Colony Collapse Disorder
from Wikipedia Website

Colony Collapse Disorder (or CCD) is a little understood phenomenon in which worker bees in a beehive or Western honey bee colony abruptly disappear.

CCD was originally found only in Western honey bee colonies in North America. European beekeepers were reported to have observed a similar phenomenon in Poland, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, and initial reports have also come in from Switzerland and Germany, albeit to a lesser degree.


None of the supposed cases outside the US has been confirmed, as of June, 2007, to show the telltale signs of CCD (see below for more).

The cause (or causes) of the syndrome is not yet well understood: even the existence of this disorder remains disputed. Theories include environmental change-related stresses, malnutrition, unknown pathogens (i.e., disease), mites, pesticides such as neonicotinoids, emissions from cellular phones or other manmade devices, and genetically modified (GM) crops.


That the disappearances have only been reported from a subset of the commercial beekeepers in affected areas (i.e., not feral colonies or organic beekeepers), suggests to some that beekeeping practices can be a primary factor.

From 1971 to 2006 approximately half of the U.S. honey bee colonies have vanished, but this decline includes the cumulative losses from all factors such as urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa mites and commercial beekeepers retiring and going out of business, and has been somewhat gradual.


Late in the year 2006 and in early 2007, however, the rate of attrition was alleged to have reached new proportions, and the term "Colony Collapse Disorder" was proposed to describe this sudden rash of disappearances.

Limited occurrences resembling CCD have been documented as early as 1896, and this set of symptoms has in the past several decades been given many different names (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, and fall dwindle disease). Most recently, a similar phenomenon in the winter of 2004/2005 occurred, and was attributed to Varroa mites (the "Vampire Mite" scare), though this was never ultimately confirmed. In none of the past appearances of this syndrome has anyone been able to determine its cause(s).


Upon recognition that the syndrome does not seem to be seasonally-restricted, and that it may not be a "disease" in the standard sense - that there may not be a specific causative agent - the syndrome was renamed.


A colony which has collapsed from CCD is generally characterized by all of these conditions occurring simultaneously:

  1. Complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with little or no build-up of dead bees in or around the colonies.

  2. Presence of capped brood in colonies. Bees normally will not abandon a hive until the capped brood have all hatched.

  3. Presence of food stores, both honey and bee pollen:

    1. which are not immediately robbed by other bees

    2. which when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.

Precursor symptoms that may arise before the final colony collapse are:

  1. Insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present

  2. Workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees

  3. Queen is uncharacteristically evident outside the hive

  4. The colony members are reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement.


Possible causes and research

While the exact mechanisms of CCD are unknown, malnutrition, pesticides, pathogens, immunodeficiencies, mites, fungus, genetically modified (GM) crops, beekeeping practices (such as the use of antibiotics, or long-distance transportation of beehives) and electromagnetic radiation have all been proposed as causative agents.


Whether any single factor is responsible, or a combination of factors (acting independently in different areas affected by CCD, or acting in tandem), is still unknown. It is likewise still uncertain whether CCD is a genuinely new phenomenon, as opposed to a known phenomenon that previously only had a minor impact.

At present, the primary source of information, and presumed "lead" group investigating the phenomenon, is the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group, based primarily at Penn State University. Their preliminary report pointed out some patterns, but drew no strong conclusions.


Poor nutrition or malnutrition

One of the patterns reported by the aforementioned group at Penn State was that all producers in a preliminary survey noted a period of "extraordinary stress" affecting the colonies in question prior to the die-off, most commonly involving poor nutrition and/or drought.


To date, this is the only factor that all of the reported cases of CCD have in common; accordingly, there is at least some significant possibility that this phenomenon is correlated to nutritional stress, and may not manifest in healthy, well-nourished colonies.

Some researchers have attributed the syndrome to the practice of feeding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to supplement winter stores. The variability of HFCS may be relevant to the apparent inconsistencies of results.


European commentators have suggested a possible connection with HFCS produced from genetically modified corn.


If this were the sole factor involved, however, this should also lead to the exclusive appearance of CCD in wintering colonies being fed HFCS, but many reports of CCD occur in other contexts, with beekeepers who do not use HFCS.



One of the more common general hypotheses concerns pesticides (or, more specifically, insecticides), though several studies have found no common environmental factors between unrelated outbreaks studied.

It is particularly difficult to evaluate pesticide contributions to CCD for several reasons.

  1. First, the variety of pesticides in use in the different areas reporting CCD makes it difficult to test for all possible pesticides simultaneously.

  2. Second, many commercial beekeeping operations are mobile, transporting hives over large geographic distances over the course of a season, potentially exposing the colonies to different pesticides at each location.

  3. Third, the bees themselves place pollen and honey into long-term storage, effectively meaning that there may be a delay of anywhere from days to months before contaminated provisions are fed to the colony, negating any attempts to associate the appearance of symptoms with the actual time at which exposure to pesticides occurred.

Pesticides used on bee forage are far more likely to enter the colony via the pollen stores rather than via nectar (because pollen is carried externally on the bees, while nectar is carried internally, and may kill the bee if too toxic), though not all potentially lethal chemicals, either natural or man-made, affect the adult bees - many primarily affect the brood, but brood die-off does not appear to be happening in CCD.


