"First to fall over when the atmosphere is less than perfect..."
February 28, 2007 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Killered Bees. The NYTimes covers the mysterious collapse of commercial honeybee colonies over the last 5-months, covering dozens of states. The disease, Colony Collapse Disorder, does not have a determined cause. The Canary Database indicates that bees can serve as "canaries in a coalmine" for human diseases, as many other animals do. Some of the suspected causative agents (as reported [pdf] by Penn State) include a immunodeficiency, the hive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, nutritional stress, parasites, infectious diseases, stress due to colony splitting and relocation, insecticides, and antibiotic use. The die-offs are likely to adversely impact both prices and crop yields.
posted by rzklkng (45 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
When I was involved in campaigns against genetic engineering in the wild I was always very impressed by the passion of the beekeepers for those campaigns. I'd at least be looking at the massive use of crops engineered to be living insecticides when considering what might be this current crisis. It may be unrelated to genetic engineering, but it'd be good to know for sure.

The consequences of losing so many bees can only be imagined: they are the basis for so much agricultural business (as the last link makes clear). It's also intrinsically very sad.
posted by imperium at 7:08 AM on February 28, 2007

Why moving bees all over the country is a bad idea.
posted by smackfu at 7:18 AM on February 28, 2007

Bees evolve pretty fast, and it could be that bees bread on the east coast might not survive very well in california. OTOH, it means that bees might adapt more quickly to hostile environments.
posted by delmoi at 7:18 AM on February 28, 2007

On the plus side, this will slow their conquest of the planet.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:31 AM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bees evolve pretty fast,

Evolve is perhaps not the right word to use to describe the cross-breeding that beekeepers do. Most of the bees in beekeepers hives are the result of human meddling - sort of like siamese cats selectively bred with faces so flat they can't breathe.

Blaming the genetic engineering of crops when beekeepers have been doing their own genetic engineering for centuries seems to show a bit of bias.
posted by three blind mice at 7:33 AM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wait, we feed bees HFCS?
posted by basicchannel at 7:46 AM on February 28, 2007

Wait, we feed bees HFCS?
posted by basicchannel at 10:46 AM EST on February 28

You bet. Cargill's got boat payments.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:53 AM on February 28, 2007

Why don't you all just mind your own beeswax?
posted by srboisvert at 7:58 AM on February 28, 2007

People have been waiting for this to happen since '95 or so. There was even some hope that the Killer Bees that were looming so threateningly along the Southern border of the US could be domesticated in order to offset the damage.
posted by lekvar at 7:59 AM on February 28, 2007

We kept a beehive here in Texas in 2005, and it completely died off after five months. It may just be an insignificant sample but we never did figure out what happened.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:02 AM on February 28, 2007

NYT BlogSafe Link
posted by id at 8:04 AM on February 28, 2007

i had read that NYT article yesterday but i really appreciate the additional links and research that went with this post.

i've had a pet theory for a few years now that our current global economy isn't really sustainable. i'm not just talking about stuff like peak oil, it's more encompassing like that -- i also don't believe business practise such as the current trend for huge feudal corporate industries is ultimately sustainable either.

stuff like the CCD phenom with beekeepers shows to point out how very very fragile our economic practises can be and that in the sort of huge global network the US operates within, there's a chance the 'butterfly effect' from something so random and (seemingly) insignificant as bee dieoffs could theoretically be catastrophic.

i'm not a hemp-flag-waving hippie or even close, but i've been saying for awhile now that thinking, shopping and farming locally and sustainably may, over the long course, be our saviour. i hope i'm not right by thinking that not necessarily CCD, and not necessarily global warming, and not necessarily bird flu, or AIDS, or overfishing, or peak oil or something even worse we haven't even encountered yet -- not individually, but in complex combinations related to globalisation, is going to lead to a massive worldwide economic and population collapse, and possibly within my lifetime.
imperium: It's also intrinsically very sad.
yes. when i was a kid, we had a couple honeybee boxes in ohio on my family's farm, in the apple orchard. they're fascinating creatures and keeping bees sparked a lifelong interest in science and nature for me. i felt inexplicably sad and weird when i read the NYT article; almost like i'd found out a childhood pet died or something.
posted by lonefrontranger at 8:17 AM on February 28, 2007 [7 favorites]

im in ur hive killin ur beez
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2007

