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What is Colony Collapse Disorder and can we save the honey bee?


Apis Mellifera, or the honey bee is a truly fascinating animal (Schingler, 2008). We rely on the bee for pollinating plants and trees, producing honey, and making possible the harvest of foods from earths’ end to earths’ end. But lately across the globe, bees have been disappearing. Bee keepers have reported record losses in colonies since 2006, and many are still asking where the bees have gone to? With our dependency on bees, the epidemic known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) could take away the amazing creature known as the honey bee and all its’ bounty we too often take for granted.CCD has made itself known in 45 States, as well as South America to Europe; the bees are leaving the hive never to return again. Since CCD’s discovery in 2006, approximately 600,000 bees have disappeared, nearly 1/3 of the worlds’ bee population never to return again (Long Island Business News, 2008). All too often the honey bee is under-looked when it comes to the role of importance it plays in the food we eat all across the world. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating over 90 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts annually around the world. Research has been done only to come to the conclusion the colony collapse disorder is stemmed from many stresses and is often brushed off as a “case by case basis” (Cox-Foster, 2007). This simple answer must not be good enough and we as students and citizens of Michigan must be made aware to take action. Flowers bloom each and every spring, and with that will come new life. Gardens rich with vegetables, fields blooming with wild flowers, and orchards brimming with fresh fruit is what is at stake here. Colony collapse disorder is a serious and growing matter, but with a helping hand we can give a much needed boost to our friend the honey bee.  Becoming a backyard beekeeper is the single most effective step that can be taken by a single person.

Mass agriculture is a growing trend in America. Farmers are aiming for larger and larger crop yields every year, far beyond the normal measures of nature. Not to mention we as a society have come to love the convenience of year round fruits and vegetables. With mass agriculture comes the need for more cleared land, as well as the necessity for pesticides to be present. Cleared land forces the natural pollinators of that habitat to take flight and the ultimate cost of creating more land for farming is to have to truck in honey bees to pollinate the larger crop. With a single person creating massive crop for our consumption, there is a greater pressure to produce as much of that crop as possible. Two factors that have also been attributed to CCD is the use of pesticides and malnourishment. To produce as much out of a crop as possible often only leaves one answer to a grower: Pesticides. They were designed for producing fruits and vegetables that are free from pests, but one “pest” in particular that it is affecting happens to be the life source for crops to begin with. Beekeepers have also found that bees used to pollinate single crop harvests were more likely to develop malnourishment because they are not receiving other nutrients to aid in their digestion. Pesticides have been becoming more prevalent since the 1980’s in North America; today we still use neonicotinoid, a pesticide that’s use has become limited or banned in other countries due to its’ possible link to CCD (Shultz, 2007).

Becoming a backyard beekeeper, or hobbyist, is a strong way to support bee colonies overall health (USDA, 2007). The honey bee can travel miles to gather pollen, but why make the little guy work so hard? Having a vegetable and flower garden in your backyard is enough to produce pollen to full fill a hives’ satisfaction and at the same time bring you more robust fruit and larger blooms. If donning a bee veil and opening an active hive is not your way of giving back then perhaps just a trip to your local nursery will do. Planting gardens of fruits and vegetables, as well as flowers is an easy way to bring a beautiful array of color to your backyard, as well as the little honey bee (Loeck, 2008). Bees can travel up to eight miles to collect pollen and nectar, and have the ability to tell their fellow bees where more food can be found. The presence of variety will encourage the honey bee when it comes time to collect nectar and pollen.

Agricultural departments, doctors and scientists alike are trying to bring awareness to factors that can cause a colony to collapse or disappear, but stop short of recognizing colony collapse disorder, and labeling their research as such(Cox-Foster, 2007). The honey bee is a creature of form and function, designed to do a specific job with great efficiently. It is naïve to think that something as noticeable as 1/3 of the worlds’ population of bees dying off in a matter of months could be left to chance or a streak of freak occurrences’. Studies have been conducted regarding the chemicals found in pesticides, but what is being done once those chemicals have been found? “Studies have shown that pollen found on bees can contain over 40 different types of chemicals (Schultz, 2007). There have been many myths that have been disproved regarding massive colony deaths, but fall short of being studies for the purpose of colony collapse disorder. Recognizing these studies that are only of face value and ignoring the real problem will never solve the original issue. Bringing up one portion of a problem will never produce an answer to correct 100% of the issue. One famous fable that has been dispelled is that cell phones are confusing bees and getting them lost. Only one study has actively been demonstrated and the scientist in fact, refuted the original claim. Yet, so many are looking for a quick fix and simply an answer to their problem; when it comes to CCD there is no quick fix. It comes with awareness and action.

