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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Flight Of Bee

Billy Davis of Virginia, US, used to breed cattle. Now he raises honeybees. Which carry more weight? Bees, of course. Through their industry and sheer numbers, these pollinators give us almost a third of our food.
So the sudden and mysterious disappearance of the bee might sound like fare for a sci-fi horror film. But this is happening across the US, attributed to a new and deadly malady named colony collapse disorder, or CCD.

Most people don’t think about this, but bees make possible the mass production of apples, peaches, beans, squash and almonds, to name a few of life’s staples. In my garden, the honeybees secure the fruit set on my cucumber and squash plants, allow the hellebores to seed profusely, bring about the apples of September, and give the gift of berries to the birds in fall and winter. This may not be the mega-business of agriculture, but it is part of our tenuous connection to nature in this urban existence. Hug a bee, I say.

Under the CCD scenario, worker bees fly off in search of pollen and nectar, but their homing instruments, usually good for miles, fail them and they vanish. Other bees assigned duties within a hive take over the foraging role, until they, too, disappear. In a few days, the tens of thousands of bees in a healthy colony dwindle to a few hundred and then just to the queen and her attendants. A beekeeper will crack open the lid of a hive and peer into honeycombed frames full of stored pollen and honey and with cells brimming with ghostly white bee larvae, abandoned and doomed, and see none of the quivering mass of honeybees needed for the queen and her offspring to survive. It is the equivalent of encountering that 19th-century ghost ship, the Mary Celeste, except we are talking whole armadas of empty hives.

Beekeepers are alarmed by the speed and scale of the losses. The Apiary Inspectors of America estimate CCD has claimed a quarter of the estimated 2.4 million hives nationwide since last fall. In Pennsylvania, beekeepers who reported CCD symptoms lost an average 73 percent of their hives. In Virginia, winter losses averaged approximately 40 per cent, about 10 per cent higher than normal, though the state doesn’t ask beekeepers to assign cause, said Keith Tignor, the state apiarist. Maryland’s apiarist, Jerry Fischer, said only half the state’s 9,000 bee colonies survived the winter, but the high losses are attributed to wild swings in weather rather than CCD.

Beekeepers I talk to believe this ever-shifting existence creates stresses that weaken a colony’s resistance to pests and diseases, especially when you mass them all together. “When you put everyone in a room they all come down with the same flu,” said Pat Haskell, a beekeeper in Annandale, Virginia.

But the actual cause—the subject of intense scientific detective work—has yet to be determined. Many theories have been floated, including one that cellphone microwaves were wrecking the bees’ radar. Davis wonders whether it is some fungus. One notion with currency in the blogosphere is that the bees are making their rapturous ascent into heaven in advance of Judgment Day.
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Posted by Ajay :: 11:22 AM :: 2 comments

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