Most significantly, brood are not fed honey, and adult bees consume relatively little pollen; accordingly, the pattern in CCD suggests that if contaminants or toxins from the environment are responsible, it is most likely to be via the honey, as it is the adults that are dying (or leaving), not the brood.

One recently published view is that bees are falling victim to new varieties of nicotine-based pesticides; beekeepers in Canada are also losing their bees and are blaming neonicotinoid pesticides.


To date, most of the evaluation of possible roles of pesticides in CCD have relied on the use of surveys submitted by beekeepers, but it seems likely that direct testing of samples from affected colonies will be needed, especially given the possible role of systemic insecticides such as the neonicotinoid imidacloprid (which are applied to the soil and taken up into the plant's tissues, including pollen and nectar), which may be applied to a crop when the beekeeper is not present.


The known effects of imidacloprid on insects, including honey bees, are consistent with the symptoms of CCD; for example, the effects of imidacloprid on termites include apparent failure of the immune system, and disorientation. In Europe the interaction of the phenomenon of "dying bees" with imidacloprid, has been discussed for quite some time now.


It was a study from the "Comité Scientifique et Technique" (CST) which was in the center of discussion recently, which led to a partial ban of imidacloprid in France, primarily due to concern over potential effects on honey bees.


Consequently when fipronil, a phenylpyrazole insecticide and in Europe mainly labeled "Regent", was used as a replacement, it was also found to be toxic to bees, and banned partially in France in 2004 . Five other insecticides based on "fipronil" were also "accused" of killing bees.


However, the scientific committees of the European Union still are of the opinion,

"that the available monitoring studies were mainly performed in France and EU-member-states should consider the relevance of these studies for the circumstances in their country."

Recently the British non-governmental 'Institute for Science in Society' published a short review of the scientific literature on the dying of honey bees and neonicotinoids.


In 2005, a team of scientists led by the National Institute of Beekeeping in Bologna, Italy, found that pollen obtained from seeds dressed with imidacloprid contains significant levels of the insecticide, and suggested that the polluted pollen might cause honey bee colony death. Analysis of maize and sunflower crops originating from seeds dressed with imidacloprid suggest that large amounts of the insecticide will be carried back to honey bee colonies.


Sub-lethal doses of imidacloprid in sucrose solution have also been documented to affect homing and foraging activity of honeybees.


Imidacloprid in sucrose solution fed to bees in the laboratory impaired their communication for a few hours. Sub-lethal doses of imidacloprid in laboratory and field experiment decreased flight activity and olfactory discrimination, and olfactory learning performance was impaired.


However, no detailed studies of toxicity or pesticide residue in remaining honey or pollen in CCD-affected colonies have been published so far, so, despite the similarity in symptoms, no connection of neonicotinoids to CCD has yet been confirmed.


Antibiotics and miticides

Most beekeepers affected by CCD report that they use antibiotics and miticides in their colonies, though the lack of uniformity as to which particular chemicals are used makes it seem unlikely that any single such chemical is involved.


However, it is possible that not all such chemicals in use have been tested for possible effects on honey bees, and could therefore potentially be contributing to the CCD phenomenon.


Some reports indicate that "organic" beekeepers (who do not use antibiotics or miticides) are not affected by CCD, despite proximity to non-organic beekeepers that have been affected.


Pathogens and immunodeficiency

Some researchers have commented that the pathway of propagation functions in the manner of a contagious disease; however, there is some sentiment that the disorder may involve an immunosuppressive mechanism, potentially linked to the aforementioned "stress" leading to a weakened immune system.


Specifically, according to researchers at Penn State:

"The magnitude of detected infectious agents in the adult bees suggests some type of immuno-suppression."

These researchers have further suggested a connection between Varroa destructor mite infestation and CCD, suggesting that a combination of these bee mites, deformed wing virus (which the mites transmit) and bacteria work together to suppress immunity and may be one cause of CCD.


This research group is reported to be focusing on a search for possible viral, bacterial, or fungal pathogens which may be involved.

When a colony is dying, for whatever cause, and there are other healthy colonies nearby (as is typical in a bee yard), those healthy colonies often enter the dying colony and rob its provisions for their own use. If the dying colony's provisions were contaminated (by natural or man-made toxins), the resulting pattern (of healthy colonies becoming sick when in proximity to a dying colony) might suggest to an observer that a contagious disease is involved.


However, it is typical in CCD cases that provisions of dying colonies are not being robbed, suggesting that at least this particular mechanism (toxins being spread via robbing, thereby mimicking a disease) is not involved in CCD.

Some have suggested that the syndrome may be an inability by beekeepers to correctly identify known diseases such as European foulbrood or the microsporidian fungus Nosema.


The testing and diagnosis of samples from affected colonies (already performed) makes this highly unlikely, as the symptoms are fairly well-known and differ from what is classified as CCD. A high rate of Nosema infection was reported in samples of bees from Pennsylvania, but this pattern was not reported from samples elsewhere.

A recent paper, published by the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology reports that when hives of European honey bees were infected with Nosema ceranae, a recently-described microsporidian fungus, the colonies were wiped out within eight days. Various areas in Europe have reported this fungus, but no direct link to CCD has yet been established.


Highly preliminary evidence of N. ceranae was recently reported in a few hives in the Merced Valley area of California (USA).

"Tests of genetic material taken from a "collapsed colony" in Merced County point to a once-rare microbe that previously affected only Asian bees but might have evolved into a strain lethal to those in Europe and the United States."

