Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Vanishing Bees

On Sunday night, together with dozens and dozens of other people, I went to Common Roots Cafe, to preview a film in process called The Vanishing of the Bees. Marla Spivak, Brian Fredricksen of Ames Farm, and the filmmakers, Maryam Henein and George Langworthy answered questions about what is being called Colony Collapse Disorder. I don't think of it as a disorder, but rather as a syndrome - a collection of effects that we have yet attribute to a specific disorder.

The film is going to be exquisitely beautiful. It is also going to include a vast assortment of perspectives from serious scientific researchers to more fringey theorists. I count my self as one of the fringey theorists. In CCD, hives are abandoned by all but a very few bees, leaving behind precious brood. Under normal circumstances, bees live very regimented lives - they progress from one role to the next, spending a more or less set number of days in each role. Bees aged 2 weeks less clean cells (beginning with their own), and feed larvae. Older "house bees" meet the field bees at or near the hive entrance and unload pollen, nectar and propolis. When bees are about 12 to 15 days older, their wax glands have developed sufficiently to begin comb building. During their third week, house bees will exit the hive to defecate and to orient themselves to the hive's position relative to landmarks and the sun. After the third week, the house bees become field, or forager bees, and leave the hive to perform the task that they will fill for the brief (3 week) remainder of their lives. Part of a beekeeper's challenge is to assess when the balance may be off. For instance, when there are too few bees that have aged into the field bee role, and so supplemental feeding is needed.

The thing that I find remarkable about CCD, is that not only are the field bees gone, but also the house bees, who would not otherwise leave the hive. So I ask myself, what holds a hive together? It's all about pheromones - detected by a sense of perception that human do not share - "scent" from the bees' that are responsible for bees' ability to recognize each other as belonging to the same colony, to recognize that the brood is theirs, which eggs belong to the queen and which eggs belong to the laying workers, and other perceptions. So I wonder, is this syndrome reflective of destruction of the bees pheromonal perception abilities? It would be like humans loosing vision and hearing and smell. No ability to recognize home, family, friends.

This is a link to a wonderful recent presentation by Maryann Frazier, a CCD researcher, to the Worcester County Bee Club, MA, on March 8, 2008. The consensus seems to be that there are some things CCD isn't, some things it could be, and that it is probably a combinations of things, including factors that adversely affect the bees' immune systems. I'm a bit concerned that people are fixating on the pesticide levels, as that doesn't account for the abandonment behavior - yet. Experiments could establish that bees will abandon hives that are contaminated, but that hasn't yet occurred.

1 comment:

twinsetellen said...

This is fascinating, but I'd enjoy it more if it weren't so scary.