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Cell Phones Are Off the Hook For Colony Collapse Disorder in Bees

By Roberta
[Friday, July 20, 2007]

Last spring a rumor circulating on the Internet claimed that cell phone towers were responsible for the sudden disappearance of the worker bees and total collapse of 25% of the nations 2.4 million bee colonies (New York Times April 23, 2007). I have never traced the rumor directly but it appears to be related to a dubious report from a scientist in Germany who linked the death of bees to the use of cell phones, more precisely the cell phone towers. Much like what would happen in a game of “Gossip,” the report passed from email to blog to email, and before long people were talking about ditching their cell phones to save the bees.

To be sure, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is real, but it is not caused by cell phone towers, neither is it caused by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), parasitic varroa mites, and unusual weather patterns (Chemical and Engineering News; Why are the Bees Dying June 18, 2007). We can also rule out the honey bee “rapture” as a foreshadowing of things to come and secret plots by Russia or Osama Bin Laden to destroy American agriculture.

Presently, we still are not sure what is happening to the bees, but we do know that when CCD strikes, it does so very rapidly. A seemingly healthy hive can be abandoned by worker bees in two weeks or sometimes in two days. The queen and immature pupae are left alone with only a handful of young bees to care for them. Soon they die. The honey is not disturbed, and few, if any, dead worker bees are found around the hive.

While CCD was first reported along the East Coast of USA, it appears to trace its roots to California where nearly half the hives in the USA are shipped annually to pollinate the almond crop. From there the hives may be shipped to other parts of California to pollinate other crops, to the state Washington to apple and cherry orchards, back to the Dakotas for honey production, etc. So, approximately 50% of all domestic honey bees in the country make their way by truck to the almond groves of California. What a perfect setup for a pathogen to spread across the USA and on to the rest of the world. CCD has been reported in much of Europe and Taiwan.

The attention has turned to four potential culprits or some combination thereof:

  • Pathogens
  • Poor nutrition
  • Exposure to toxins such as pesticides
  • Stress

One hypothesis suggests that the bee immune systems might be compromised as a result of being shipped long distances to different climates, poor nutrition (from sugar water supplements provided in the spring to hasten their return to pollination and feeding upon a single pollen source (almond trees) for extended periods) and pesticides. A relatively new chloro-nicotinyl insecticide, called Imidacloprid, has been suggested as a possible culprit. It kills other insects by causing disorientation and immune system collapse. The list of possible pathogens that might take advantage of such a situation has been narrowed down from an original pool of 50 possible viruses, bacteria and fungi, to four or five that might work synergistically with one of the afore mentioned stressors to bring down the hive.

While the jury is still out, it is hoped that the cause or causes of CCD can be identified in the near future. On the other hand, Mary R. Berenbaum of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has suggested the outside possibility that the CCD episode will just pass and nobody will ever figure out exactly what happened (Chemical and Engineering News; Why are the Bees Dying June 18, 2007).


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