The researcher did not, however, believe this was conclusive evidence of a link to CCD:

"We don't want to give anybody the impression that this thing has been solved."

A USDA bee scientist has similarly stated,

"while the parasite nosema ceranae may be a factor, it cannot be the sole cause. The fungus has been seen before, sometimes in colonies that were healthy."

Likewise, a Washington State beekeeper familiar with N. ceranae in his own hives discounts it as being the cause of CCD.


The primary antibiotic used against Nosema is Fumagillin, which has been used in a German research project to reduce the microsporidian's impact, and is mentioned as a possible remedy by the CCDWG.

According to a 2007 article, Varroa mites remain the world's most destructive honey bee killer due in part to the viruses they carry. As such, Varroa have been considered as a possible cause of CCD, though not all dying colonies contain these mites.


Genetically modified crops (GMO)

Potential effects of gathering pollen and nectar from genetically modified (GM) crops that produce Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin have not been thoroughly investigated.


Corn (maize), the major such crop, is not a preferred plant for honey bees, although beekeepers who keep bees near corn fields state that "corn is an excellent source of pollen when in tassel".


Cotton, the second important Bt crop, is highly subject to bee visitation for nectar (pollen is only consumed if there is no other pollen available), but there is no credible evidence of toxicity of GM cotton, other than that from insecticides used during bloom.

The primary effects of Bt on insects is in the larval stage. Thus the studies on Bt-toxins and effects on honey bees originally concentrated more on larvae and their development. However, as pollen is an important part of bee bread, which is also food for adult bees, some beekeepers think that adult bees may be more affected by ingredients of pollen, because adult bees are something like a filter for larvae.


And as the CCD phenomenon involves the disappearance of the adult bees, some think there could be a direct connection despite the absence of symptoms in the larvae, and despite any evidence that the bees experiencing CCD have ever been exposed to GM crops.

Most of the short summaries of US risk assessment studies on Bt in relation to honey bees are published on the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) homepage for Biopesticides Registration Action Documents; in particular, there is a document concerning the environmental effects of Bacillus thuringiensis as plant incorporated protectant.


Literature references of studies, which are in the public domain, are included. For Bt cotton there are written some paragraphs in a fact sheet with the title "Bacillus thuringiensis Cry2Ab2 protein and the Genetic Material Necessary for Its Production in Cotton".


These tests were usually made according to "Honey bee testing Tier I". Such tests seem to have a rather short duration time. ("Control and treated bees should be observed for at least 30 days after dosing.") The fact sheets for plant-incorporated protectants[48] - retrievable and not retrievable - are listed in a special EPA homepage. The original studies on the effects of Bt pollen on honeybees do not seem to be in the public domain.

In 2005 Bt maize, which is commercially planted in the US since 1996, accounted for 35% (10.64 million ha) of total US maize plantings. GM insect resistant Bt cotton has also been grown commercially in the US since 1996 and by 2005, was planted on 52% (2.8 million ha) of total cotton plantings.


According to David Hackenberg, former president of the American Beekeeping Federation and leading the public information concerning CCD as a beekeeper, "beekeepers that have been most affected so far have been close to corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, sunflowers, apples, vine crops and pumpkins", though Hackenberg personally attributes CCD to pesticides.


Thus, some of the commercially grown Bt plants seem to be included in gaps of pollination management. However, similar massive bee die-offs have been recorded for decades prior to the introduction of these crops, and also occur in areas in Europe and Canada where there are no GM crops grown at all.

In 2004 the knowledge of GMO authorization agencies was mainly based on a comprehensive review of the scientific literature published in Bee World which examined the effects of various commercialized and uncommercialized transgenes on honey bees. The review concludes that "evidence available so far shows that none of the GM plants currently commercially available have significant impacts on honey bee health."


However, in 2005 a new publication in the Journal Apidologie suggested that (though in the treatment with CRY1Ab-enriched feed no significant differences in bee mortality were found at different treatment stages) foraging activity of bees fed with CRY1Ab may decline continuously through the treatment stages without any recovery between treatments.


The European Union GMO Panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) did not share the view by the authors “that the above results were mainly CRY1Ab dependent.”


The Panel was of the opinion that “negative effects on bees are likely not directly associated with exposure to the CRY1Ab protein because of the design of the experiment and lack of simultaneous controls or replication."

Research conducted in Germany suggests that exposure to maize pollen containing genes for Bt production may weaken the adult bees' defense against Nosema, though in the absence of such an infection, there were no detectable effects:

"When the trial was repeated the colonies were treated prophylactically with antibiotics to prevent re-infection…


This indicates that healthy bee colonies are not impaired in any way by the toxin in any of the tested vital functions of colony size, foraging activity, brood care activity or development, even when exposed to extreme levels of Bt maize pollen over a period of six weeks."

However, if

"the bee colonies happened to be infested with parasites (microsporidia), this infestation led to a reduction in the number of bees and subsequently to reduced broods….This effect was significantly more marked in the Bt-fed colonies."

It has further been suggested that "genetically modified corn may have altered the surface of the bee's intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry - or perhaps it was the other way around" though it was also noted.

"Of course, the concentration of the toxin was ten times higher in the experiments than in normal Bt corn pollen. In addition, the bee feed was administered over a relatively lengthy six-week period."

