Join 3,552 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

Bees no better off.
October 9, 2009 8:06 AM   Subscribe

A new genomic study posits at least a reliable genetic marker for honey bees subject to Colony Collapse Disorder.

Reports this past spring from Spain of a possible cure for CCD (previously on MeFi) haven't stemmed U.S. beekeeper losses, and a recent NYT article summarizing the work of U.S. experts working on the problem cites a number of related causes, including mites, viruses and common pesticides, as possible factors in the process of weakening hives that later suffer CCD. Regionally, long periods of wet weather this spring and summer have reduced normal honey production, leading to many hives in New York and New England having insufficient food for over wintering. On top of surveyed losses from 2006, 2007 and 2008 published this spring, 2009 losses will likely further raise the cost and decrease the availability of commercial bee operator's mobile crop pollination services in 2010, leading eventually to higher food costs.
"... The Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and USDA-ARS Beltsville Honey Bee Lab conducted a survey between September 2008 and early April 2009 to estimate colony losses across the country. Over 20% of the country’s estimated 2.3 million colonies were surveyed. A total loss of 28.6% of managed honey bee colonies was recorded. This compares to losses of 35.8% and 31.8% recorded respectively in the winters of 2007/2008 and 2006/2007. While a decrease in total losses is encouraging, the rate of loss remains unsustainable as the average operational loss increased from 31% in 2007/2008 to 34.2% in the 2008/2009 winter. ..."
posted by paulsc (30 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Article abstract. I sure miss the days when PNAS offered full text for free online.
posted by exogenous at 8:16 AM on October 9, 2009


Wait, I think I saw this movie. Mira Sorvino runs around in the subway being chased by giant bugs, right?
posted by The Whelk at 8:23 AM on October 9, 2009


I've commented on this before, and this study (and most of the linked articles) suggest/dance around it, but when we stress our bees every way possible, it's not too surprising they die off. Especially egregious is that commercial beekeepers insist on robbing the bees of all their honey stores - right before they need it the most. This quote from one of the links says it:
"...but I think we're going to see one of the largest die-offs this winter that we've ever seen, due to starvation."
They might not starve if we didn't take all their honey! So he's feeding them a concoction of sugar cane and herbs (a 'tea'), but if he'd left them some honey, they could eat that! It's what bees use for fuel (that, and pollen, their only source of protein). At least he's not feeding them HFCS - the usual mix. A more sustainable approach is to take honey in the spring, after the nectar flow begins again, and to hold back some of what you take to use as a supplement for the bees in the event of a hard winter.
Honey bees were fine until we started 'helping' them, about 150 years ago, with the development of the Langstroth hive box. (okay I'll stop grumping now...)
posted by dbmcd at 8:32 AM on October 9, 2009 [6 favorites]


I sure miss the days when PNAS offered full text for free online.

I don't think they ever offered full text for brand-new articles for free. Stuff over six months old is free, and deposited in PubMedCentral, I believe.
posted by grouse at 8:35 AM on October 9, 2009


From talking to a mid-sized Pennsylvania beekeeper last season, it sounded like pesticide usage was more of a problem for his bees than CCD.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:37 AM on October 9, 2009


I don't think they ever offered full text for brand-new articles for free.

I remember otherwise, and recall being pleased to be able to access them when I didn't have institutional access. Looks like the switch was in 2002, which seems about right, though I could be mistaken about the whole thing.
posted by exogenous at 8:56 AM on October 9, 2009


In 2000, they made articles over four weeks old available for free, and put a lot of back issues online. It's possible that they could have made all articles available for free sometime between 2000 and 2002, and then changed back, but I find it unlikely.
posted by grouse at 9:04 AM on October 9, 2009


I agree whole-heartedly with what dbmcd says. The sheer grandiosity of our interference is horrible for me.

Why when it's bees, it's okay? Would we feel the same way if this was being done to us all over the world, constantly?

Okay, now I'll go back inside my hippie shed. I have to learn some more Donovan songs before lunchtime.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:34 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Why when it's bees, it's okay? Would we feel the same way if this was being done to us all over the world, constantly?

