Where did the bees go?

Imagine that you’re a beekeeper. The bees are buzzing, the sun is shining, the flowers are in full bloom, and ­— if everything goes well — you’ll have a plentiful harvest at the end of the season. Then, one day, a massive number of bees simply never to return to the hive. Naturally, you are shocked and confused — you need the bees to pollinate your crops and for their honey. You must either buy new bees or rent them from other farmers at a high premium. You now end up with a measly harvest compared to the bumper crop you had anticipated, in addition to the financial burden of procuring new bees.

Losing a large portion of bees in a hive is nothing short of a tragedy for the farmers and beekeepers whose livelihoods rely on them. Unfortunately, the occurrence has become much more frequent than one would like. Over the past six years, the number of bees disappearing from hives has risen substantially. This change has been steadily progressing, regardless of seasonal shifts. This is known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

CCD is characterized by hives that have very few worker bees remaining, but still have a living queen. While they are largely bereft, some hives may still have honey left in them. Despite the free food available, other insects seem to be wary of entering a hive that has been subject to CCD, which has been attributed to an as yet unknown factor scaring them away. The phenomenon has become incredibly widespread, with regular reports of CCD appearing in North America and Europe. While historically there have been other instances of bees disappearing, none have been as severe or widespread as the current outbreak.

CCD is a major concern for the agricultural industry, as well as for everyday consumers. Bees are necessary for pollinating a vast number of farmed crops — including many fruits, veggitables, flowers, tree nuts, berries, and for honey and beeswax. You have almost certainly consumed multiple items today that those buzzy busybodies played a vital role in creating. It is evident that CCD has had a catastrophic impact on food production, consumption, and the economic stability of the agricultural industry. It is still not clear why CCD occurs. Several theories and causes have been proposed, but the disease seems to be the result of numerous factors acting in tandem to drive the bees away. Suspected culprits include a parasitic mite called Varroa destructor, habitat loss, and pesticides such as neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids have been the subject of controversy over the past couple of years, resulting in a European Union ban until there is more research on the extent of harm they cause. The rise in urban beekeeping may also play some role in CCD due to greater competition for limited plant resources.

So what can we do to save the bees? At this point, further research is the best option that we have. Other than that, plant more flowers — bees will appreciate the nectar and pollen, and you, in turn, can enjoy their delicious honey.

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