Seriously, though, as a lover of both bees and their delicious honey (and healthy but somewhat repulsive royal jelly), I find this incredibly troubling.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:00 AM on February 28, 2007

Too bad John Belushi is gone. We could ask him why his buddies are dying. Maybe we can talk to that Latino bee guy on the Simpsons.
posted by spicynuts at 10:26 AM on February 28, 2007

Another possible "causative agent?
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2007

I don't know if bee disappearance should be taken as some sort of environmental disaster indicator. Like most agricultural species, they're quite genetically similar, and their flight and propensity for existing in wild colonies would cause any disease among them to spread rapidly. It's almost surprising they haven't had plagues occur before - imagine what mad cow would have done if cows could fly and lived everywhere in wild herds.

Hopefully the native bees will take over the slack in terms of pollination if we don't figure out a way to keep the domestic bees from vanishing.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:55 AM on February 28, 2007

It's not just bees.

In the woods where I walk the dog every weekend, there should be masses of frogspawn showing up in the ditches and streams, if not by now, then soon. There's nothing. I used to fall asleep to the sound of frogs trilling; now there's silence.
posted by jokeefe at 11:09 AM on February 28, 2007

More recent article here.
posted by jokeefe at 11:11 AM on February 28, 2007

Ooh, thanks for the preview about this summer's topic of discussion when I hang with the in-laws. My father-in-law keeps bees, a lot of them, &... well, pretty sure this will come up.
posted by susanbeeswax at 11:46 AM on February 28, 2007

I'm covered in beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees! [YouTube]
posted by papercake at 12:13 PM on February 28, 2007

(Oh, and nice title. Bees... canaries... same diff.)
posted by papercake at 12:51 PM on February 28, 2007

I dimly remember that my grandfather kept bees on the family farm in NJ. Glad he and Dad aren't around to read about this.
posted by pax digita at 12:57 PM on February 28, 2007

So why did your civilization collapse?

Well, first we overfished the oceans. . .
Then the cattle all went mad . . .
And then the birds started dying of the flu. . .
Then the bees who would pollinate the crops all died. . .
And then . . .
posted by MasonDixon at 12:57 PM on February 28, 2007

im in ur hive killin ur beez

I haven't seen that (meta-)line in ages and I've been missing it. (Seriously).

I think it may have been fallout from alternate reality games.

http://www.i hatebees.org
posted by GuyZero at 1:09 PM on February 28, 2007

So long, and thanks for all the nectar.

(Also, "Killing me won't bring back your GOD DAMN HONEY!")
posted by cog_nate at 2:15 PM on February 28, 2007

I was raised to be afraid of bees, as my mother has always done the duck and run thing around them. As an adult, and an interested and somewhat knowledgeable gardener, I've lost my fear of them entirely, and I respect them for their role in nature. In my experience, honeybees are entirely focused on their mission to gather nectar and pollen, bumblebees seem to be in less of a hurry, and both are completely docile when unmolested, especially the bumblebees. Every spring, my blueberry bushes bloom (the buds are already swelling so it won't be long now) and after doing some research, I found that there is a specialized bee that appears at this time to specifically pollinate them...you can hear the bushes buzzing in mid-March on warm days. I hope this is limited to honeybees, because if other types of bees are down for the count, we are really screwed.