Other more recent studies have failed to show any adverse effects of Bt pollen on healthy bee colonies. The preliminary report of the Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group concerning "Fall Dwindle Disease" indicated that,

"all PA samples were found to have Nosema spores in their rectal contents. The sting gland of many examined bees was obviously scarred with distinct black “marks”; this type of pin-point melanization or darkening is indicative of an immune response to some sort of pathogen."

If the bees in Pennsylvania were gathering Bt-toxin-containing corn pollen, it could potentially have interacted with Nosema and thus contributed to CCD in those colonies.


However, there is no evidence that these colonies were gathering corn pollen at any point prior to their deaths, nor has it been reported that colonies afflicted by CCD elsewhere had been collecting corn pollen.


The vast majority of the colonies reported to be dying from CCD occur in locations where GM corn is not grown (at least in the United States; also, 5 of the 10 states with the greatest amount of corn production - Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska - have had no reported cases of CCD), nor have bees from other areas outside of Pennsylvania been reported to be significantly infected by Nosema (e.g.,).

In 2006 the,

"Committee on Status and Trends of Pollinators" of the United States National Research Council published a report on the "Status of Pollinators in North America".

It suggested that GMO, besides other factors, might contribute to pollinator decline because, according to one scientific review of "the small literature on this topic,…in some cases, there are negative but sublethal effects attributable to consumption of transgenic pollens." The report goes on to say that,

"These effects varied with the identity of the transgene and the amount of its expression, but in no case have any effects of transgenic crops on honey bee populations been documented."

The Sierra Club Genetic Engineering Committee recently published a letter to Senator Thomas Harkin on the web with the title "GE and bee Colony Collapse Disorder - science needed!"


They are of the opinion that "highly respected scientists believe that exposure to genetically engineered crops and their plant-produced pesticides merit serious consideration as either the cause or a contributory factor to the development and spread of CCD." Nine literature references which might support this theory are cited.

On March 28 2007, the "Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium" published a new "Summary of Research on the Non-Target Effects of Bt Corn Pollen on Honeybees", which states that according to,

"a field study… (soon to be published in the bee journal Apidologie) there is no evidence thus far of any lethal or sub-lethal effects of the currently used Bt proteins on honey bees", and, specifically regarding the possible causal connections between Bt pollen and CCD, stated, "While this possibility has not been ruled out, the weight of evidence reported here argues strongly that the current use of Bt crops is not associated with CCD."



Bee rentals and Migratory Beekeeping

Moving spring bees from South Carolina to Maine for blueberry pollination.


Since US beekeeper Nephi Miller first began moving his hives to different areas of the country for the winter of 1908, migratory beekeeping has become widespread in America. It is a crucial element of US agriculture, which could not produce anywhere near its current levels with native pollinators alone. US beekeepers collectively earn much more from renting their bees out for pollination than they do from honey production.

Researchers are concerned that trucking colonies around the country to pollinate crops, where they intermingle with other bees from all over, helps spread viruses and mites among colonies. Additionally, such continuous movement and re-settlement is considered by some, a strain and disruption for the entire hive, possibly rendering it less resistant to all sorts of systemic disorder.


One major US beekeeper reports moving his hives from Idaho to California in January, then to apple orchards in Washington in March, to North Dakota two months later, and then back to Idaho by November - a journey of several thousands of miles.


Others move from Florida to New Hampshire or to Texas; nearly all visit California for the almond bloom in January. Keepers in Europe and Asia are generally far less mobile, with bee populations moving and mingling within a smaller geographic extent (although some keepers do move longer distances, it is much less common).


This wider spread and intermingling in the US has resulted in far greater losses from Varroa mite infections in recent years.

Electromagnetic radiation

In April 2007, news of a University of Landau study appeared in major media, beginning with an article in The Independent that stated that the subject of the study was mobile phones and had related them to CCD.


Cellular phones were in fact not covered in the study, and the researchers have since emphatically disavowed any connection between their research, cell phones, and CCD, specifically indicating that the Independent article had misinterpreted their results and created "a horror story".

The 2006 University of Landau pilot study was looking for non-thermal effects of radio frequency ("RF") on honey bees (Apis mellifera carnica) and suggested that when bee hives have DECT cordless phone base stations embedded in them, the close-range electromagnetic field ("EMF") may reduce the ability of bees to return to their hive; they also noticed a slight reduction in honeycomb weight in treated colonies. In the course of their study, one half of their colonies broke down, including some of their controls which did not have DECT base stations embedded in them.

The team's 2004 exploratory study on non-thermal effects on learning did not find any change in behavior due to RF exposure from the DECT base station operating at 1880-1900 MHz.

Many possible biological effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields have been postulated but it is generally accepted that the most significant effects are thermal. The amount of RF radiation routinely encountered by the general public is too low to produce significant heating or increased body temperature.

At present the link of either cordless or cellular phones to CCD is entirely speculative, and no research has been done to suggest or demonstrate such a link between the two phenomena. Regardless, such an explanation is not compatible with the historical and present patterns of CCD appearance, which have been intermittent and sudden.

Scale of the disorder

In North America, at least 35 different states as well as portions of Canada have reported cases of Colony Collapse Disorder.


There are also cases reported from India, Brazil and parts of Europe. It is far from certain, however, that all reported cases are indeed CCD: there has been considerable publicity, but only rarely was the phenomenon described in sufficient detail.


