Bees are mysteriously disappearing across the nation at an alarming rate and nobody seems to know why. In what is being called “colony collapse disorder,” disappearing bees are threatening the livelihoods of beekeepers as well as the production of numerous crops, including California almonds. Bees play an essential role in pollinating crops, and the increasing number of disappearing bees potentially jeopardizes farmers, too. Nothing is as precise at pollinating as honeybees, and efforts to create a substitution have been unsuccessful.
Researchers are trying to get to the bottom of this puzzling disappearance, but there is no conclusive proof or solution. Bees fly off and pollinate crops when the temperature gets warm, and when it cools off they always find the way back to their hives. The bees are simply not coming back. Are they getting lost? Are they dying? There are many theories as to what is happening to the bees, but hardly any evidence. Some believe the bees are getting disoriented, and flying aimlessly in the cold weather will cause the bees to die of exhaustion. Others say genetically modified crops are the root of the problem. This possibility is being explored; however, if this were the case there would be traces of poison found in the dead bees. Some even think cell phone towers are disorienting bees and causing them to buzz in all directions but home.
Bill Lewis of Bill’s Bees at the Saturday Downtown Farmers’ Market says he has experienced this mass bee disappearance for the past five years. For the past two years Lewis has lost over half of his colonies. Lewis believes the root of the problem is the parasite varroa mite. When this mite gets into the hives it weakens the colonies, causing bees to be more susceptible to viruses and cold. There are controls for this parasite, but over the years the mites have built up a resistance. This year, though, Lewis was more prepared to fight the mites and lost only 10 percent of his colonies.
According to Lewis, there are much bigger threats to bees than colony collapse disorder. The loss of places to keep bees is a looming concern. Many beehives are placed in citrus orchards, but citrus growers now view bees as a problem: bees cross-pollinate citrus and this cross-pollination results in seeded fruit. These days, more and more citrus growers are growing seedless fruit and going so far as trying to pass laws to ban beehives from their orchards. Many beehives are also placed in rural areas, but rapid growth and development is resulting in less places to house bees.
As of yet, the cost of honey is not rapidly rising, but the rising cost of production is stinging beekeepers. In order to control mites, Lewis has to keep a close watch on his bees. He has to check on them more frequently, which requires more time and fuel. The dry weather has also put a damper on honey production. No rain equals no flowers equals no honey. In spite of the tough times, Lewis says beekeepers are hanging in there and keeping their bees buzzing.