Silence of the Bees
New Report Shows Modest Decline in Colony Losses (May 27, 2009)

Bees may be bouncing back from yearly declines, but experts remain concerned about their future.

Bees have hit it big on the national radar with their mysterious disappearing act known as CCD – colony collapse disorder – which is characterized by the sudden, complete absence of honeybees in a colony.  They simply vanish, with no trace of foul play and no bodies left behind.

In late 2006, about a quarter of participating beekeepers started reporting missing colonies.  And the number of apiaries reporting CCD climbed to 36 percent from 2007 to 2008.  But the 2008-2009 survey found that only a quarter of apiaries reported any evidence of CCD, and the latest yearly bee survey found that commercial beekeepers reported having lost fewer bees, due to all causes, this past winter than the winters before.

“The drop in losses is encouraging,” said Jeff Pettis, one of the survey authors and research leader of the Agricultural Research Service Bee Research Laboratory.  The survey – conducted by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – checked on about 20 percent of the country’s 2.3 million colonies.

In 2007, beekeepers reported winter losses of 32 percent.  In 2008, they reported 36 percent.  This past year, winter losses have dropped to 29 percent.

“If the average loss is 20-25 percent, it’s sustainable to keep up a bee business,” said Dr. Eric Mussen, a honeybee expert at the University of California, Davis.  “If you’re much higher than that, you’ll have to have some other income source.”

Bees die in the winter for many reasons, including starvation, pests, and CCD.  In the 1970s, beekeepers expected 5-10 percent losses over the winter from starvation, diseases, or mismanagement.  In the 1980s, two different mite species decimated bee populations – cutting them in half.  The more aggressive mites essentially wiped out wild bees by the mid-1990s.

Honeybee populations have mostly stabilized from the mite attacks by the beginning of this decade, with beekeepers expecting losses of 20-25 percent every winter.  The mites are still prevalent, but bees seem to have learned to live with them, especially with the help of chemical treatments.

While the new statistics offer a glimmer of hope, the honeybee crisis is far from over. Scientists still have not identified the causes of CCD. However, the Agricultural Research Service has undertaken a five-year research program aimed at improving the health of honeybees. Researchers and beekeepers alike hold out hope that such efforts will pay off.

  • Marcy Elie-Pierre

    I think this brief explanation of the loss of bees was very interesting. It really focused on why bees where disappearing.

  • Jupiter

    “The more aggressive mites essentially wiped out wild bees by the mid-1990s.”
    Egad that’s not good !! Why was that not as big a story as CCD??

  • Mark

    Have they ever explored the possibility that GMO foods could be killing the bees?

  • NG

    Thanks for the update. This phenomenon of CCD is very intriguing. The reference to GMO and bees could also be a plausible argument…

  • Terrence

    Didn’t they eliminate some pesticides too, by law? Maybe their populations are rebounding.

  • Brian

    There are many stressors on bees: varroa mites, nosema, trachael mites, American and European foulbrood, pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants, and weather, to name a few. {erhaps there’s a compounding effect when different stressor are combined.

    But the largest stressor, to my thinking, is treating bees as honey and pollination machines. Give a colony access to herbicide and pesticide free forage, don’t abuse it with corn syrup and antibiotics, don’t truck it thousands of miles, and leave the bees enough honey for the winter and a dry hive, and they’ll do just fine.

    Treat the bee with respect and many of these issues vanish.

  • Rita Lanier

    Group Project

  • todd

    Fantastic / incredible show ! Unbelievably important ! Wonderful ! Must see !

  • George Kuhn

    As literate/non-scientists we do appreciate this program and others presented on PBS. It helps us stay informed about the world around us and I HOPE it helps political leaders responsible for vital environmental policy. Thanks again. We will certainly continue our regular contribution, wishing it could be more.

  • Gerald Roelants

    As a former owner of a very small farm and keeper of bees it is evident that being on top of the food chain requires us to be especially vigilant with the respect to the health of all creatures, however tiny and assist in their struggle to remain a sustainable population. It seems that we are putting an unreasonable burden on many species in an attempt to maximize profits while increasing product demand all the while attempting to feed an exploding world population.