Many have attempted to correct the massive amounts of dying bees, but it will not save them from the chance of colony collapse disorder. Americans use approximately 400 million pounds of honey annually and we are currently unable to meet that need within our borders. With the effect of honey bees affecting the overall amount of honey, many apiarists are taking to shipping in bees from abroad. This ultimately will lead to more loss because we are unable to produce enough bees to pollinate what we reap every year. For every year that we are bringing bees abroad, we are pollinating fewer plants, and ultimately producing fewer products. Add to that the cost to ship bees in and out of the country and you have supplied yourself with one very inferior understanding of solving CCD. Continuously replenishing a supply of sick and weakened bees is in no way bringing answers to the problem, but looking at one solution for one portion of the problem. One cannot look simply at the population of bees as purely a number and try to increase that number to cover the main issue. Colony collapse disorder needs to be recognized as a serious problem and real answers for the problem as a whole. Bringing awareness to only one third of the problem will only delay the inevitable devastation by masking it with slight-of-hand research. Bees will sacrifice themselves for the good of the hive. Meaning if one is sick, she will leave the hive never to return again to prevent her fellow worker bees from infecting and bringing down the hive as a whole. One major problem with the noble honey bee lately has been the sick bees aren’t just leaving the hive, they’re vanishing. To fully understand what is becoming of the honey bee, we must look at what we can do to study them. Research and funding are necessary to discover where the bees are going and why.

Honey bees are responsible for pollinating over 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, totaling in the United States alone nearly $15 billion in revenue. Without action, prices will increase for the farmer that needs to have crops pollinated, which will in turn cost more to have those fruits and vegetables harvested and shipped. Higher shipping costs will add to your total when it comes time to purchase those favorite fruits and vegetables from your local grocer. The ultimate loss if nothing is done about colony collapse disorder will not stop at the loss of the honey bee; we will also lose many specialties such as, honey, varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts across the world, and even a loss of rice, grain, and corn, which are staples for cattle and livestock. If honey bees continue to disappear at their current rate, the honey bee population in the United States will cease by the year 2035 (Schengler,2008) . That is the generation of our children and I just don’t think I can imagine a world without the honey bee, the flowers, and the trees.

Take to your local nurseries; buy native non-invasive Florida crops to plant in your backyard. Write to your local congress to encourage research on the honey bee and colony collapse disorder (USDA, 2007). Encourage local cities and parks to participate in community gardens. Contact your local University or Agriculture department for more information on amateur beekeeping or even an agriculture class or two. You never know when something as small as the honey bee can change your life.



References
Bee keepers: Colony collapse disorder not a problem for Long Island beekeepers.” Long Island Business News. (August 1, 2008): NA. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Baker College. 8 Dec. 2008
Cox-Foster, D. Statements for hearing to review the colony collapse disorder in honey bee colonies through the United States. (March 29 2007)http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings/statements.html
Loeck, K. The buzz on vanishing bees.(GREEN GAZETTE). Mother Earth News. 230 (Oct-Nov 2008): 25(1). General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Baker College. 7 Dec. 2008
Schultz, D. (Writer). (2007). Silence of the bees [Television series episode]. In D. Schultz (Producer) Nature. New York: PBS

Shingler, D. BEE SHORTAGE COULD STING; Believe it or not, we need 'em, and recent losses have state and agriculture officials buzzing. Crain's Cleveland Business. 29.27 (July 7, 2008): 1. General OneFile. Gale. Library of Michigan. 7 Dec. 2008

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. (13 Jul 2007). USDA announces colony collapse disorder research action plan. Retrieved 11 Dec. 2008 from http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2007/070713.htm

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