EMILY DICKINSON

Once upon a time, I had an opportunity to work with a beekeeper. This wonderful experience opened my eyes to the crucial link that these industrious insects were to the crops that we grew and ate on the farm where I lived, as well as the global food chain.

So I have followed with great interest and considerable dread the mystery of why an alarming number of honeybees in roughly half of the contiguous 48 states are succumbing to what is called Colony Collapse Disorder in which they fly off from their hives to never return and succumb to some unknown malady.

There always is a certain amount of honeybee mortality, and on several occasions I donned a white protective body suit, gloves and netted hat only to open hives where the occupants were long gone or dead.

But beekeepers in some East Coast states and Texas are reporting losses of more than 70 percent because of the disorder, while West Coast keepers say their losses range from 3o to 60 percent. This is occurring at a time when there is a growing demand for bees to pollinate all sorts of crops.
The New York Times reports that one study has estimated that honeybees pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the U.S. each year, while one expert says that every third bite of food we consume is dependent on a honeybee to pollinate it.

Yes, I got stung from time to time, mostly because I showed a lack of proper respect while messing with a hive, but the pleasure I derived from working with honeybees made it more than worthwhile.

Then there was the honey that they produced.

Each spring, my beekeeper friend would take a jar of our honey to a professor of apiary science at the local agriculture college for a taste test.

Year after year the professor pronounced our honey to be among the best clover honeys he had tasted, clover being the primary plant on which our bees feasted. Then one year he was stumped, declaring that he had never had such unusual tasting -- if delicious -- honey.

We too were stumped until my friend solved this little mystery:

Our neighbors had grown a sizeable marijuana crop in a field bordering our farm and the bees had feasted on the buds when it flowered, imbuing the honey with this bounty.
Let’s hope that the much bigger mystery of what is killing the honeybees of America also is solved.

3 comments:

mikkel said...

I don't know anything about bees but I looked at Wikipedia and this was very interesting:
Presence of food stores, both honey and bee pollen:
i. which is not immediately robbed by other bees
ii. when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and Small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.
it goes on to say that neighboring hives rarely steal the honey once a colony is weak or gone. Is it frequent that honey stores are poached? If so it suggests the clue to this might begin there.

Shaun Mullen said...

Mikkel:

Yes, honeybees can be persnickety critters. Thank you for the info.

chansonducygne said...

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070906140803.htm

you may find this interesting.