Nationally, some 27 states have reported experiencing a disorder among honeybees which is causing them to mysteriously vanish. In hives hit by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), adult workers simply fly away and disappear, leaving a small cluster of workers and the hive's young to fend for themselves.
Since about one-third of the U.S. diet depends on pollination and most of that is performed by honeybees, this constitutes a serious problem. In the United States alone, honeybees are used to pollinate $15 billion worth of fruits, nuts and other crops annually.
Even more frightening is Albert Einstein's comment in regard to the symbiotic relationship of all life on the planet, that "If honeybees become extinct, human society will follow in four years," he theorized.
Oddly, Indiana has not experienced a problem yet according to Indiana's Chief Apiary Inspector Kathleen Prough. Her advice to local beekeepers is, "keep trying to make your hives strong. If you purchase queens, packaged bees, or mucs from someone, do your homework. Ask if they have had any problem with fall die off and what they use for mite control. Make sure the bees have enough honey and that the hive stays dry. Keep checking hives through the active season making sure you have a strong queen," she adds.
Local beekeeper Marc Girard, who lives near New Maysville, keeps four hives. He has had bees for nearly four years and has not seen any sign of of CDC. Girard sees the weather as being the biggest factor in the success or failure of a colony. "When it's overly wet there is not a good pollen flow because the pollen gets knocked off by the rain," he states. "When it is too dry it's hard to find flora or fauna as a food supply." Girard sells his honey from his home and at the Danville Farmer's Market.
He has come into contact with another beekeeper who lost eight hives out of about 50 over the winter. But the beekeeper felt that they were weak hives to begin with and did not have anything to do with CDC.
Bee losses in Indiana are not being credited to CDC but rather to starvation and mites. Greg Hunt, Associate Professor in the Department of Entomology at Purdue University reports, "The problem we had in Indiana this winter was no fall nectar flow. Those who did not have time to feed their bees lots of sugar syrup early enough in the fall had colonies that starved. My opinion is that there is no reason for beekeepers to worry about mysterious ailments," adds Hunt. " Hopefully, researchers will be able to provide answers.
The nationwide problem has prompted a congressional hearing, a report by the National Research Council and a National Pollinator Week set for June 24-30 in Washington. From 1971 to 2006 approximately half of the U.S. honeybee colonies have vanished, but this loss includes factors such as urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa mites and commercial beekeepers retiring and going out of business.
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 the sudden rash of disappearances.
In some cases, beekeepers are reported as losing 50 percent of their bees to the disorder, with some suffering even higher losses. One California beekeeper alone lost 40,000 bees.
There have been other fluctuations in the number of honeybees, going back to the 1880s, where there were "mysterious disappearances without bodies just as we're seeing now, but never at this magnitude," stated May Berenbaum, head of the Entomology Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in an Op-Ed article in the New York Times.
Since the 1880's CCD has popped up again and again, only under the names such as: 'fall dwindle' disease, 'May dwindle', 'spring dwindle', 'disappearing disease', and 'autumn collapse'.
Honeybees are not the only pollinators whose numbers are dropping. Other animals that do this essential job -- non-honey bees, wasps, flies, beetles, birds and bats -- have decreasing populations as well. But honeybees are the big actors in commercial pollination efforts.
Why some states like Indiana and Illinois have escaped the disorder even as it has turned up in neighboring states is another "multimillion-dollar question," said Berenbaum. Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan are among the states reporting cases.
One of the frontrunners in the possible causes of the ailment is the use of pesticides which are designed to kill bugs and other pests on crops without causing harm to humans or the environment. But insects develop resistance to new pesticides nearly as fast as chemists can create them. Little attention is paid to the effects that new pesticides have on beneficial insects like honeybees.
Girard who was introduced to the industry by a beekeeper friend, is fascinated by the culture of the species. "Bees are hard workers. From the time they are three hours old they have a job in the hive. They are such a cooperative culture who communicate constantly," he adds.
He has a theory about the disappearance of the bees in local areas which ties into the use of pesticides. "You see more bees in the cities where there is little or no use of pesticides. In the rural areas where farmers have to use pesticides to control crops, there is a drop in the number of bees," he states.
While many pesticides are downright lethal to bees, some new studies have pointed to other strange effects found at low doses. All in all, CDC remains a mystery to be solved. As researchers continue to look for answers, beekeepers like Girard continue tending their hives, keeping their bees healthy and trusting that there will never be a need to test Einstein's theory.