Bees again: finally this problem is beginning to get onto the general radar…

by Diane Duane

…most likely because it’s spring, and beekeepers are starting to discover empty hives…

“Crops — and our wallets — may get stung by bee problems”

(Funny how we don’t notice till it’s our wallets that get stung.)

About one-third of U.S. food depends on animal-borne pollination, and 80% of that is conducted by commercial honey bees. Among the huge range of crops pollinated by the bees are apples, oranges, avocadoes, almonds, carrots and celery — just to name a few. The Agriculture Department pegs the value of crops pollinated by bees at a whopping $14 billion.

One big cause of trouble over recent years has been the rapid growth and spread of the “vampire” bee mite Varroa destructor. But another, as serious — if not more so — and much to the fore this year, is “colony collapse disorder”: something causes worker bees to leave their hives and not come back. For a creature built to live cooperatively in a hive structure, this is obviously not a survival-oriented behavior.

[CCD] has swept through 22 states and into Canada, and some beekeepers have lost as much as 90 percent of their hives.

Most threatened are crops — including Florida oranges, Georgia peaches, Texas cotton, North Carolina melons and many others — that depend on domesticated bees for most of their pollination.

“This could, indeed, be the ‘perfect storm’ for pollination services,” said Caird Rexroad, associate administrator of the Agricultural Research Service. “With invasive pests and diseases of bees increasing over the last two decades, we may have now reached a tipping point where the bee colony can no longer fight back.”

The problem is all over Europe as well. Myself, I’m going to start looking into whether there’s a queen breeder in Ireland. Time to start some hives going… since, as one story points out, it’s likely that the work of the bees is involved in one out of every three bites of food we eat.

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