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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Vanishing bees vex scientists
Where have all the bees gone?

That's the question a lot of people have been asking lately, and with good reason -- researchers say up to one-third of all the honeybees in the United States have vanished. And no one knows why exactly.

Scientists are scrambling to explain the sudden, mysterious die-off of honeybee hives -- something they've named "Colony Collapse Disorder" -- before it gets worse.

Before you roll your eyes and say to yourselves, "Ok, another science story," think about this: experts say honeybees are responsible for one-third of all the food we eat; and according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, they add $15 billion to the bottom line of the agriculture industry.

These bees are like tiny workhorses. Without them flying around, pollinating millions of flowers each spring, we wouldn't have a very interesting or a very balanced diet. No apples, peaches, blueberries, cucumbers or almonds -- just some of the 90 crops dependent on honeybees for pollination, according to entomologists we spoke to. Also, beef and dairy cattle require alfalfa in their diet. Guess who is responsible for that? Yep. The honeybee. Chew on that the next time you sit down for a steak dinner.

For tonight's program, Randi Kaye and I traveled to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, to meet the man who first sounded the alarm about the mystery and pressured the government to investigate. In the course of two months, he says he lost some 80 million bees -- 2,000 of his hives. And he's not alone. Beekeepers in more than 25 states and Canadian provinces are reporting major losses, too.

We'll take you inside the USDA Bee Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, and Penn State University to follow scientists who are using forensics -- just like homicide detectives -- to get to the bottom of these billions of deaths. They are performing bee autopsies and DNA work.

Think of it as CSI: Honeybee.

So then, what is killing the honeybees? Despite some pretty far-fetched theories (cell phone radiation, a bee "rapture," an Osama bin Laden plot), researchers are looking at a combination of a relatively new insecticide along with an increase in bee viruses. It's a one-two punch that weakens the bees' immune systems and leaves them susceptible to pathogens. They expect to announce preliminary findings in the next few weeks.

And while some of the affected hives seem to be improving, experts at the USDA say that is because there is more food available for the bees during the warm spring. They warn it's still too early to tell whether America's honeybees can overcome this mysterious disorder.

-- By Jason Rovou, CNN Producer
Posted By CNN: 1:46 PM ET
  30 Comments
Fascinating. Even though the "cell phone radiation" theory appears to be far-fetched, cell phones have only been prevelant for twenty years. Do we know yet what effects such radiation has on us and other living things?

Don't "bee" so sure it's not the phones.
Posted By Steve - Peoria, Ill. : 2:05 PM ET
Mr. Rovou,

I am really anxious to see this report on AC360 tonight, because to be completely honest I had no idea that this was an issue. I think what is really amazing is that we don't really ever appreciate the importance of bees to us until they start to disappear. I know I'm guilty of it; on a hot summer day, you are making BBQ, relaxing by the pool, and bees start to swarm all around you, and I've said "Oh gosh I wish they would just go away! I hate bees!" But when you stop and think they are essential to our daily life and without them things would be drastically different. I guess the old adage applies, "you don't know what you've got until it's gone." I hope that this report sparks attention to the crisis so that we can begin to resolve the problem.
Posted By Jessica, Bourbonnais Illinois : 2:06 PM ET
Re: the Bee/Cell Phone Connection-



If cell phone radiation can zap the magnetic strip on a bank card, what might it be doing to delicate little bees?
Posted By xtina - chicago , IL : 2:09 PM ET
Hi Jason,
I guess everything on the earth is undergoing some sort of peril, even the bees. Let's hope they find out what's causing it. All I can say is where I live, bees are alive and well and swarming all over my yard, in huge numbers, on every flower. I guess I will look at them as less of an enemy now. Take Care
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 2:12 PM ET
Jason, Glad to see you all have kept a sense of humour. I just had to laugh at the possibility of a bee 'rapture'! The Colony Collapse Disease sounds like something out of a psychiatry diagnostic manual. I'm intrigued at the idea of a bee autopsy... how is that done? On a more serious note, I hope they can track the cause of this fairly quickly. With West Nile disease, there has been more emphasis here in Ontario on using pesticides to treat mosquito larva. Is this one of the pesticides that's implicated? This year, I'm not noticing many typical bees and wasps, just huge bumble bees so far. Looking forward to your report CSI:Honeybee or CSI:Lewisberg, and the continuation of the Planet in Peril series.
Posted By Vicky, Ottawa, ON : 2:28 PM ET
There was a bee the other day in my yard the size of Rhode Island. It was terrifying and beautiful at the same time. Bees are like bats; misunderstood, slightly creepy to humans, but very, very beneficial to us, to other animals, and to the ecological system.
Posted By Lenni - Lowell, IN. : 2:30 PM ET
Since life moves at a frenetic pace and can, at times, be hectic. You don't really think about insects being really beneficial to society. You just think about them as roving pests that bite and bother. The thought of not having pollinators to further the various plant species can be a potential problem. I hope that the apiarists are working to see what the problem is and can tell us what we can do to prevent it.

