Survival of bees has been a hot topic for the last few years because of the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where whole colonies of bees either die or completely disappear.

There is some wild research going on to determine what might be involved, and there is also the personal side as to what it means to agriculture and beekeepers.

One of the most unusual recent research projects was a look at the possible connection between cell phones and electromagnetic fields and the decline in the honeybee population.

The research abstract explains what was done and found. “Mobile phone handsets were placed in the close vicinity of honeybees. The sound made by the bees was recorded and analyzed. The audiograms and spectrograms revealed that active mobile phone handsets have a dramatic impact on the behavior of the bees, namely by inducing the worker piping signal. In natural conditions, worker piping either announces the swarming process of the bee colony or is a signal of a disturbed bee colony.”

A British bee expert, Norman Carreck, has been quoted as saying he doesn’t think the study proves much of anything related to CCD. “You can knock or hit a beehive and receive the same result this experiment shows and many cases of CCD in the United States have taken place in remote areas where cell phone signals would not be an issue,” a news release from Apidologie, the bee science journal reported.

The CCD problem is no small matter of concern for a large number of farmers in the U.S. as noted in a new book, The Beekeeper’s Lament, in which the life and experiences of a traveling beekeeper are highlighted.

Each year, John Miller leaves his home and family in California for eight months or so, roaming the country and placing thousands of hives in almond, apple, and cherry orchards. He summers are spent in Gackle, N.D., while his bees feast on clover and alfalfa, making honey. Beyond the physical and emotional toll of his migratory lifestyle, and the financial unpredictably of his livelihood, Miller’s spirit is threatened by catastrophic and confounding hive losses, too., the book promotion explains.

Farmers depend on honey bees to pollinate 90 different fruits and vegetables, from almonds to lettuce to blueberries to canola—nearly $15 billion worth of crops a year, it is noted. “Without the honey bee, our nation’s harvest would be much less bountiful and the American diet would be much less appetizing,” it is noted by the book’s author, Hannah Nordhaus, who lives in Boulder, Colo., and is more of an outdoor writer than someone familiar with agriculture.

Drawing on interviews with beekeeping experts and scientific studies, the book delves into unproven theories and some environmental activist opinions. In the author’s own words, here is what the book addresses:           

  • Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the culprit behind the recent tide of inexplicable and intolerable honey bee carnage. (Since 2006, a third of the national bee herd—about a million colonies—has died each year.) Although scientists are still working to unravel the CCD mystery, no single factor can be blamed for the malady. As Nordhaus reveals, the list of suspects includes mites (particularly the nasty, adaptable varroa mite), pesticides, a dearth of flower-rich wild meadows, a nutritionally-deficient bee diet of low-cost corn syrup, and the weather. “I still go back to the death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts theory,” says Miller. “That it’s some combination of stress, pathogens, chemical materials, overstimulation, near starvation—an accumulation of what we do.”                         
  • The precarious future of beekeeping. Fifteen years ago, Miller estimates, there were 5,000 commercial beekeepers—defined by those who manage more than three hundred hives and make their living primarily from beekeeping, producing at least six thousand pounds of honey per year. Today, the number of professional bee guys (and gals) has dropped by more than three quarters. “Just as mites and disease have ravaged the profession, so have demographics,” notes Nordhaus. Over the past five decades, people have left beekeeping in droves, to move to cities and because there are so many better ways to make a living.

                                                       

Interesting facts about honeybees, honey and the industry per author Nordhaus:

  • Honey bees help pollinate more than 90 fruits and vegetables—one third of the nation’s crops, including blueberries, cherries, watermelon, canola, lettuce, and especially almonds.
  • Without bees, an almond orchard can be expected to produce about 40 pounds per acre. With bees, that total is closer to 3000 pounds per acre.
  • Most commercial beekeepers make more money in three weeks of almond pollination than they do for the rest of the year.
  • Honey bees are not native to North America. They came over with the English colonists in the 1620s.
  • Honey bees let off a banana smell when they sting you.
  • The worst thing you can do when you’re stung by a bee is to run around in circles. It is better to run in a straight line, away from the bees.
  • An even worse thing is to jump into a body of water. The bees wait for you and sting your mouth and nose when you emerge.
  • A queen bee can lay up to 3,000 eggs a day.
  • A colony can grow from 10,000 to 60,000 bees in a matter of weeks.
  • Africanized “killer” bees were created inadvertently by a Brazilian biologist in 1956.
  • To make one pound of honey, a colony of bees will travel a collective 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers.
  • When conditions are good, a colony can collect more than 30 pounds of honey in a single day.
  • The average honey bee will produce about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
  • Ripe honey will not ferment and if stored properly can last for decades, even centuries, without spoiling.
  • International honey laundering is a serious criminal problem. Seriously.