Could it be because bees aren't people?
posted by christonabike at 10:04 AM on October 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you're interested in this topic, and you haven't already read this book, I'd highly recommend it. It's a good sort of general how-bees-work and how-CCD-might-work: Fruitless Fall.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:28 AM on October 9, 2009


Bees are people, too! asl;jd;lasjkdf;lajksdf;
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 10:42 AM on October 9, 2009


If we didn't rule the bees, they would rule us. :(
posted by Atreides at 10:58 AM on October 9, 2009


In other news...I'm looking forward to the hopeful cure(s) for this problem. While dmbcd was griping about the professionals, a distant farming cousin of mine related how honey bees across a whole valley had simply died off (no one was taking their honey). Rather scary, given their critical place in nature and agriculture.
posted by Atreides at 11:01 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the internet, no one knows you're a bee.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:12 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


i just want everyone here to know that I have bees in my family. My great-great-grandfather was a bee, as was one of my aunts.

This will not stand.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:48 AM on October 9, 2009


Atreides - it would be interesting to know how those honeybees got to the valley your cousin spoke of. Honeybees are not native to this continent (brought here by the Jamestown settlers), so unless there were many feral colonies (always a possibility), it's unlikely there were that many 'wild' honeybees to begin with.
Also, commercial agriculture has come to rely on honeybees for pollination, to the exclusion of the many, many other pollinators who do as good (or better) job. Part of the reason is because the honeybees can be trucked in after the farmer is done using whatever pesticide they're using - which may have eliminated all the naturally occurring pollinators. The native pollinators include the much-ballyhooed Orchard Mason bee, the familiar bumble bee, and loads of others - including tiny wasps, moths, etc.
It's funny too, because some crops aren't really very efficiently pollinated by honeybees - apples are a great example; the blossom structure is such that the bees can't really get much/any nectar. OTOH, bumbles and Orchard Masons do a GREAT job at pollinating apples. There's a similar issue with most squash plants too.
To those of you who would doubt my 'exploitation' claim, maybe it helps to consider it as stress instead. Then, consider the following:
-Primary food source taken repeatedly during the year? Check
-Secondary food source often taken at entrance to hive (pollen)? Check
-Released into 'feeding areas' (for pollination) in numbers far exceeding naturally occurring levels? Check
-Trucked multiple times per season, up to thousands of miles (left alone, honeybees never move a hive, except to swarm)? Check
-Fed nutritionally empty calories during transit and during off-season? Check
-Comb re-used, even after saturation with lipophillic toxins (from medications/residue from feeding during pollination)? Check?
-Bred from extremely limited genetic stock (less than ten lines of breeding stock in the most-used lines of commercial honeybees)? Check
-Natural tendencies to breed thwarted at every turn (drone cells destroyed, hives re-queened artificially, swarming behavior not allowed)? Check

I rest my case.
posted by dbmcd at 11:53 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Honey bees were fine until we started 'helping' them, about 150 years ago, with the development of the Langstroth hive box.

The larger problem is monocultures. Complex systems that have a single, common fault point are vulnerable to catastrophic collapse if that single point fails. Another example of this is citrus fruit in California, which are under crisis too because of some virus or bug that's devastating them. The state government is offering to replace citrus trees for free or a reduced cost, which is the wrong solution. Instead they should offer to replace trees with a non-citrus fruit like pomegranates, that won't simply get wiped out again.

Honey bees & citrus fruit are great solutions for system optimization but not so good for system resilience. It's an artifact of the industrial revolution, looking for one way to do things that maximizes energy throughput that can be replicated over & over. The better solution is to increase diversity instead of looking for a single element that the whole system relies on. That single point of failure means that when that point fails, the whole system fails.
posted by scalefree at 11:58 AM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's some complexities that you're leaving out, with regards to commercial beekeeping. A lot of the crops that bees pollinate don't produce enough nectar to be the primary food source for a bee. On large farms, bees can literally starve to death without a supplementary nectar source. Carting them around according to the season can prevent them from developing significant honey stores.

