Scientists Turn to Military Tech to Solve Bee Colony Mystery

Published February 1, 2008

Scientists attempting to address Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has ravaged honeybee colonies around the globe, are turning to the latest military technology in an effort to identify what is killing the bees.

Researchers are in the final stages of procuring an integrated virus detection system the U.S. Army uses to detect biological and chemical attacks.

They hope the highly sensitive detection system will determine whether any viruses, which are a prime suspect in CCD, are responsible for the disorder.

Recent Die-Offs

Scientists in the western United States discovered CCD in late 2006, when they noticed worker bees from many colonies were abandoning their hives. CCD has befuddled scientists for more than a year, as the culprits identified in somewhat similar die-offs in recent decades appear to be only partially responsible, at most, for the current problem.

Parasitic mites have attacked bee colonies for decades and caused massive bee die-offs in 1995-96 and 2000-01. Scientists have found signs of mite damage in about 75 percent of affected colonies, but they have been unable to find evidence of any known bee threat in the remaining 25 percent.

Activists Change Tune

Environmental activists initially pointed the finger at radio waves from cell phones, generating substantial media coverage of the alleged menace. Scientists researched the allegations and definitively ruled out cell phones as a factor in CCD.

Now activists are pointing the finger at pesticides, alleging the substances that have kept mites in check during recent years may have sufficiently accumulated in bee hives to damage the bees they are designed to protect. While scientists have yet to rule out pesticide accumulation as a CCD factor, they have found no evidence to support the theory.

“It is not cell phones, the Rapture, ocean seeding, jet contrails, cannibal bees, a Russian plot, avian flu, spirit ecology, crop circles, or a number of other similar possible causes suggested to us,” said Jerry Bromenshank, a bee researcher at the University of Montana, quoted in the December 14 Capital Press.

“Personally, I think the cause is likely to be a combination of several factors, but we really don’t know yet,” Bromenshank added.

Fungal Disease Suspected

Randy Oliver, a prominent private bee researcher in California, told the Capital Press scientists are finding evidence of a fungal disease known as Nosema cerana in a high percentage of CCD-ravaged bee hives. Nosema cerana is related to the relatively benign Nosema apis fungus that has long been associated with bees.

“There is absolutely no scientific basis to blame pesticides for CCD,” said Heartland Institute Science Director Jay Lehr, Ph.D. “Pesticide bans would almost certainly do more harm than good and would unleash still more stress factors on the honeybee population.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.