Where are the Dead Bees?

This was one of the more puzzling aspects to me in the recent reports of massive and sudden bee die-off: Hives weren’t cluttered about with hundreds or thousands of dead bee bodies. The bees simply went missing from the abandoned hives–left, and never returned. Read on…

It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But 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 bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, 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 homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

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.

This last part–avoidance of the abandoned hive–doesn’t jibe with the cell-phone radiation theory. My guess is that there are probably several factors at work to cause this colony collapse. Other sources say bees in the hive are infected with almost every known bee virus and fungus, indicating a massive failure of their normal immune functions.

And as some have mentioned and I have discussed here last summer, “the” honeybee is not native. Were it not for the money made from honey, it isn’t likely its numbers and our agricultural dependence on this species would have grown as it has. But now, in all probability, native bees are being impacted by the same stressors as honeybees, whatever those may be, so falling back on that source of pollination may not solve the CCD problem any time soon.

For want of a nail…

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. It is like a reverse plague. I hope that is not the reason they went missing.Father forgive us, for we know not what we do.