A lot of commercial beekeepers don't take any honey from their hives, because it affects hive health and it's not primarily what they're getting paid for. Also, honey is a carbohydrate source and pollen is a protein source. They're not really primary vs. secondary.
posted by electroboy at 12:45 PM on October 9, 2009


I hereby nominate the phrase, "for a bee" to replace the phrase, "in bed" for cheap laughs or party games.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 12:48 PM on October 9, 2009


It is because we are treating them as a machine for our use and not living things. I'm sure if you threw me into a truck and transported me around from farm to farm everyday during which I had to work in a toxin environment (pesticides) that I would die off too. Nice going big busy.... Jerks.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 12:55 PM on October 9, 2009


Business not busy. What I wrote above sounds silly.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 12:55 PM on October 9, 2009


Not that this has anything to do with anything, but any time anyone says "bees" I feel compelled to tell this story.

I am a beginning beekeeper and in my Bee Group, where we meet to learn about Bee Things, we learned about controlling for Veroa mites. These mites are tiny little tick-like creatures that affix themselves to the bees and suck their blood, weakening them and making them susceptible to other diseases, pests, etc.

My Bee Leader launched into a lengthy lecture about how to control these mites, showing us pesticide after deadly pesticide as well as the hazmat-suit-level precautions you have to take to use these chemicals. After explaining 2 or 3 chemical treatments, with the class growing more and more terrified and despondent, he said "Or you could just sugar your bees."

It turns out that a few years ago some dude thought hard about how to control for mites and, after several failed experiments, decided to just pour powdered sugar all over the little bastards (And that right there makes this story worth telling. Why powdered sugar? How did he come up with that?) That'll learn 'em!

And low and behold, the sugar got in between the little mite feet and the bees, and the mites just fell right off! So, on the one hand, major corporations spend millions trying to engineer a solution to the bee mite problem. On the other, some guy takes a screen and a paintbrush and dusts his bees with powdered sugar from the grocery store.

As soon as I heard this, I ran to Sam's club and bought a huge bag of powdered sugar. I rushed home and spent several hours rolling all my bees in it one by one, like tiny stinging cannoli. The best part was that for days afterward, little white bee ghosts could be seen flying around the yard. It was hilarious. And also nice was the fact that whatever mites were on my bees fell right off.

I could tell you people bee stories for hours, and I can barely talk about bees in person without crying, I love them so much. Bees are to me, a life-long atheist, the closest thing I have ever seen to a higher, intelligent power.

Leave those bees alone. Stop dragging them all over hill and yon, stop harvesting all their honey (I got three quarts from 3 frames. Plenty! And the bees have 17 to keep for themselves for the winter.), stop managing for swarms, just stop. Bees have been minding themselves for thousands of years. We meddle with them at our peril.*

*Except when we dump powdered sugar on them because that's, you know, cool.
posted by staggering termagant at 2:08 PM on October 9, 2009 [21 favorites]


Fair play to electroboy for pointing out that some crops don't provide enough nectar for the bees - which sort of proves my point. And thanks for correcting me regarding primary/secondary food sources. I got carried away.
Scalefree, I do generally agree that monoculture is at least part of the culprit (although monocultures have been a part of human history almost since we started farming). As the researchers are finding, there probably isn't a single thing we can point to as the culprit, rather it's the cumulative effect of all the things we do to the bees that's the culprit.

Staggering termagant - glad you've joined the Bee Cult!
Here's another handy hint - instead of using smoke to 'calm' your bees, use a fine spray of sugar water instead. This is another stressor I forgot to mention. Smoking bees actually does the opposite of calming them, it makes them gorge on honey because they think the hive is in peril (FIRE!). They are 'calmer' because they're gorged with honey and busy taking in as much as possible to save themselves.
Much friendlier to spray them with a sugar-water mix (a spray bottle is fine). They get busy this way too - cleaning themselves with the food that just fell from the sky! Mr. dbmcd says it works better than smoke, in his opinion.
posted by dbmcd at 2:33 PM on October 9, 2009


Atreides - it would be interesting to know how those honeybees got to the valley your cousin spoke of. Honeybees are not native to this continent (brought here by the Jamestown settlers), so unless there were many feral colonies (always a possibility), it's unlikely there were that many 'wild' honeybees to begin with.

