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What is Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder and What Can we do About it?

Updated on May 5, 2016
Sherry Hewins profile image

I am a student of life and of history. By studying the past, we prepare for the future.

European Honey Bee

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What's Happening to the Honey Bees?

The European Honey Bee is not a native of North America, but when the Europeans came to this continent, the Honey Bee was not far behind. There is a written record of Honey Bees being shipped to Jamestown in 1621. The bees were first brought here to make honey for the settlers, but soon after their arrival in the New World, a wild population was established, it thrived for most of the history of this country. Over time the bees' ability to pollinate crops became even more important than their ability to make honey.

Throughout most of US history, farmers have relied on wild bees, including feral honey bees and native bees, for pollination. But in the last few decades, modern, industrial farming has come to depend heavily upon beekeepers to provide bees for pollination of a large variety of crops, often trucking them hundreds or thousands of miles to do the job. It's not hard to imagine that this doesn't provide ideal living conditions for the bees.

Often cited as the epitome of managed-bee dependent crops, is the California almond crop. Almond trees have a very short bloom period, and they all tend to bloom at the same time, a time when wild bees are not normally active. Most of the managed honey bees in the entire country are brought to California in the early spring to pollinate almond trees.

Between 1972 and 2006 the wild honey bee declined to the point where they are now virtually nonexistent. The decimation of the wild honey bee population is generally blamed on two different species of mites; the Tracheal mite and the Varroa mite.

With the disappearance of the wild honey bee, farmers became even more dependent on captive honey bees for pollination. But those bee populations too, have been declining for decades. Honey bees were in trouble even before 2006, that was when beekeepers began to report an unusual phenomenon. Worker bees would leave the colony to forage and never return, leaving the queen and the young behind to die. No dead worker bees were found at the nest sites, they simply disappeared. Some beekeepers have lost as many as 80% of their hives. This has come to be know as Colony Collapse Disorder.

It seems as though solving the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder is going to be very difficult unless a specific cause can be found. Many experts feel that it is likely a combination of factors, rather than one single cause.

The USDA has formed a CCD Steering Committee. They have developed an action plan comprised of these four components:

  • Survey and Data Collection
  • Analysis of Samples
  • Hypothesis-Driven Research
  • Mitigative and Preventative Measures which include:
    Improving bee habitat
    Maintaining pathogen
    resistant bees
    Improving regulatory protections

2013 - An Extremely Bad Year for Bees

Monsanto and the Honey Bee - Conspiracy Theory or the Future?

In September of 2011, giant, biotech corporation, Monsanto bought a small company called Beeologics. It had been working on an anti-viral medication for bees called Remebee® it was designed to prevent infection by the ‘Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus,’ which is suspected to be a factor in CCD (colony collapse disorder).

According to the Beeologics website the expertise of Beeologics is going to help Monsanto "further explore the use of biologicals." Judging by some of the buzz going on on the web, it seems that some people are suspicious of Monsanto.

Based on their previous behavior related to their GMO soybeans and other seeds, perhaps Monsanto plans to insert genes into bees, bees that are designed to be immune to their poisons, so they can control the pollinators, claim them as their property, and sue people who's bees may cross breed with their genetically modified bees. Of course, this is all speculation, Monsanto claims there are no such plans.

In spite of intensive research, the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder has so far been an elusive mystery. Theories put forth by researchers include:

  • Varroa mite
  • Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus
  • Nosema (a gut parasite)
  • Pesticide Poisoning
  • Bee Management Stress
  • Loss of Foraging Habitat
  • Poor Nutrition
  • Suppressed Immunity

Clothianidin

Monsanto also manufactures a seed coating that is used with an insect neurotoxin called clothianidin. The coating is used to adhere clothianidin to seeds.

Clothianidin was developed by Bayer Corporation to kill rootworms in corn and other crops. Bayer’s own studies indicated that clothianidin was very poisonous to bees, but the company claimed that since it would be on the seed, under the ground, it could not affect flying insects.

In 2008, after bee keepers Germany reported a massive die off of honey bees linked to clothianidin, the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection suspended its registration. Some French studies suggest that sub-lethal doses of clothianidin disrupt bees' foraging activity and causes them to become disoriented.

Studies conducted in 2012 have shown that pesticide dust stirred up during the planting process may contaminate adjacent land and remain there for years, where it may be drawn up into non-crop plants and ingested by bees or other insects.

Clothianidin is a neonicotinoid, it is chemically similar to nicotine. Nicotine has been used as a pesticide for over 200 years. Neonicotinoids have gotten a lot of press lately as a possible cause for CCD. However, there still is no definitive scientific answer as to what is causing CCD.