I hope that this is not an affect of global warming, polluted air in cities, or even possibly contaminated plants. I look forward to the story to learn more about this bizarre event.

On a personal note, I must say that there are big fat bees that live around my home. They are always pollinating the azailias when they bloom, and I have had to spray them so they will not be at the door when my family or guests are trying to enter. After reading this story, I feel bad. Maybe I am adding to the bee deaths; but, we have to get inside the house, so those bees are going to have to be sacrificed.

Peace,
M. Bolden
Posted By Sylvie Grace, Atlanta, Georgia : 2:34 PM ET
I am a small hobby beekeeper and I covet my bees. The intricacies of their social behavior within and outside of the hive is facinating. While they are truely the heavy lifters of our agricultural system they are also extremely fragile, misunderstood, reviled and sprayed with insecticides. If you spray your flowers or vegetables the bees may not die immediately but can carry the poison back to their hive and kill many many more bees. Perhaps planting something non-flowering by your front door is a better solution than "sacrificing" some bees.

Thank you
Posted By Hollie Hester, Santa Fe, NM : 2:59 PM ET
I wonder if a solution (albeit temporary) wouldn't be for the growers of the crops that require bee pollination to bring bee hives and their human tenders to be right next to the crops. I really am worried about this, and I wonder if decimation of bee colonies to this extent has happened before, in our country or others? I would hate to do without the crops that might suffer, as I have been eating healthier and these are the very foods that provide a healthy diet.
Posted By Sherri Lee, Davenport, Iowa : 3:01 PM ET
This is an important story and one I am very interested in hearing.

I've spent a good deal of time outside in the garden this spring and while I've seen the larger bumble bees and smaller yellow jackets, I haven't seen any of the brown honey bees as yet.

Whatever the problem is, I hope the answer is found soon.
Posted By Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 3:07 PM ET
The bee "rapture" or an Osama bin Laden plot sounds like something from the X-Files. Where is Mulder and Scully when you need them? On a serious note, I am scared to think I might not be able to eat my favorite foods due to the death of honeybees. I hope this program opens the eyes of policitians, so something can be about this problem.

Thanks,
Darla
Scott, Louisiana
Posted By Darla : 3:10 PM ET
Jason,
To bee or not to bee? That is the real question here!
Posted By Polly Anna, Shreveport,LA : 3:10 PM ET
Bee "rapture" or Osama bin Laden causing the death of honeybees sounds like something from the X-Files. Where is Mulder and Scully when you need them? On a serious note, I am scared to think I might not be able to eat my favorite foods due to the death of bees. I hope this program will open the eyes of governement officials, and help save the honeybees.

Thanks,
Darla
Scott, Louisiana
Posted By Darla : 3:15 PM ET
I have only seen, one carpenter bee, so far this year, in our yard. This concerns me. I love bees. They are really cute, and beautiful (fuzzy bodies, striking colors, the way they fly). I've only ever gotten stung when I stepped on one (barefoot), which, you know, is understandable. I also love fruit (and it is already so expensive). I hope the cause and the cure, can be found.

Are there certain types of bees, that are immune?

