Since 2007, the decline of an extensive part of the bumble bee population has prompted scientists and beekeepers alike to seek out solutions to what is being called “colony collapse disorder.” Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, states in “Decline and Conservation of Bumble Bees,” a 2008 publication in the Annual Review of Entymology, that “in North America, catastrophic declines of some bumble bee species since the 1990s are probably attributable to the accidental introduction of a nonnative parasite from Europe.” This parasite is called the Verroa Destructor mite.
Reports from the United States Department of Agriculture have revealed that bee colony losses averaged 17-20 percent per year, continuously, from the 1990s to mid-2000s. This dramatic decrease in healthy hives is thought to be due to an invasion of the foreign bee species A. cerana, commonly called Eastern or Asian honey bees, which introduced the Verroa mite to European honey bees.
While the Eastern bee species have a natural defense against Verroa mites, European honey bees are negatively affected by these parasites resulting in a number of disabilities such as wing deformation, larva decrease, shortened lifespans, multiple viruses and even behavioral alterations.
A research survey led by Stephen Martin in 2007 observed the initial spread of mites into Hawaii and the resulting collapse of 274 out of 419 bee colonies within just one year. This was 65 percent of Ohau Island’s bee population, showing the mite’s obvious devastation of bee colonies.
“Bees die out or can’t work as hard because all of their nutrients have been sucked out,” Alma Johnson, local bee farmer and enthusiast said, commenting on the mite invasions. Johnson currently has six beehives out in her yard as well as several more across Sarasota County. Johnson also raises queen bees which could very well turn out to be a vital staple in preserving bee colonies.
“The way the state has been helping out with this issue is through bee inspections and the requirement to have registered bee colonies,” Johnson said. “When you have your own colony inspected it creates awareness of beekeeping and healthy bees and prevents diseases from spreading from hive to hive.”
Elzie Mccord, retired New College Professor of Biology, explained the effect of Verroa mites on honey bees’ respiratory systems. “Because bees are passive breathers, they eliminate carbon dioxide through the trachea system and mites reproduce in this system, weakening bees’ breathing,” Mccord said.
While the Verroa mite is certainly an aggressive enemy to bee populations around the globe, it is wise to evaluate and identify other possible sources of these dramatic bee disappearances. “Decline and Conservation of Bumble Bees” identified the extreme loss of grassland in Iowa. Where there was once 85 percent prairie grasslands, a friendly environment to the European honey bee, there now remains only 0.1 percent of these lands.
“The wholesale price of honey just went up 20 percent. If you’re wanting to know my opinion on what the problem is with ‘Colony Collapse Disorder,’ I would say a combination of GMO plants, pesticides, too much high-fructose corn syrup fed to the bees and maybe even chemtrails,” Deborah Blount, owner of the Four Bees Herb Farm in Sarasota, said in an email interview.
There are many different theories as to what caused this intense decrease in bee populations around the world. “I think it’s a mixture of everything, I can’t say ‘oh this here is why the colonies are collapsing,’” Johnson said. “I personally say it’s all of it.”
Johnson discussed the repercussions of the mass delivery of bee colonies from various places around the United States to the California almond groves. A huge monocrop farm in America, 80 percent of almonds come from these groves; the almond groves need to be pollinated in order to keep up with the demand for California almonds. When these bees all come together in the same environment, various diseases are often spread through common pollination plants and mating between bees from different areas.
“Now that I am a full time beekeeper, I can empathize with people who do this as a career,” Johnson said. “Their whole livelihood depends on that one pollination travel,” she added. The need for queen bees has also prompted commercial beekeepers to alter the process of a developing queen to fit into a tighter schedule and last longer for production needs.
Johnson explained that depending on how healthy and full their colonies are, bee colony distributors will receive a large sum of money or their hives could be completely rejected. Due to this vital decision made for workers in this field, commercial beekeepers often resort to chemical treatments in order to keep their colonies thriving.
Although there has not been a formal solution to Colony Collapse Disorder, prevention and individual attempts at protecting colonies have been in practice for years. Organic treatments such as essential oils and the powdered sugar shake, which prompts bees to groom their bodies more often and shake off possible mites, are common with individual beekeepers.
“I really don’t have an answer to this problem and, you know, I don’t think anyone else does either,” Mccord said. “Before anything can be solved they have to pinpoint the cause [of declining bee populations] and until we have better treatment, the lesser of two evils would be no treatment at all.”