I was listening to a gardening podcast last weekend after first hearing about this bee problem, and the host (an elderly man who is always quick to recommend better living through chemistry) had a representative from a company that produces a product called Messenger, which is rather new to the market. He advocated drenching plants with the solution, and then reapplying at regular intervals. There is also a method of "inoculating" seeds before planting. What does this product do? It stimulates plant defenses, so the plants are triggered to think they are being attacked by fungi, etc., which changes their chemical makeup. My first thought upon hearing this? Something like this is doing in the bees. What is happening is that the bees are leaving the hives and not returning, which means they are dying away from the hive. Who's to say the EPA is *wrong*, the proponents of this product are *wrong*, and this stuff is changing the nectar in flowers in some way that is toxic to the bees ingesting it? What crops do the manufacturer mention as benefitted by this product? Cucurbits (cucumber family), citrus, tomatoes, strawberries. These are crops that bees are put on trucks and driven around to pollinate.

I hope I'm not the only person who suspects something like this.

posted by pantload at 4:48 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Blaming the genetic engineering of crops when beekeepers have been doing their own genetic engineering for centuries seems to show a bit of bias.

I'm given to understand there's a fairly significant difference between selective breeding by phenotype, and direct genetic manipulation of genotypes, and that you can get different consequences from the two methods.

Calling them both genetic engineering might be essentially true, but if there are differences, glossing over them doesn't seem helpful towards clearing up any issues, even those that might be stirred up by bias.
posted by weston at 5:08 PM on February 28, 2007

I blame Professor Moriarty.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 6:14 PM on February 28, 2007

Seems like everyone assumes its their own pet enviro cause that is causing this.
posted by smackfu at 6:50 PM on February 28, 2007


We have all been Left Beehind.
posted by sparkletone at 7:16 PM on February 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

God, booksandlibretti, that story is so pathetic. There is nothing more docile than a swarm of honeybees. If the dumbfucks had only called a beekeeper the swarm would be gone and the beekeeper would have a new colony. Beekeepers will take a swarm of honeybees off your property any time, holiday weekend or not, for free. Having kept a bee or two in the past I have a profound respect for the honeybee and utter disdain for anyone who would harm them for entertainment.
posted by Floydd at 8:57 PM on February 28, 2007

Blaming the genetic engineering of crops when beekeepers have been doing their own genetic engineering for centuries seems to show a bit of bias.
posted by three blind mice

Brilliant. Just brilliant.
And by brilliant I mean fuckin' stupid.
posted by Floydd at 9:00 PM on February 28, 2007

As the son of a hobbyist beekeeper involved in the central Texas beekeeping community, I find this news profoundly disturbing. I've had to chase swarms during the summer with my pa and keep people from going crazy and just poisoning them. I've stared into a super of thousands of thousands of bees, shook a bee box into a new hive. I listened to the unnerving buzz of wings come up from some gap in my bee veil. I've been stung all over on the back, done the benadryl chug. I grew up to fear no bee and have respect for them at the same time. And they're dying now...

I remember my pa looking out at the back yard in consternation over varroa mites attacking the colonies. In the summers he'd get concerned over fire ants. He'd broke out the apistan strips when it wasn't enough to give them medicinal food patties.

And it tears me up when I see people killing swarms because they're afraid of bees. I saw Stanford educated students lobbing water balloons at a bee swarm one day. That something awful link makes me angry, angry, angry. What the hell, people?

Food crops in the US will suffer from lack of bees. Do you know how much almond pollination depends upon apis mellifera? What is it, I wonder? Beekeepers are careful about breeding new beelines, but I can't help but wonder if something got in there that shouldn't have. There are too many factors to consider both genetic and otherwise. It's most likely a conglomeration of all the stuff as the wikipedia article states. It's interesting that wax moth and small hive beetle attack is delayed after the hive is abandoned: this speaks maybe to something present in the wax or honey itself.