Is there anything the average citizen can do to help the bees, plant something, build something?
Posted By Tiffany, Schnecksville, PA. : 3:20 PM ET
Well, "Glory Bee"!! hehehe

This morning, as I sipped my cup of Hazelnut coffee, I looked out the garage door into my 12' x 21' garden plot (full of 114 different veggie plants). I was delighted to see the 1st glorious Italian Zucchini Squash orange blossom-flower bursted forth on one of my zucchini plants! "Already" I thought happily! But, alas will all my veggies get *pollinated* this summer?? I also have noticed the decline in brown honeybee sightings the past couple/few years. But, I still get TONS of great veggie harvest--a real bumper crop--that I share with friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. I hope the bees will "bee all right"!! Maybe Lori Ann in Buellton, CA can send some bees my way! :-)
Posted By Mark, Sacramento, CA : 3:46 PM ET
What can folks do to help reduce the problem of disappearing bees? When you find bees in a location that's inconvenient, DON'T call an exterminator to "get rid of" the bees. An exterminator will kill them. Instead, call an apiarist, or contact the local agriculture office, so they can come and "transplant" the bees to a hive away from your home or wherever. So take the extra step, and call someone who isn't going to kill the bees to solve your problem. Thanks!
Posted By Carol, Chicago, IL : 3:56 PM ET
I’m looking forward to this show. The bees dying is another indication that something’s not right in our environment, kind of like the canary who dies down in the coal mine when the air is bad.

I’m not surprised that the bees are dying. Between the pesticides farmers are using, and all the modified crops, i.e., corn, they are growing, it’s not good.

I read that studies show the bees are not dying in the hive, but rather something is causing them to lose their sense of orientation so that they cannot return to the hive. Then, the empty hives aren’t being raided for honey by other insects, which is normally what happens when the bees die naturally in the winter. If the other bugs are staying away, there must be something strange or toxic in there. Scary!

Thanks for continuing to air features on how our planet is in peril, because of what we humans are doing. We are not very good stewards of this land we’ve been given. Hope it's not too late to change our behavior and get it right.
Posted By Linda, Boulder, Colorado : 4:00 PM ET
I've been following this story since April on my blog after hearing about it first on a Bill Maher show. Last week CNN had a report filed (something by the name of "Honeybees and you"??) that indicated that beekeepers in Florida had quit using pesticides and were using organic methods, such as menthol and tea tree essential oils, and were seeing a resurgence in their bee numbers. Is this just a coincidence with the warm weather or is there really something to it?

Looking forward to the report and do hope it has some information that would indicate a solution to this problem - I for one wouldn't care to live without the foods bees pollinate for us.

Thanks for looking into this!
Posted By Annie Kate, Birmingham AL : 4:02 PM ET
Aside from the obvious human possibilities has there been an increase in other natural predators? Hornets, wasps, and spiders?

I am actually more apt to think it is the insecticide version though.

As far as the other theories here... Bee rapture... um... eeeyaaaaah. ok. cause it's written all over the bible how god detests bees and their golden idols [i.e. honey ;)].

A Terrorist plot aimed at bees? I find that less likely than, say, arson attempts in our national forrests, subliminal messages in violent video games, the careful evaluation and exploitation of U.S. youths disillusioned with the promises society has made them, the possibility of sleeper agents intent on, not actual terrorist acts, but possibly terrorist propoganda preached as truths in our delapidated cities and more empoverished and less educated suburban homes, as well as on youth oriented internet forums, and any other slightly more effective [if equally as unlikely] attempts to create terror in a given nation.

But hey, anything's possible. Like Saddam Hussein really could have had WMD's.

What?! It could happen?! [Apply likelihood scale now]
Posted By James Foley Kamiah, Idaho : 4:12 PM ET
When I see bees, I usually head in the opposite direction. I've never really thought of them as helpful, except in flower gardens. I'm looking forward to hearing what the scientists at my alma mater have to say tonight. I'm happy to leave all bug CSI to you guys! Have a great day!
Posted By Kathy Chicago,Il : 4:38 PM ET
...add-on. Honeybees are not the ONLY pollinators. Big, jumbo, "Bomber Bumblebees" (the big, beefy black ones, and the black with yellow ones) and many other kinds of species of bees also pollinate. But the Europen Honeybee is the "Bulldozer-Workhorse" of them all! Goooo Honeybees!

Although I'm not scientifically certain, I always see different kinds of flies buzzing around the garden, and, I think they may also be pollinating...
Posted By Sally, Seattle, WA : 4:52 PM ET
Thanks Lori Ann in Buellton, CA--the BEES HAVE ARRIVED!! Man, THEY ARE FAST!!!