I believe they were brought to the valley probably more than a century ago by farmers. I actually have some seventy or eighty year old photographs of probably ancestors/relatives dressed up in proper garb and preparing to extract honey. This is in Virginia, by and by.
posted by Atreides at 3:13 PM on October 9, 2009


As the researchers are finding, there probably isn't a single thing we can point to as the culprit, rather it's the cumulative effect of all the things we do to the bees that's the culprit.

Another lesson from House: sometimes what looks like the result of a single cause can have multiple factors that contribute to cause it.
posted by scalefree at 4:03 PM on October 9, 2009


This July a colony of bees built a honeycomb in my backyard. It had been years since I'd seen honeybees, so I was delighted to have them.

They built the hive on the overhanging branch of a tree, and I was soon told that no sane bees would do this. I learned the poem "Bee swarm in May, worth a cart of hay; bee swarm in June, worth a silver spoon; bee swarm in July, not worth a fly". Then people began to suggest that my bees were Africanized, or that their queen was the old, senile queen, not a new smart queen. I became very defensive, because my bees were the bestest bees ever. I emailed Beltsville for advice, but they weren't interested in my bees unless they survived the winter. My local beekeepers told me there was no way they'd survive the winter out in the open. So I got instructions on how to build a hive, and I made one and put sugar-water out next to it; I was told that swarming bees sent out scouts periodically to find suitable homes. But the bees ignored my hive. In early September, I noticed the honeycomb looked funny; I walked over for a look, and I saw that there were only a handful of bees on it. For a moment I hoped they had moved to a better location, but then I saw a pile of dead bees under the hive. Within days they were all dead. I emailed Beltsville and sent them a picture of the empty hive. I was told that because the hive had only empty cells, it meant my bees had starved to death.

I feel sad whenever I walk by the honeycomb. Once I knock it down and melt down the wax, I will light a candle in remembrance of my bees.
posted by acrasis at 5:42 PM on October 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


dbmcd, thanks for that tip. When I got my box of bees the first time, I sprayed them with sugar water in order to keep them from stinging me to death while I installed them (shameless self-promotion: if you're trapped in line at the DMV or something and want to read the not-at-all-exaggerated story of how I set up my first hive, go here: http://athensbeeblog.blogspot.com/2008/04/b-day.html).

I will definitely try that tomorrow when I go check my bees.

Another great thing about bee keeping: In the spring and summer when they are gathering their pollen, the come back to the hive and stuff what they've gathered into the little hexagonal cells in the frame. Each cell is a different color based on whatever color the pollen was that they gathered (purple, red, pink, green, gold, yellow, etc.). Sometimes, at the height of the season, you take the frame out to look at it and it looks like a stained-glass window. And don't even get me started on the dances bees do to communicate where the best pollen is! I'm telling you, we got nothing on the bees.

dbmcd, can you suggest a good hive type to try? I have Rossman hives with plastic frames, but I'm looking to maybe try wire, or something. Can you share your experiences with me or point me to a good resource? Thanks in advance.

Acrasis, I'm so sorry for you. That would make me really sad. Thanks for caring, and for trying to help.
posted by staggering termagant at 6:52 PM on October 9, 2009


"It is because we are treating them as a machine for our use and not living things. I'm sure if you threw me into a truck and transported me around from farm to farm everyday during which I had to work in a toxin environment (pesticides) that I would die off too."

Sounds like the life of a migrant farm worker.
posted by Mitheral at 9:02 AM on October 10, 2009


staggering termagant: your story is awesome
posted by exogenous at 10:16 AM on October 15, 2009


I have Rossman hives with plastic frames, but I'm looking to maybe try wire, or something.

Hives are more or less all the same, except for top bar hives and some of the more exotic types. I've had mixed experiences with plastic frames. Some colonies like it, some don't. Really, if you've got something you like, and your bees take to it, there's no reason to switch. Once they've drawn the comb out, it's best to keep them on the same frames.
posted by electroboy at 9:04 PM on October 19, 2009


« Older Particlasm...  |  Piano Stairs!... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments