“Bee gone” (Colony collapse disorder)


For 10 years, European and American beekeepers have been experiencing larger than expected losses in their populations. After leaving for the winter, more bees than before are failing to return to the hive. This has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder.

Scientists have a pretty good idea what is causing the problem, but because of its complexity, are unsure of the precise manner to attack it. A USDA release identified the probable culprits: Invasive mites, insect pests, pathogens, pesticides, the Africanization of managed colonies, and nutritional deficiencies that are due to the lack of forage. Unfortunately, having a good idea as to the cause doesn’t translate into an easy fix. There are a number of complexities to weave through. There are many invasive mites and pathogens, for instance, and deducing which ones might impact CCD requires significant research. Also, many of the culprits overlap and untangling all this is arduous.

By way of comparison, bark beetles have caused a reduction in the number of coniferous trees in the western United States. However, targeting bark beetles would not be enough of a strategy. The insects are endemic to conifers, but drought is what’s causing the trees to be susceptible. Without the drought, the trees would be able to thwart the beetles. Without the beetles, the trees would survive the drought. But combined, the beetles and drought are lethal to the trees. And this involves only two factors, both of which are known. CCD is much more complicated, involving at least six factors, each of which have multiple components. Solving CCD will take time, effort, research, and money.

While this happens, some persons will pounce on this opportunity to advance a pseudoscientific agenda. No good tragedy can go to waste without Monsanto being pegged as the perpetrator. According to many a meme, the bees are being killed off due to Roundup. However, this is a herbicide, meaning it operates on a plant enzyme that is not present in bees. Furthermore, its use is inconsistent with the geography and temporal nature of Colony Collapse Disorder.

No anti-GMO claim has been backed by sound science, so let’s continue that trend by blaming GMOs on CCD. The accusation is that the bees pollinate genetically modified crops, which in turn poison the bees. But genetic modification transfers agricultural benefit, not poison, to a crop. A meta-analysis of independent studies showed that GMOs were not effecting bee survival. Besides, GMOs also lack geographical and temporal correlation with bee colonies.

Anyone sharing links about Roundup or GMOs’ role in the Beepocalypse had best not do so on their cell phone. According to a third reactionary rumor, cell phone signals are the reason the swarming, stinging insects are disappearing. But since these signals are non-ionizing radiation, they won’t change an electron’s orbit. This means they are unable to trigger a chemical reaction, and so are harmless to living creatures, a group that includes bees.

Roundup, GMOs, and cell phones are frequently assailed in alt-med and conspiracy circles, but if preferring a less traditional target in this case, consider torison physics.   This fabricated field rests on the notion the quantum spin of particles can cause emanations lacking mass and energy to carry information through vacuums faster than warp. As to what that has to do with CCD, the idea is that the emanations are disorienting the bees, causing them to wonder from the hive forever. This is a case of Tooth Fairy Science, where an assertion is made about a phenomenon without bothering to establish that the phenomenon exists.

Back in reality, scientists are employing different approaches, such as trying to determine what pesticides, and at what dosages, produce which effects, and how this can combat CCD. In one success, a British apiarist developed a strain of bees that proved resistant to varroa mites. I anticipate a counterargument that it’s because the bees don’t use cell phones.

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