And, since so many of you are curious, here is the breakdown of the 114 plants in my veggie garden:

4 basil
16 green beans/bush beans
12 okra (NEW this year--burn's mom from texas--yummeee! to be dipped in egg batter and then rolled in corn meal and wheat flour and then pan-fried!! yummeee!!)
6 large red cherry tomatoes
6 sweet 100 cherry tomatoes
6 sun gold tomatoes (everyone's favorite)
8 zucchini squash
12 cucumbers
8 jalapeno peppers
8 red bell peppers
8 green bell peppers
8 yellow bell peppers
8 sweet banana peppers
8 mild/sweet italian peppers

(Can somebody check the ##s total again for me?!?)

In a few weeks/month, I won't have to buy anything but lettuce and spinach (and green onions) for *Super-Salads* all Summer/Fall long until AFTER Thanksgiving!
Posted By Mark, Sacramento, CA : 5:06 PM ET
Question to all Bloggers:

Since pollination *fertilizes* the flower (?sex organ?) and creates the fruit/veggie of the plant (?offspring?), is pollination kind of "like sex"?!?

All I can say is, when the bugs are out there pollinating my vegetable garden, I LOOK THE OTHER WAY!! hahaahhhaaa!!
Posted By Francis, St. Louis, MO : 5:16 PM ET
Bees pollinate between 80 & 90% of our food crops, from apples through soybeans to zucchini. The domestic bees that do the job are European honey bees. They have been bred to be gentle and non-aggressive. Unfortunately there are almost no wild honey bees now due to two types of mites that have been plaguing the poor creatures for 20 years or so. The domestic bees get treated for these mites with limited success and the bees that swarm and go wild usually die in about a year. Commercial bee keepers that transport their hives to the crops run the risk of exposure to pesticides which weaken or kill the bees. Certain crops use a high amount of pesticides, like cucumbers for instance.
After the blizzard of 96, there was a major bee die-off, especially in the northern states. In the winter bees become less active, but they don't hibernate. And more importantly they don't defecate in the hive. They wait till a mild patch of weather and go out on a cleansing flight. That year, between the mite problem and the weather forcing the bees to remain in the hives longer than normal, the weakened bees went out on a cleaning flight and didn't have enough stamina to come back to the hive. Many bee keepers found their hives completely empty in the spring of that year. I believe the die-off was about 35% in the states south of the blizzard line and 90% north of it. It was almost 3 years before bees started to visit my garden again. Yes flies will do some pollinating but that's only because they happen to land on the flowers. Bees were built for the work. As for a heartier breed of bees, some one tried that by crossing the more aggressive African bees with the gentle European ones. It was not a rousing success and we now have African "killer" bees in the southern states to show for that folly.
By the way, Bees are listed as a protected species under the homeland security act. But it is not enforced. you can still get an exterminater to kill them.
Posted By Helene Philadelphia, PA : 6:31 PM ET
To Mark Sacramento~
I am so glad you have seen bees in your garden! Now honey, you garden will be fruitful and multiply! Are we invited to dinner? YUM! Sounds good! And I DO like Okra too!
BEEcause it's like, well, like honey to a bee!
Posted By Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX : 7:16 PM ET
Why doesn't that Mark-man in Sacramento, CA grow any melons of any kind? Here in Texas, we grow LOTS of watermelons. they're great!
Posted By Betty, Austin, TX : 7:55 PM ET
Sounds like Mark in Sac, CA needs his very own beehive colony to pollinate all those vegetable plants in his garden!!
Posted By Van, Portland, OR : 7:59 PM ET
Mark has planted his very own "salsa garden", folks!

Just add cilantro! hehehe
Posted By Cynthia, Reno, NV : 8:02 PM ET
Hey Jason,

I heard about the bees a while ago. Altough they are not my favorite(I've been stung one too many times) and have been known to run(I know,you're not supposed to run!:-) I understand the importance they have in our food chain.
In my province,to date,this year,they have lost 40% of the bees. In 2003,they lost 50%!!It goes to show that how tiny and annoying you might be,you are important and have a role to play.I am no scientist,but would lean more towards pesticides.
To Mark,Sacramento: Counted twice and it's 118. Hey,could you send some my way:-DD?TOnight,it's going to go to the freezing point here and in some areas of the province,they are going to have around 4 inches of snow. Huh,excuse-me? Could someone confirm to me that it's really may 16th?!!I guess the bees won't be pollinating my flowers anytime soon hey?
Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 9:31 PM ET
Is Mark in Sacramento hinting at an " ac360 Bloggers' " Summer Cook-Out?
Posted By DH- Lake Barrington, IL : 11:54 AM ET
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