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Understanding Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is a disturbing trend that has been documented around the world. Significant numbers of worker bees mysteriously disappear from their hive, ultimately resulting in the death of the colony.

Beekeepers began reporting hive losses of anywhere form 30 to 90 percent of their hives. Perfectly healthy and otherwise unremarkable hives and European honey bee colonies were inexplicably emptied of worker bees. The hive doesn't have dead worker bees, and often there are honey stores and immature bees, as well as a queen, still present. Since then, CCD has been reported in North America, Europe, and Asia. Current estimates in the U.S. suggest that roughly one-third of all U.S. honey bee colonies have vanished.

There is no known definitive cause for CCD. Theories include: climate and environmental changes, insecticides, natural bee parasites like Varroa mites, and insect diseases and viruses. In September of 2007, USDA researchers published a study based on comparing healthy bees with samples from bee colonies affected with CCD, and found a high percentage of the CCD colonies were infected with the Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV), a virus that is often carried by the Varroa mite. IAPV was found in 96.1% of the samples from CCD colonies. These may all be contributing factors to stress-related immune deficiency as well.

CCD is important to all of us, whether or not we care about honey, because bees are crucial for the pollination of plants. Fruiting crops and nut-bearing trees in particular depend on bees for pollination. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, about one mouthful in three in our diet benefits from honey bee pollination. Bluntly put, there are a number of plants that will not fruit without honey bee pollination. Almonds, apples, avocados, berries of all sorts, broccoli, citrus fruits, carrots, cucumbers, grapes, onions, peaches, peanuts, plums, pumpkins, and a variety of hay and field crops require bees for pollination.

While the scientists and researchers attempt to determine the cause and a solution to CCD, the rest of us can take simple steps to provide and look out for honey bees. Be careful about what pesticides we use and when; avoiding their use at midday when honey bees are out searching for nectar. Plant flowers that are rich with nectar like red clover, bee balm, and foxglove. Don’t forget to buy products from companies like Häagen-Dazs  and Burt’s Bees  who support research into CCD and work to heighten the public’s awareness about the plight of the honey bee.