Colony Collapse Disorder is what happens when the majority of worker bees in a hive suddenly die off, leaving behind the queen, nurse bees to feed the young and plenty of food. There are many theories as to what causes a hive to collapse, but in all likelihood, colony collapse is due to a number of factors.
About 10 years ago, beekeepers started reporting large numbers of hive collapse that didn’t suggest any known causes. One cause of sudden bee death is by acute poisoning, such as when a homeowner intends to kill a bee swarm, or if certain poisonous pesticides were accidentally introduced into the hive, or if there was insufficient food to feed the hive. In those cases, the telltale sign would be a large number of dead bees near the hive. In the cases reported by the beekeepers, the worker bees were suddenly gone with very dead bees near the hive, and the queen, nurse bees and young bees were still intact. A hive without worker bees to continually bring food back for the colony cannot survive.
Several factors are being investigated by scientists as to why colony collapse occurs. Some of those factors include the varroa mite which invades bee colonies; new diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema; pesticide poisoning; the stress bees are placed under while being transported across the country from farm to farm for their pollination services; changes to the local habitat where bees forage for food, and an inadequate forage supply. Colony collapse could even be a combination of several of these factors.
Both the EPA and the USDA are working to find solutions for colony collapse. Bees play a vital role in our food system by pollinating plants so that the plants can produce food. About one-third of the food we eat, such as beans, almonds, fruit, avocadoes and more, depends on pollination by bees and other insects, so if bee populations are in danger, so is a substantial portion of our food supply.
So what can you do to help bees stay healthy? First of all, use extreme caution with pesticides and avoid using them on blooming flowers or in places where you see bees and butterflies. Bees are normally inactive in the evening and at night, so it’s best to apply pesticides in the evening so it can dry overnight. Powdered pesticides are particularly harmful because the fine particles stick to bees just like pollen and can poison the entire hive. Do not apply pesticides on a windy day because the poison may drift onto neighboring plants that provide food for bees. If at all possible, try to use organic pest control methods that don’t rely on chemicals. Make sure the product you are using is right for your specific need and don’t apply more than what the instructions call for. Finally, provide good forage for bees with colorful, attractive flowers in your yard or in pots. Not only will they be good for the bees, but they’ll also add beauty to your home.