“This is totally new and no one knows what the cause is,” said veteran beekeeper and retired Indiana University biologist George Hegeman. “The bees just disappear from the hive, leaving behind all of their stores, the nectar, the pollen and the baby bees.
“In the past, we’ve had problems but we’ve had dead bees,” he said. “This is completely different. The bees just disappear. We don’t know where they went or why they didn’t come back.”
As spring moves across the southern states to the northern ones, many beekeepers travel with the pollination season like carnival troupes, ensuring farmers that the bees will be on hand to pollinate their crops at what is often a short and critical time for optimal agricultural production…
“It’s a nicotine-based pesticide that is primarily used in the areas where the most migrant pollinators are used — which incidentally is where the greatest losses are being seen,” he said. “It seems to make the bees disoriented and would account for them not finding their way back to the hives.
“That’s all conjecture,” he added. “I think once the real problem can be isolated, the resources are available to attack the source.”
Is New Pesticide Less Than Bee-nign?
Dave Hackenberg, a Pennsylvania commercial beekeeper whose bees have pollinated wild Maine blueberry crops for decades, was the first in the nation to report the mysterious disappearance of millions of honeybees this winter.
He is blaming a newer class of pesticides touted as being more environmentally benign.
Hackenberg, who has supplied beehives to Jasper Wyman & Son and other Maine wild blueberry growers since the 1960s, suspects neo-nicotinoids may have triggered â€œcolony collapse disorderâ€ and the mass abandonment of hundreds of thousands of bee colonies around the country this winter.
The insecticides, increasingly used to treat agricultural crops ranging from corn to wheat, are favored because they isolate specific pests.
Hackenberg, who is contracted to supply more than 10,000 beehives from his own stock and from seven other commercial apiaries next month to Jasper Wyman & Son, reports honeybees now are failing to return to their hives in some Florida citrus groves sprayed with neo-nicotinoids. Speaking this week from Florida, where his bees have been pollinating cantaloupe crops and he has been rebuilding his decimated stock, he says neo-nicotinoids break down beesâ€™ immune systems and cause memory loss and other side effects.
â€œItâ€™s something weâ€™ve never seen before. Itâ€™s just like someone swept the hives out with a sweeper,â€ the 58-year-old beekeeper said by cell phone Monday while at work in the cantaloupe fields. â€œItâ€™s just astounding. Itâ€™s mind-boggling.â€
Pesticides may be hurting honeybees: researcher
Researchers at the University of Illinois think they may be on track to linking the bee losses with increased pesticide use.
May Berenbaum, head of the entomology department at the university, said chemicals may be causing bees to forget the way home.
“There are some neurotoxic insecticides that can interfere with honeybee memory, and that might be manifested in disruption of their orientation and navigation abilities,” Berenbaum said.
It’s too soon to say exactly which pesticide may be causing the problem, but there is evidence that points to new synthetic pesticides called neonicotinoids, Berenbaum said. Studies in France have already shown some link between the products and a declining bee population, she said.
The neonicotinoids are newly designed synthetic chemicals that act essentially against the nervous system,” Berenbaum said. “They’re relatively new and they have been shown in lab studies to impact honeybee behaviour.”
More tests need to be done and the honeybee problems may end up being traced to dozens of pesticides in the air, Berenbaum said.