Plan Bee: Native Bees

Before the European bees were introduced, there were already several thousand native species of bees in North America. Native species are great pollinators. They are better adapted to the environment and are able to forage in harsher weather conditions and on a per-visit basis are actually more efficient pollinators than honey bees are.

Native bees are not social bees, they do not live in large colonies, so they are less vulnerable to diseases and pests, but there are not enough of them to provide all of the pollination needed for the type of industrial farming usually practiced today. Also, native bees are also not so easy to manipulate. You can't put them in a truck and transport them across the state.

Bumble Bee on Thistle

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Is it possible for native bees take over the job honey bees have been doing?

Well, not exactly. UC Berkeley Professor Clare Kremen, studied native bees in Yolo County, in the Central Valley of California for 10 years. Her team looked at bees in a variety of farms. Some of the farms studied had plenty of natural bee habitat nearby, others were completely surrounded by agricultural land. Some were organic farms, others were industrial agricultural enterprises.

They studied the number and diversity of bee specimens that visited each farm. Her study found that 80% of organic farms near natural bee habitat were adequately pollinated by native bees. 50% of conventional farms near natural habitat were adequately pollinated by native bees. None of the conventional farms and very few of the organic farms in exclusively agricultural areas got significant pollination by native bees.

This study would seem to indicate that if we expect native bees to do more of the work honey bees have been doing, farming practices will have to change. Some things that can be done are: allow cover crops to flower, put strips of flowering plants between fields, and leave areas of undisturbed soil. Leaving dead trees and creating hedgerows, making nesting boxes, planting more diverse crops and using less pesticides would also be beneficial for native bees.

Wild Bees

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Things you can do make your yard a hospitable place for native bees.

  • Avoid Pesticides - they are harmful to bees
  • Avoid Herbicides - let those flowering weeds grow, they provide food for bees
  • Provide water and mud - many species of bee use mud to build nests
  • Avoid mowing - it kills bees
  • Try clover instead of grass - bees love it
  • Leave undisturbed areas in your yard - bees need them for nesting
  • Plant more flowers - more flowers - more nectar
  • Use bright colors - they are attractive to bees
  • Allow native species to grow - native plants are the ones the native bees are best adapted to, leave some of those dandelions and thistles they provide food for bees when there's not much else around
  • Encourage plant diversity - different bees have different needs, plant diversity encourages bee diversity
  • Keep a succession of flowers in bloom - especially in spring and autumn bees may have a hard time finding food
  • Live and let live - if bees choose an inconvenient place to nest, try to work around it

Bee on Lavender

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© 2012 Sherry Hewins

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    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      osaeoppongde: thank for visiting my hub. Colony Collapse Disorder is a difficult problem without any easy answers. I know many beekeepers are struggling to maintain their hives. I think lots of species lose their way (have navigational problems) for different reasons, including excessive noise, light, chemicals and a variety of environmental reasons. It can certainly take it's toll on a species that is already under stress.

    • osaeoppongde profile image

      Deborah L. Osae-Oppong 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Great post! My husband asked me if the bees had stopped making honey, since he couldn't find it in the store. Apparently, he's right! Or rather, there are less bees to make honey. Also, it seems that this is a problem in other species as well, including bats, birds and fish!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thanks for your comment azxiza86. It seems like there's a lot of evidence pointing to pesticides being a contributing factor. All these environmental factors you mention also weaken the bees and make them more vulnerable. It's just not a simple problems I'm afraid. I appreciate the up vote.

    • aziza786 profile image

      Zia Uddin 4 years ago

      Bees declining in the world is a big concern. I think it's all the pollution emitted from vehicles, factories and most of all the radiation from telecommunication towers which may also cause this to happen. Good article, voted up.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      I had a lot of them this summer too. Maybe they are making a comeback! I also had more flowers than usual. They particularly loved the ajuga right by my kitchen door. Watching them I could see where the expression busy as a bee came from. Thanks for visiting my hub billybuc.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      We actually saw more honeybees this summer than we have seen in a very long time. I have no idea why, but it was definitely noticeable, which is a good sign. Great job; very informative!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thanks for commenting. I hope we will be able to deal with is somehow if the bees all die, but I also hope it never comes to that.

    • Galadriel Arwen profile image

      Galadriel Arwen 5 years ago from USA

      "Einstein is supposed to have said humanity would have four years once the bees were gone." We need to evaluate our use of ariel sprays now before it's too late!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      I've wondered the same thing Dolores. It's a scary thought.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      You have to wonder if genetically modified plants with "built-in" insecticides have also hurt the bee population.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thanks you BonnyC. I don't think CCD will cause the end of the world, but it is affecting food production. Hopefully either the bee population will recover or farmers will adjust their methods to compensate. I've been having some pollination issues in my own yard. I don't think it's necessary to stop mowing altogether, as long as there are large areas that are left undisturbed. I think a creek is good for bees as usually there is some natural vegetation along it, and some bees need mud for nesting.

