Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Picture this: your family has gone shopping in town and you’ve been left home alone. After several hours you begin to worry; they’ve still not returned. Eventually, though it may take a while, you will starve as no food is brought back to the house. In real life, you would simply leave the house and go find food, but for queen honey bees this is rarely an option when a vast majority of her workers simply leave. This is the horror that is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
CCD is an increasingly worrying phenomenon where a majority of the worker bees abandon the hive, leaving behind the vulnerable queen, brood, nurses and stores of food. The disorder has contributed to massive drops in colony counts across the world, ranging from 30-80%. CCD is especially noticeable in countries such as the United States and Spain, while Australia has seemingly been unaffected. What is causing these bees to leave so suddenly, and why does it only happen some places? We don’t know, but we have an idea.
In the past half-century, several factors affecting the decline of hives have either come into existence or have worsened. The most serious of these are:
  1. Parasites: in recent years, parasites such as the Varroa Destructor and Acarapis Woodi have become more aggressive, attacking colonies with greater frequency. 
  2. Pesticides: the introduction of Neonicotinoids (currently the most widely used pesticide in several countries) may have had an effect on hive numbers, the scale of which is disputed. 
  3. Poisons: chemicals given off by industry kill worker bees while they’re out of the hive, causing colonies to die off. 
  4. Pathogens: several bacterium, viruses and fungi which can weaken or kill worker bees have become increasingly common.
Several other factors do exist, such as increased stress, radiation, genetic bottlenecking, climate change and malnutrition, though these are seen as major contributing factors. The most likely culprits are the Varroa mite and the use of Neonicotinoids, both of which have been shown to cause bees to suddenly leave their hives. No matter what the cause is, CCD is still a scary prospect.
Winter Losses shown in relation to Neonicotinoid use. [source]
It is, however, important to consider some of the myths regarding CCD which exist on both sides of the argument. The most common of these is the idea that Colony Collapse Disorder is a sign of the disappearance of bees as a whole. Though the US winter hive mortality rate has doubled from 15% to 30% since 2005, the population has actually grown worldwide. We should view the CCD phenomenon as an eye-opener; a taste of what could happen if we continue on our present course. Other, less widespread myths exist, including:
  1. Neonicotinoids aren’t harmful to bees: Though its exact lethality is unknown, it’s clear these pesticides do at least a little bit of harm. 
  2. Colony Collapse Disorder is all about the death of bees: the presence of dead bees around a hive is not necessarily a sign of CCD; the disorder causes the colony to be almost completely abandoned. 
  3. Honey production and pollination have been severally affected: Honey and pollination have only decreased slightly as a result of CCD. 
  4. The upcoming ‘pollination crisis’ will be apocalyptic for humankind: No crops we rely heavily on for food are pollinated by honey bees, thus humans wouldn’t face extinction as some people claim.
That being said however, we shouldn’t ignore the threat CCD could pose. After all, if we became complacent bees could actually face the fight for survival, a battle nobody needs. As much as 40% of our foods are pollinated by them, and without those people would starve and industries would collapse. Plants we use to feed livestock, such as clover and alfalfa, would disappear, having a huge effect on those animals. The drawbacks of honey bee extinction would be far spread and disastrous for both people and business.
CCD is not a major threat on its own, but rather a symptom of something larger. [source]
This begs the question: is Colony Collapse Disorder the first sign of something more sinister to come? Maybe. Until then, there are plenty of things you can do to make the honey bee’s future bright. Here are five easy ways you can help starting today:
  1. Turn your garden into a nectar farm: by planting nectar producing plants in your garden, you provide an alternate, non-toxic food source to bees nearby. This could reduce the amount of pesticides local bees bring back to the hive. 
  2. Support the war against unsustainable farming: show your support for companies and groups promoting causes such as ecological farming, pesticide toxicity research or replacement, bee health research, etc. You could do anything from simply signing a petition (an excellent one by Greenpeace can be found here) to joining a protest or rally. 
  3. Get an education: read further into Colony Collapse Disorder and other similar topics (here is a good starting point). After all, knowledge is power and the information will be important in the fight for the honey bee.
  4. Give an education: no one can save a species by themselves, let alone the entire world. Teach everyone you can about the importance of honey bees, the dangers they could soon be facing and how they can live sustainably. 
  5. Buy local, buy organic: organic farming and honey production methods are completely free of pesticides, one of the suspected main causes of CCD. By both supporting and buying from these producers, you can show that these processes can be completely sustainable.
These methods are only the beginning; if you want more of a challenge, become a beekeeper (check out the guides and courses here if you live in England). No matter how you chose to help, every effort moves us a step closer towards our goal: to protect the honey bee. We’re marching (buzzing?) right alongside you.
Have an idea on how we should be controlling CCD or honey bee conservation in general? Be sure to leave a comment below and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.


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