In Germany, for example, where some of the first reports of CCD in Europe appeared, there has been no subsequent confirmation; as of early May 2007, the German media are reporting that no confirmed CCD cases seem to have occurred in Germany.

In America, where diagnostic criteria were first established and where reports of CCD by now usually refer to actual cases, the disorder has been identified in a geographically diverse group of states including Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and California.


Possible effects

The phenomenon is particularly important for crops such as almond growing in California, where honey bees are the predominant pollinator and the crop value in 2006 was US$1.5 billion. In 2000, the total U.S. crop value that was wholly dependent on honey bee pollination was estimated to exceed US$15 billion.

Honey bees are not native to the Americas, therefore their necessity as pollinators in the US is limited to strictly agricultural/ornamental uses, as no native plants require honey bee pollination, except where concentrated in monoculture situations - where the pollination need is so great at bloom time that pollinators must be concentrated beyond the capacity of native bees (with current technology).

They are responsible for pollination of approximately one third of the United States' crop species, including such species as: almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and strawberries. Many but not all of these plants can be (and often are) pollinated by other insects in small holdings in the U.S., including other kinds of bees, but typically not on a commercial scale.


While some farmers of a few kinds of native crops do bring in honey bees to help pollinate, none specifically need them, and when honey bees are absent from a region, there is a presumption that native pollinators may reclaim the niche, typically being better adapted to serve those plants (assuming that the plants normally occur in that specific area).

However, even though on a per-individual basis, many other species are actually more efficient at pollinating, on the 30% of crop types where honey bees are used, most native pollinators cannot be mass-utilized as easily or as effectively as honey bees - in many instances they will not visit the plants at all.


Beehives can be moved from crop to crop as needed, and the bees will visit many plants in large numbers, compensating via sheer numbers for what they lack in efficiency.


The commercial viability of these crops is therefore strongly tied to the beekeeping industry.


Apocryphal quote

A chilling prediction about the importance of bees to humans popular in the press recently is,

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

This quote has been attributed to Albert Einstein; however, the original source for this quote has not been reported, and the earliest known use of the quote is from 1994, 39 years after Einstein's death.



As of March 1, 2007 MAAREC offers the following tentative recommendations for beekeepers noticing the symptoms of CCD:

  • Do not combine collapsing colonies with strong colonies.

  • When a collapsed colony is found, store the equipment where you can use preventive measures to ensure that bees will not have access to it.

  • If you feed your bees sugar syrup, use Fumagillin.

  • If you are experiencing colony collapse and see a secondary infection, such as European Foulbrood, treat the colonies with Terramycin, not Tylan.

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Cell Phone Radiation Could Be Killing Bees

by Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross

The Independent on Sunday
04/16/07 8:56 AM PT

from TechNewsWorld Website


A mysterious condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder is destroying bee hives around the world. Scientists are still debating the exact cause of the epidemic, but researchers at Landau University suggest that radiation from mobile phones may be at least partially to blame.


Scientists found that placing mobile phones near hives causes bees to refuse to go inside.

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It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. Some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages as the world's harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world -- the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some beekeepers claimed that the phenomenon -- which started in the U.S., then spread to continental Europe -- was beginning to hit Britain as well.

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously home-loving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.


Cases Worldwide


Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 percent of its commercial bee population, with 70 percent missing on the East Coast.

CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. Last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest beekeepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.

Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and northwest England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK."



The Need for Bees


The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world's crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left".

No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM (genetically modified) crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks. German research has long shown that bees' behavior changes near power lines.

Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr. Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to a possible cause.

Dr. George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the U.S. government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the 1990s, said: "I am convinced the possibility is real."



The Case Against Handsets


Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing. However, proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up.

Most research on cancer has so far proved inconclusive. However, an official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 percent more likely to get a brain tumor on the same side as they held the handset.

Equally alarming, blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today's teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.

Studies in India and the U.S. have raised the possibility that men who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts. More prosaically, doctors have identified the condition of "text thumb," a form of RSI from constant texting.

Professor Sir William Stewart, who has headed two official inquiries, warned that children under eight should not use mobiles and made a series of safety recommendations, largely ignored by ministers.


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Suddenly, The Bees Are Simply Vanishing
by Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II

Times Staff Writers
June 10, 2007

from LATimes Website

The dead bees under Dennis VanEngelsdorp's microscope were like none he had ever seen.

He had expected to see mites or amoebas, perennial pests of bees. Instead, he found internal organs swollen with debris and strangely blackened. The bees' intestinal tracts were scarred, and their rectums were abnormally full of what appeared to be partly digested pollen. Dark marks on the sting glands were telltale signs of infection.

"The more you looked, the more you found," said VanEngelsdorp, the acting apiarist for the state of Pennsylvania. "Each thing was a surprise."

VanEngelsdorp's examination of the bees in November was one of the first scientific glimpses of a mysterious honeybee die-off that has launched an intense search for a cure.

The puzzling phenomenon, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, has been reported in 35 states, five Canadian provinces and several European countries. The die-off has cost U.S. beekeepers about $150 million in losses and an uncertain amount for farmers scrambling to find bees to pollinate their crops.

Scientists have scoured the country, finding eerily abandoned hives in which the bees seem to have simply left their honey and broods of baby bees.

"We've never experienced bees going off and leaving brood behind," said Pennsylvania-based beekeeper Dave Hackenberg. "It was like a mother going off and leaving her kids."