    • BonnyC profile image

      BonnyC 5 years ago from Georgia

      First off, thanks for taking the time to write this hub, Sherry. It's not only an excellent source of information, it's quite enlightening.

      My mother has told me about this, but I haven't really researched it since I have a black thumb anyway. She believes that it could be the cause of the end of the world, but she's sort of an alarmist, though I love her dearly. It does seem to be a big concern, though.

      This subject has recently come to my attention because my grandfather-in-law just bought some bees to help his garden. Well, it's either a giant garden or a mini farm. He grows crops every year on two large plots in our yard and, while he's given us a ton of fresh crops in the past, he's having a really hard time producing anything anymore. I'm going to print this out for him to read since he only knows that fewer bees = fewer crops. He might be hurting his own crops by not giving them the best environment to thrive.

      He always mows our yard religiously every year as soon as the first shoots of grass start popping up. We do have a ton of clover near the gardens, though. They're also right by a creek, I wonder if that has any effect on the bees?

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Bees and wasps are not really the same thing, wasps are not very good at pollination. They are said to be of some use as pest control. They eat larvae, but in the situation you describe they may be more of a nuisance than the pests they feed on.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 5 years ago from sunny Florida

      So glad you shared this information, Sherry. If each of us does a little we can make some difference. Dandelions are in full bloom in my yard and in the side field ...the side field does not get mowed so they have a LOT of space to do their bee things. We must be ever mindful of the tips you provided so we do not lose these little critters.

    • thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

      thoughtfulgirl2 5 years ago from East Coast

      Hi there,

      I am a gardener and I too am concerned about the bees. Isn't it sad that unless we are hit over the head with a disaster we just don't pay attention? P.S. I always leave my dandelions for the bees. Bless the bees!!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      I love dandelions, they are so cheerful looking, besides the benefit to bees. I'm glad to hear the bees are doing well in your area. Thanks so much for your comment.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      That's great techygran, I do weedeat some of my property as the weed just get too tall, but I keep a lot of the area natural. I have some Ajuga flowers outside my door that the the bees are just loving.

    • profile image

      Brian Collins 5 years ago

      I may have to change my outlook. I install satellite tv systems. Wasps like to nest in the masts so I have to kill many of them to get to damaged equipment and repair it without being stung . I will try harder to work around them.

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      We are very bee friendly at our home. We leave plenty of dandelions and thistle for them and never spray our lawns. Consequently our bee population appears healthy and happy! But I realize it is a problem with major ramifications else where. Excellent, well researched hub!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Sherry, brilliant topic covered well in a well-designed hub! Congratulations on HOTD as well! I am going to let my yard run to clovers, I just decided after reading this. We have a huge ugly expanse of lawn over our 'septic field' that must be mowed frequently, etc., and that serves no beneficial purpose apart from covering the septic field with something green. I'm not sure if clover is okay on a septic field... have to check to see about that. I have told my husband that I want a meadow and not a green desert in the back. I'll get him to read this article as well. My little add-in to the dialogue: a bee-expert we went to hear speak said that it is good for the bees if you let some (or all) of your garden veggies bloom and go to seed.. the blooms are good transitional sources of nectar/pollen in the Spring until other blooms get going, and helpful throughout the year. I really appreciate the suggestion of not to mow-- it works right in with my yard vision. Thank you.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Debuquedogtrainer, bees especially seem to like purple and blue, I have some blue flowers in my front yard that are just swarming with bees right now, I'll have to find out the name of them.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      markbennis, I remember some talk about that, but from what I have read most scientists seem to think the pesticides are more of an issue, as well as it being a combination of factors. I truly hope it's not cell phones, because it would be hard to put that Genie back in the bottle.

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 5 years ago from Northeastern United States

      I was just reminiscing with a friend this week about honey bees. When we were little kids, we couldn't go barefoot in the yard because the honey bees were all over the clover. We'd get stung stepping on them. We did cut our lawn but the clover would soon bloom again and the honey bees were plentiful. Not only don't you see them any more, I don't even see clover in lawns.

      Great hub! Voted up, useful and shared on Stumbleupon too!

    • Dubuquedogtrainer profile image

      Dubuquedogtrainer 5 years ago from Dubuque, Iowa

      Interesting hub - congratulations on receiving the HOTD Award! Bees are very important and it is helpful to know what we can do to help prevent their habitat and prevent their disappearance. I used to love gardening but no longer have one. Still I am encouraged to plant a few flowers after reading this article.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I have plenty of clover, and some Dandelions as well. Bees are so important! They are such interesting insects. I always love learning about social insects. Great Hub! Congratulations.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 5 years ago from Georgia

      Hello, I read your article with interest. I've done some research on the honey bee disappearance also. National Public Radio had an entomologist on just yesterday. Her theory was that the collapse is probably a combination of many things, including less planting of clover fields in farming, pesticides and mites and viruses. I really like your suggestion of planting clover for grass. Easier to care for and heartier. My neighbors will just have to get used to the idea. Chemically treated green grass won't make honey, but clover will help the honey bees do that. Well done!

