Honey Bees Have a Tough Union

The workers bees are showing us who's the boss when it comes to agriculture. Flying off the job, leaving their queen alone in the hive, the bees are simply not doing what they are told. What is worse, other critters are joining in the picket line, as no one will touch the honey bees nectar (usually a sought after commodity). That makes me a wee bit nervous. Why won't other animals eat the honey, what don't we know? Treehugger has been concerned with the loss of our honey bee buddies, not only have we been busy making little Tinfoil hats to protect them from cell phone radiation, but have been on our toes to see what will happen next (here, here, here, here, etc.. ). The latest news out of the scientific community is not encouraging. This weeks Science News covered the developments of the bee's plight, and our best efforts to understand why the little guys walked off the job.Is it normal for bees to have massive die-offs?

Yes. There is scientific evidence going back to 1897 that bee colonies do on occasion die-off. There is even evidence for massive country wide epidemics of die-offs in the 1960's and 70's. This does not mean that today's die-off is the same, records are not as complete as one might hope. The massive die-off today looks a bit different in terms of global scale, but until recently not many beekeepers could talk to everyone around the world, so this may just be the first time we have had a global community that is observing a natural die-off. Or maybe not.

What might be causing the die-off?

That's the question everyone wants answered. And there are no good answers- yet. Scientists suspect everything from 'feedlot' sickness, to toxicity, to stress. Unlike global warming there hasn't been scientific unity on the issue. Nothing has shown itself a single reason, and it very well may be a whole host of problems that add up. From climate change, to contaminated syrup, it simply looks like the bees will not take the abuse and went on strike.

Is there anything we can do?

Getting better data is key. We need efforts to monitor the movement of hives that are trucked around the U.S. We need regular testing of honey, honeycomb, bees, and the plants and environments they rely on for food. This type of comprehensive systems analysis is gaining strength in the scientific community- and researchers have called for a $2 million study of bee health by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The same study was proposed last year, but was not funded.

The hive has spoken- fund the research. ::Science (subscription)

Tags: Honey

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