Researchers have picked through the abandoned hives, dissected thousands of bees, and tested for viruses, bacteria, pesticides and mites.

So far, they are stumped.

According to the Apiary Inspectors of America, 24% of 384 beekeeping operations across the country lost more than 50% of their colonies from September to March. Some have lost 90%.

"I'm worried about the bees," said Dan Boyer, 52, owner of Ridgetop Orchards in Fishertown, Pa., which grows apples. "The more I learn about it, the more I think it is a national tragedy."

At Boyer's orchard, 400 acres of apple trees  -  McIntosh, Honey Crisp, Red Delicious and 11 other varieties  -  have just begun to bud white flowers.

Boyer's trees need to be pollinated. Incompletely pollinated blooms would still grow apples, he said, but the fruit would be small and misshapen, suitable only for low-profit juice.

This year, he will pay dearly for the precious bees  -  $13,000 for 200 hives, the same price that 300 hives cost him last year.

The scene is being repeated throughout the country, where honeybees, scientifically known as Apis mellifera, are required to pollinate a third of the nation's food crops, including almonds, cherries, blueberries, pears, strawberries and pumpkins.



Vanishing colonies

One of the earliest alarms was sounded by Hackenberg, who used to keep about 3,000 hives in dandelion-covered fields near the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.

In November, Hackenberg, 58, was at his winter base in Florida. He peeked in on a group of 400 beehives he had driven down from his home in West Milton, Pa., a month before. He went from empty box to empty box.


Only about 40 had bees in them.

"It was just the most phenomenal thing I thought I'd ever seen," he said.

The next morning, Hackenberg called Jerry Hayes, the chief of apiary inspection at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and president of the Apiary Inspectors of America.

Hayes mentioned some bee die-offs in Georgia that, until then, hadn't seemed significant.

Hackenberg drove back to West Milton with a couple of dead beehives and live colonies that had survived. He handed them over to researchers at Pennsylvania State University. With amazing speed, the bees vanished from his other hives, more than 70% of which were abandoned by February.

Hackenberg, a talkative, wiry man with a deeply lined face, figured he lost more than $460,000 this winter for replacement bees, lost honey and missed pollination opportunities.

"If that happens again, we're out of business," he said.

It didn't take researchers long to figure out they were dealing with something new.

VanEngelsdorp, 37, quickly eliminated the most obvious suspects: Varroa and tracheal mites, which have occasionally wrought damage on hives since the 1980s.

At the state lab in Harrisburg, Pa., VanEngelsdorp checked bee samples from Pennsylvania and Georgia. He washed bees with soapy water to dislodge Varroa mites and cut the thorax of the bees to look for tracheal mites; he found that the number of mites was not unusually high.

His next guess was amoebic infection. He scanned the bees' kidneys for cysts and found a handful, but not enough to explain the population decline.

VanEngelsdorp dug through scientific literature looking for other mass disappearances.

He found the first reference in a 1869 federal report, detailing a mysterious bee disappearance. There was only speculation as to the cause  -  possibly poisonous honey or maybe a hot summer.

A 1923 handbook on bee culture noted that a "disappearing disease" went away in a short time without treatment. There was a reference to "fall dwindle" in a 1965 scientific article to describe sudden disappearances in Texas and Louisiana.

He found other references but no explanations.

VanEngelsdorp traveled to Florida and California at the beginning of the year to collect adult bees, brood, nectar, pollen and comb for a more systematic study. He went to 11 apiaries, both sick and healthy, and collected 102 colonies.

A number of the pollen samples went to Maryann Frazier, a honeybee specialist at Penn State who has been coordinating the pesticide investigation. Her group has been testing for 106 chemicals used to kill mites, funguses or other pests.

Scientists have focused on a new group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which have spiked in popularity because they are safe for people, Frazier said. Studies have shown that these pesticides can kill bees and throw off their ability to learn and navigate, she said.

Researchers have yet to collect enough data to come to any conclusions, but the experience of French beekeepers casts doubt on the theory. France banned the most commonly used neonicotinoid in 1999 after complaints from beekeepers that it was killing their colonies.


French hives, however, are doing no better now, experts said.


Sniffing out the culprit

Entomologist Jerry J. Bromenshenk of the University of Montana launched his own search for poisons, relying on the enhanced odor sensitivity of bees  -  about 40 times better than that of humans.


When a colony is exposed to a new chemical odor, he said, its sound changes in volume and frequency, producing a unique audio signature.

Bromenshenk has been visiting beekeepers across the country, recording hive sounds and taking them back to his lab for analysis. To date, no good candidates have surfaced. If the cause is not a poison, it is most likely a parasite.

UC San Francisco researchers announced in April that they had found a single-celled protozoan called Nosema ceranae in bees from colonies with the collapse disorder. Unfortunately, Bromenshenk said,

"we see equal levels of Nosema in CCD colonies and healthy colonies."


Infected swarms?

Several researchers, including entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Penn State and Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, a virologist at Columbia University, have been sifting through bees that have been ground up, looking for viruses and bacteria.

"We were shocked by the huge number of pathogens present in each adult bee," Cox-Foster said at a recent meeting of bee researchers convened by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The large number of pathogens suggested, she said, that the bees' immune systems had been suppressed, allowing the proliferation of infections. The idea that a pathogen is involved is supported by recent experiments conducted by VanEngelsdorp and USDA entomologist Jeffrey S. Pettis.