Baugh... I can't do anything. I don't know enough about it, but it's something incredibly important to me. The commercialization of beekeeping is not news to me, and the New York Times article sounds out concerns that I've heard voiced sitting in on local bee council meetings. But how do you get around the potentially harmful demand for hihg levels of pollination in the US? If it's that and everything that goes along with it that's contributing to colony collapse disorder, commercial beekeepers are going to have to step back and do their best to get bees bred for taking care of their own honey needs.

And then get interest back up in hobbyist beekeeping and bring down the cost of beekeeping. It's really, really expensive now adays, for sure. My pa can't afford it anymore, not with the work he invests in keeping a hive going only to have it die a week later.

Arg... my post is so convoluted, but that's because I'm incredibly upset about it. I don't know enough to do anything about it, but I want to hear that something is being done.

...lazy summer afternoons with the colonies buzzing underneath gnarled oak trees...
posted by Mister Cheese at 9:39 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

God, booksandlibretti, that story is so pathetic. ... Having kept a bee or two in the past I have a profound respect for the honeybee and utter disdain for anyone who would harm them for entertainment.

Sorry if I was a little glib -- what I meant to propose as another contributing cause was idiocy or lack of education. I don't mean people routinely torch swarms, but a lot of people see something black-and-yellow and immediately react with "Henry, get the Raid!"
posted by booksandlibretti at 9:51 PM on February 28, 2007

Spring is coming in the northern hemisphere. Everyone should plant flowers. Even if all you can manage is a window box, that's fine, especially if you can encourage the neighbors to also grow window boxes.
posted by pracowity at 11:33 PM on February 28, 2007

Killing honey bees? WTF?! How can you kill something named 'Honey'?

As a kid, I was terrified of bees. I've gotten mostly over that by means of willful effort. (I sometimes still jump when caught by surprise). I've learned honey bees are totally non-agressive. They accept my help finding their way out of the house here. (HAHAHA! Interupted by hornet flying in window, into my face! I only kill the ones that seek indoors nesting places. Sadly, these are rather pretty ones, here)

I have a date palm in my garden. When it blooms, the bees seriously party. I wonder where they come from.
posted by Goofyy at 11:47 PM on February 28, 2007

imagine what mad cow would have done if cows could fly and lived everywhere in wild herds

Thanks, I will. Should be some interesting dreams tonight.

Also, and IMO IANAE, losing bees == death of our society. We can't have what we have without bees being healthy. Pollination is pretty much essential.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:50 PM on February 28, 2007

Well, I think it's important to determine if all bees everywhere are dying, or if it's just the European Honeybee. We can live without the honeybee, but if all bees declined it would be an ecological catastrophe.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:14 AM on March 1, 2007

Blaming the genetic engineering of crops when beekeepers have been doing their own genetic engineering for centuries seems to show a bit of bias.
posted by three blind mice

Brilliant. Just brilliant.
And by brilliant I mean fuckin' stupid.

What's the problem Floydd? Do you deny that bees have been selectively bred so that a great deal of the natural genetic diversity is gone and that this MAY be a contributing factor to the bees' demise? Seems like a rather obvious possibility to me.

Or are you afraid of anything that challenges the "progressive" orthodoxy that corporate America and global warming (deemed by the scientific community to be very likely caused by man) is to blame? It seems to me, stupid as I am, that the answer is more likely to be found by those who keep an open and skeptical mind about the causes, rather than by those who force preconceived political conclusions into the debate.

But please, continue your "struggling against" scientific inquiry. It's nice to be reminded that religious orthodoxy is not the sole province of the right.
posted by three blind mice at 1:30 AM on March 1, 2007

About 15 years ago I had this weird nightmare about all of us sitting at our computers, hungry and getting thinner and weaker, wondering why were suffering a famine in the Information Age. Damn, I sure hope that wasn't a precog dream like some others I've had.
posted by pax digita at 4:43 AM on March 1, 2007

Losing Their Buzz
posted by homunculus at 1:05 AM on March 4, 2007

Are GM Crops Killing Bees?
posted by homunculus at 12:22 PM on March 27, 2007

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