  • mike

    this is very serious i am a hobbiest beekeeper, i had 20 hives, i now only have 4hives left.they seem to have left within one months time. i don’t know if i should buy more bees or just make do with what i have left.

  • Bob

    Perhaps “killer” bees will wind up being the salvation of our food supply. Not so much of a stretch considering the recent past.

  • Joe Maleonskie

    With the corporations pushing more and more chemicals, GM crops with built in insect killers, hormones and antibiotics in the food chain, groundwater and watersheds as well as Terminator seed technology is it any wonder that Rachel Carsons nightmare scenario is coming true? Grow and buy local and as natural as possible.

  • Tom P

    Buy organic. You are supporting a non-GMO,chemical-free farming system. The bees will thank you.

  • Martin Wood

    Ive seen the show twice now and enjoyed it. I had a swarm come in my yard three weeks ago and my son and I fixed up an old hive that belonged to my Grandfather. Its a great way to have some fun.Everyone needs to keep bees ,

  • Alain C.

    I am affraid of the conclusion of this article.
    Will they develope new geneticaly modified stronger bees !!!

    “However, the Agricultural Research Service has undertaken a five-year research program aimed at improving the health of honeybees. Researchers and beekeepers alike hold out hope that such efforts will pay off.”

  • Ruth M.

    I recently came across the the Bio Electromagnetic Reseach Initiative’s website and they had some interesting things to say about Colony Collapse Disorder which haven’t gotten much airtime at this point. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it sure gives us more to consider in this modern world of ours.
    http://bemri.org/archive/hese-uk/en/issues/nature.php (scroll down)

  • Frank Plughoff

    Most specifically on the GMO question . . . what research is being done on BT and other crops genetically modified to produce pesticides?

  • patrick

    i think the problem is there are not enough drones. if there were more drones, the hives would be much happier and live longer…or…if we can’t blame it on the russians, then blame it on the chemtrails.

  • poppino

    Why not have a a federal bailout of the wild bee population. How great would it be to have a reasonable number of wild hives. Of course we would not want to wipe out the bee hive business, but by establishing wild hives that are protected from honey production and other human interference we might allow bees to evolve naturally. I know this is not as productive as a bridge to nowhere or studying the BMs of African natives, but pollination is a good thing.

  • Betty Bell, Mississauga

    SUNSHINE MAY BE KILLING BEES!
    The show was very interesting but does not address the problem as I see it.
    I think the world temp. degrees kills the bees. As they fly from the hive they are fried by the sun’s rays and die. No wonder there is no positive location as to where they have disappeared to. They are just spread all over the place.
    This goes for the planet in general. I have seen it ALL in my long life – from the “pea-soup_ers” of the middle of the last century to the massive hurricanes of the present.
    What we need is NOT MORE GREENING but a bit of good old smoke. A blanket to cool things off. Just a bit of leaves & trash burned by each household on a daily basis would help to put things back to “Normal”.
    Get your municipality to reverse the by-law on outdoor homeowner fires.
    Sincerely yours
    Betty Bell

  • heather in washington state

    I just watched the Silence of Bees. I heard/read about the declining population of bees over the past few years but had no idea of the magnitude. Thank you “Nature” for putting this together. I agree with the above comment. There should be more widely known intervention using government funds/agencies to help figure this out. This is extremely important.

  • Michael Johnston

    I believe that part of the problem with CCD may actually be the pesticides that beekeepers use to control varroa mites. These chemicals could build up in the wax; the longer that the chemicals are used, the more toxic the hive can be. Also, disappearing disease or fall collapse has been around for a long, long time. In the 1970’s, a beekeeper named Clarence Wenner figured out that fall collapse was a nutritional problem; he solved this problem by feeding his bees pollen supplement. In his dry California climate, the bees were not bringing in enough pollen to provide a balance diet. Colony Collapse or disappearing disease can be caused by a number of different things.

  • Betty

    To: Michael Johnston
    Yes I agree that the bees may be suffering from malnutrition and other problems.
    I guess the powers that be will have to sort this one out. There seems to be plenty of professionals working on the case, but I hope they look at this site and read all the comments.
    Thank you for your interest
    Regards
    BB

  • Mark

    I am disappointed with the last paragraph:
    “…especially with the help of chemical treatments”
    Are you serious??
    Chemical treatments are what keep genetically unfit bees around, and dilutes the pool of healthy bees that can fight these off by themselves.