One of the unusual features of the disorder is that the predators of abandoned beehives, such as hive beetles and wax moths, refuse to venture into infected hives for weeks or longer.

"It's as if there is something repellent or toxic about the colony," said Hayes, the Florida inspector.

To test this idea, VanEngelsdorp and Pettis set up 200 beehive boxes with new, healthy bees from Australia and placed them in the care of Hackenberg.

Fifty of the hives were irradiated to kill potential pathogens. Fifty were fumigated with concentrated acetic acid, a hive cleanser commonly used in Canada. Fifty were filled with honey frames that had been taken from Hackenberg's colonies before the collapse, and the last 50 were hives that had been abandoned that winter.

When VanEngelsdorp visited the colonies at the beginning of May, bees in the untouched hive were clearly struggling, filling only about a quarter of a frame. Bees living on the reused honeycomb were alive but not thriving. A hive that had been fumigated with acetic acid was better.


When he popped open an irradiated hive, bees were crawling everywhere.

"This does imply there is something biological," he said.

If it is a pathogen or a parasite, honeybees are poorly equipped to deal with it, said entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The honeybee genome has only half as many genes to detoxify poisons and to fight off infections as do other insects.

"There is something about the life of the honeybee that has led to the loss of a lot of genes associated with detoxification, associated with the immune system," she said.

In the absence of knowledge, theories have proliferated, including one that Osama bin Laden has engineered the die-off to disrupt American agriculture.

One of the most pervasive theories is that cellphone transmissions are causing the disappearances  -  an idea that originated with a recent German study. Berenbaum called the theory "a complete figment of the imagination."

The German physicist who conducted the tiny study,

"disclaimed the connection to cellphones," she said. "What they put in the colony was a cordless phone. Whoever translated the story didn't know the difference."

Another popular theory is that the bees have been harmed by corn genetically engineered to contain the pesticide B.t.

Berenbaum shot down the idea:

"Here in Illinois, we're surrounded by an ocean of B.t. pollen, and the bees are not afflicted."

And so the search continues.

Many beekeepers have few options but to start rebuilding. Gene Brandi, a veteran beekeeper based in Los Banos, Calif., lost 40% of his 2,000 colonies this winter. Brandi knows plenty of beekeepers who sold their equipment at bargain prices.

Scurrying around a blackberry farm near Watsonville, Brandi, 55, was restocking his bees. In a white jumpsuit and yellow bee veil, he pulled out a frame of honeycomb from a hive that had so many bees they were spilling out the front entrance.

"When it's going good like this, you forget CCD," he said.

Hackenberg, who has spent his whole life in the business, isn't giving up either. He borrowed money and restocked with bees from Australia. In April, the normally hale Hackenberg started feeling short of breath. His doctor said he was suffering from stress and suggested he slow down.

Not now, Hackenberg thought. "I'm going to go down fighting."


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Further Information - External Links

  1. "Honey Bee Die-Off Alarms Beekeepers, Crop Growers and Researchers", Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences, Jan 29, 2007.

  2. Petra Steinberger. "Das spurlose Sterben",, March 12, 2007.

  3. Amy Sahba. "The mysterious deaths of the honeybees"

  4. Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group

  5. "Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?"

  6. "GE and bee Colony Collapse Disorder -- science needed!"

  7. "No Organic Bee Losses", information liberation, May 10 2007.

  8. Benjamin Lester. "Mystery of the dying bees", Cosmos Online, 2007-03-07.

  9. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Diana Cox Foster, Maryann Frazier Nancy Ostiguy, and Jerry Hayes. "Colony Collapse Disorder Preliminary Report", Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium (MAAREC) - CCD Working Group, 2006-01-05, pp. pp. 22.

  10. Discussion of phenomenon of Colony disorder collapse

  11. David Hackenberg (former president of the American Beekeeping Federation) (2007-03-14). "Letter from David Hackenberg to American growers from March 14, 2007"

  12. Matt Wells. "Vanishing bees threaten US crops",

  13. Requiem for the Honeybee

  14. Philipp Mimkes. "Französische Regierung verlängert Teilverbot von Gaucho - Bienensterben jetzt auch in Deutschland"

  15. Sven Preger. "Verstummtes Summen - Französische Forscher: Insektizid ist Grund für Bienensterben", CGB Network, 2003-11-23. 

  16. Betrayed and sold out–German bee monitoring- Walter Haefeker, Deutscher Berufs- und Erwerbsimkerbund

  17. Schadet Imidacloprid den Bienen - von Eric Zeissloff

  18. Gaucho – ein Risiko, Studie: Mitschuld des Bayer-Pestizids für Bienensterben (Neues Deutschland)

  19. Imidaclopride utilisé en enrobage de semences (Gaucho) et troubles des abeilles - Rapport final - 18 septembre 2003

  20. France: Governmental report claims BAYER's pesticide GAUCHO responsible for bee-deaths Coalition against Bayer-Dangers is calling for a ban .