    • profile image

      markbennis 5 years ago

      Great hub with lots of useful information too, for which I have learnt so much about our Bees, and their plight. I heard a rumour and obviously I cannot and do not know how credible it is but anyway, this rumour suspects the Bees are effected by the onslaught of all the mobile phones and their highly volatile signal masts on top of buildings and such?

      Could there be a connection with excessive radio and microwave signals and the Bees navigational system, food for thought?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This is a very important and somewhat scary topic because of what the colony collapse will mean for all animal life on earth regarding food sources if we do not figure out the cause and correct it soon. Well deserved HOTD! Congratulations! Voted up, interesting, useful and will SHARE.

    • klanguedoc profile image

      Kevin Languedoc 5 years ago from Canada

      I didn't know very much bees before today. I often thought they were a nuisance but now I realize how important they are in the circle of life. We often take life and its creatures for granted not knowing the impact they have on all our lives and our well being.

    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 5 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      Good hub, Sherry...voted up, useful, interesting and beautiful (for the pics). My theory is that all those workers just decided to go on vacation and never returned. I've been a friend of bees for decades, but mortal enemy of yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, (having been stung 25 times with resultant residual nerve damage)and carpenter bees that bore into building woodwork. Well, Eden is past, so we have to deal wisely with what we've got.

      Oh, if Monsanto did not come up with the idea, their opponents were kind enough to give it to them, I guess! ;)

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      Hi Sherry - great article, with lots of useful information. Interesting about Monsanto's research - I don't trust them at all! I am also concerned about the fate of bees here in England, it's not just the commercial honey bees that are under threat, bumblebees and other wild solitary bees are in decline too. I have also written a hub about this - "Choosing garden flowers to encourage bees", so I have incorporated a link to this hub in it.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thanks for your comment Irob. I have read articles in several periodicals that claim to have the cause, but then the next month there is another that claims a different cause. I read one that cited a study showing that Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus and Nosema in combination were to blame, where most bees were able to survive only one or the other. But, a year later other hypotheses are still being tested. I have also seen claims that the pesticide clothianidin in sub-lethal doses is the cause.

    • Irob profile image

      Irob 5 years ago from St. Charles

      Please note that in the MArch 2012 issue just out on Newstands, of Scientific American a surprising new clue was found in the cause of this problem, discovered by accident. Scientist now believe that there are two causes combining and have been able to test this so far on colonies that have collpased.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thanks whonunuwho, I have noticed that some of my fruit trees no longer bear fruit, and my zucchini plants grow beautiful flowers but no zucchini. I fear it is a pollination problem. I am going to make more of an effort to attract native bees this spring. Although lots of research is taking place it seems there are no easy answers.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 5 years ago from United States

      I feel that we can resolve the problem of the loss of our bees by placing them in colonies in a sheltered structure, such as a glass dome, filled with all the needs that life forms require. We will have to make a concerted effort in saving the colonies remaining because they are so vital to our own survival in pollination of plant life on this planet. Butterflies, humming birds, and wind all help pollinate, yet the honey bee, as well as an assortment of other insects and larger bees provide a service for all other living things by their transfer of pollen, as they move from flower to flower. The African bees will have to be controlled and not allowed to cross-breed with the European variety. It is well established that we depend upon the bees for helping to fertilize our food crops and beautiful flowering plants. Through an accident several years ago and an experiment gone wrong, the African bees were allowed to escape and since then, have migrated to a greater portion of North America, and are causing havoc by cross breeding and attacking animal life, including people. It has been claimed the a type of virus is infecting the bees and is one cause of colony collapse. We need to do much research on this and target it as being vital to survival of all animal species!

      On a personal note, I have noticed that the usual tomato and vegetable crops that we have enjoyed in the past three years have been down quite a bit and not as many bees and butterflies seem to be about pollinating as usual. I wonder if other species of flying insects are also being affected by some source and all may be in danger of becoming extinct if we don't act very soon to help prevent this grave issue.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 5 years ago from Sweden

      This is a great and interesting article about an important topic and a very good answer to the question! I can not imagine what our world as we know it, would be without the bees and we must all do what we can to help. The first thing is to increase knowledge because I still meet people who automatically kills bees on their property without thinking. This hub will help the bees and I hope many read this! voted up and sharing

      Tina