With increasing concern, I’ve been reading about colony collapse disorder.  This phenomenon started in October 2006, when beekeepers noted major losses of honey bees in their hives.  No dead bees were found, the queen was still in the colony, but the bees were just–gone! 

Honey bees are critical to our food supply.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that we get about one third of our diet from insect-pollinated plants, with the honey bee doing about 80% of that work.  Honey bees pollinate about 130 agricultural crops in the United States–everything from almonds to apples to cucumbers.  Bee pollination accounts for nearly $15 billion in crop value. 

So what is causing the honey bee colony collapse disorder?  No single cause has been determined. 

Pathogens and pesticides may be part of the problem.  More likely, a combination of factors add up to stress the poor honey bee.

One factor that doesn’t help:  A University of Virginia study determined that pollution from automobiles and power plants is destroying the fragrance of flowers–making it hard for bees to follow scent trails to their source.  Scent molecules that could travel 1,000 to 1,200 meters in the 1800’s can only travel about 200 to 300 meters today.  The scents are chemically altered. 

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, notes that this leads to a vicious cycle.  The pollinators can’t easily find the flowers–and the flowers, which rely on pollinators to reproduce, can’t proliferate.

So what can we do to help the honey bee?  Of course, be prudent with our use of electricity and fuel.  Also, be careful about spraying pesticides, especially during the middle of the day when bees are most likely to be “working.”