  21. Millions of bees dead - Bayer's Gaucho blamed

  22. Alarm Sounds on Bee-Killing Pesticides (by Julio Godoy)

  23. EFSA Scientific Report (2006) 65, 1-110, Conclusion regarding the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment of the active substance fipronil

  24. Requiem for the Honeybee: Neonicotinoid insecticides used both in sprays and seed dressing may be responsible for the collapse of honeybee colonies. By Prof. Joe Cummins

  25. (2007-23-01) "Fruit Times " Penn State University

  26. Bee Mites Suppress Bee Immunity, Open Door For Viruses And Bacteria

  27. Higes, M., R. Martin, A. Meana (2006). "Nosema ceranae, a new microsporidian parasite in honeybees in Europe"

  28. Dr Wolfgang Ritter. Nosema ceranae - Asiatischer Nosema-Erreger festgestellt – neu verbreitet oder erst jetzt entdeckt?

  29. Dr Wolfgang Ritter. Nosema ceranae - Asian Nosema Disease Vector Confirmed – is this a new infestation or only now discovered?

  30. Sabin Russell. "UCSF scientist tracks down suspect in honeybee deaths"

  31. "Scientists Identify Pathogens That May Be Causing Global Honeybee Deaths"

  32. Jia-Rui Chong and Thomas H. Maugh II. "Experts may have found what's bugging the bees"

  33. Seth Borenstein. "Honeybee Die-Off Threatens Food Supply, The Associated Press (5/2/2007)"

  34. Paul Boring. "Whidbey hives collapse"

  35. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, M.Frazier, and D. Caron (March 1, 2007). Tentative Recommendations for Hives Experiencing CCD

  36. Dr. Jamie Ellis. "Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in Honey Bees", University of Florida, April 16, 2007. (in English) 

  37. Official comments of the German Beekeeper Federation in the German Bundestag

  38. "Biopesticides Registration Action Documents".

  39. "Bacillus thuringiensis as plant incorporated protectant" (2001-10-15)

  40. "Bacillus thuringiensis Cry2Ab2 protein and the Genetic Material Necessary for Its Production in Cotton"

  41. "Microbial Pesticide Test Guidelines  -  OPPTS 885.4380  -  Honey Bee Testing  -  Tier I"

  42. "Fact Sheets for plant-incorporated protectants"

  43. "GM Crops: The First Ten Years  -  Global Socio-Economic and Environmental Impacts"

  44. "Summary Of Research on the Non-Target Effects of Bt Corn Pollen on Honeybees"  -  Department of Entomology, University of Maryland (2007-03-28).

  45. Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms on a request from the Commission related to the safeguard clause invoked by Greece according to Article 23 of Directive 2001/18/EC and to Article 18 of Directive 2002/53/EC1 (2006-11-07)

  46. "Effects of Bt maize pollen on the honeybee" (2005-10-12)

  47. "Are GM Crops Killing Bees?" (2005-03-22)

  48. "Status of Pollinators in North America  -  Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America  -  The National Academies Press Washington, D.C.; title page (2006).

  49. "Status of Pollinators in North America  -  Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America  -  The National Academies Press Washington, D.C.; page 81 (2006).

  50. "Sierra Club Policy on Genetic Engineering".

  51. "GE and bee Colony Collapse Disorder - science needed!" (2005-03-21).

  52. "Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium" (2007-03-28).

  53. Alexi Barrionuevo. "Honeybees, Gone With the Wind, Leave Crops and Keepers in Peril"

  54. Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross. "Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?"

  55. Eric Sylvers. "Wireless: Case of the disappearing bees creates a buzz about cellphones"

  56. Chloe Johnson. "Researchers: Often-cited study doesn't relate to bee colony collapse"

  57. "Cellphone researchers claim data misinterpreted" 

  58. Harst, W., Kuhn, J., Stever, H. (2006). "Can Electromagnetic Exposure Cause a Change in Behaviour? Studying Possible Non-Thermal Influences on Honey Bees – An Approach within the Framework of Educational Informatics"

  59. Stever, H. J., Kuhn, (2004). "How Electromagnetic Exposure can influence Learning Process - Modelling Effects of Electromagnetic Exposure on Learning Processes"

  60. Radiation Protection: Non-Ionising Radiations.

  61. Questions and Answers about Wireless Phones.

  62. Strange times for bees, The Vancouver,

  63. Immer weniger Imker - Deutschen Bienen geht es gut. Version of May 11, 2007.

  64. Lovgren, Stefan. "Mystery Bee Disappearances Sweeping U.S." National Geographic News.

  65. Urban Legends Reference Pages: Einstein on Bees.

  66. Deborah Zabarenko. "Vanishing honeybees mystify scientists"

  67. Michael Leidig. "Honey bees in US facing extinction"

  68. "Bee vanishing act baffles keepers", BBC News

  69. Stefan Lovgren. "Mystery Bee Disappearances Sweeping U.S."

  70. "Honeybees, Gone With the Wind, Leave Crops and Keepers in Peril"

  71. Genaro C. Armas. "Mystery Ailment Strikes Honeybees"

  72. John Finnerty. "Agriculture: Disease Killing Bees"

  73. "NHB Funds Research for “Colony Collapse Disorder”"

  74. "Alarm sounded over bee die-off"

  75. "Wake Up Call, Colony Collapse Disorder"

  76. "Bees Vanish, and Scientists Race for Reasons"

  77. Rick Weinzierl. "Neonicotinoids and Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder", Illinois Fruit and Vegetable News, 2007-05-10. Vol. 13 , No. 5.

  78. Benjamin Lester. "Mystery of the dying bees"

  79. Kevin Berger. "Who killed the honeybees?

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