  • Melanie

    Is there data on whether CCD is effecting wild hives to the same extent that kept bees are being effected? I don’t remember any mention that wild bees were part of the study.

  • V Hart

    I’ve been told my good Karma has gifted me with a colony on my patio here in Huntington Beach. I was noticing after a month a handful of dead bees. Both drones and workers. I was concerned and then happened along the Nature channel to understand more. I was a bit alarmed but now I understand that the dissapearance of the colony without dying near the hive is a clear sign of ccd.
    Of coarse the bees in Farmland area’s are all going to be a high risk of chemicals.. and not until we turn into a all organic country I don’t see us doing away with that anytime soon.
    Regards
    The HB Beeman

  • zac cox

    microwaves are interfering with the bees natural “GPS” that’s why the hives are empty ….the source ?….cell phone towers !!!….how can it be anything else ???…..nothing else fits .

    of course pesticides poor nutrition overcrowded hives etc etc are adding to the problem ….but the main problem is cell phones …..the question is are we man enough to stand up to these multibillion dollar companies ?…..I AM . Please tell all your friends .

    Where cell phone transmitters have been put up close to bee hives they suffer from CCD within 10 days

  • CharBee

    come-on now, EU nations continue to ban GMO seeds and Bayer in particular… any reason besides coincidence the Bayer International isn’t mentioned in any educational study in the US? Perhaps a conflict of interest with principle donors to the new “for-profit” university scheme being propagated by our public education hating pundits on the right? ANY connection to the fact that principle donors to agri education include Bayer, Monsanto and a host of “supermarkets to the world” multination corporations whose products just always seem to pass regulation without inspection, clear studies without inclusion, become industry standards without any oversight, regulation or proper testing? gee, no doubt just an oversight by the corporate media who’s bias is purportedly left-leaning… no doubt the news aggregators simply missed the blatant conflict of interest with their all powerful advertising departments on their way to deliver their exposé to the corporate editorial department… neonicinatoids – nicotine-based genetics tied to the creation of pesticide-resistant crops manufactured by such societal caregivers as Monsanto, Scotts, Bayer and ADM… are the culprit but because corporations are now equal to human beings in rights and liberty in this United States of America… we can no longer slander them by disclosing the truth about their genocidal products…. no instead we talk on about cell phone towers, israeli viruses, cyclic “natural” phenomenon, and anything else to distract from the facts…. Okay, to be fair, if I were a newly-made human being called Bayer International, I’d also do everything I could to protect my name while trying to right any wrong I may have done while trying to help…. Bayer just didn’t have sufficient regulation and oversight when it figured Nicotine was the perfect gateway DNA to house the Roundup-ready poison into seed DNA…. so while it desperately uses its free public education science labs, its unregulated international incubators and its slightly regulated US labs to find a solution, we remain in the dark thinking its cell phones and viruses and something else… while corporate media continues to receive their substantial advertising revenue from multinationals with wide-ranging subsidiaries…. all of which can be leveraged to squeeze fiction from fact on the columns of the most left-leaning news rags…. welcome to business as usual USA… lets bring THIS form of democracy to all the nations of the planet… and meanwhile demonize any culture or people who might find it corrupt and offensive…

  • Jim Ferguson

    Another ecosystem is trembling ?

    Sometimes I am reminded of the musicians on the Titanic who refused life boats and gave their last gift to humanity.

  • J. St.Germain

    Refer to the film “Nicotine Bees” for a cogent explanation of the problem – the neonicotinoid class of pesticides. The ban in most EU countries has been effective…..let follow their lead and implement the same.

  • Joseph Krygier

    Most recent update:
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0013181
    “These findings implicate co-infection by IIV and Nosema with honey bee colony decline, giving credence to older research pointing to IIV, interacting with Nosema and mites, as probable cause of bee losses in the USA, Europe, and Asia. We next need to characterize the IIV and Nosema that we detected and develop management practices to reduce honey bee losses.”
    I keep updated on this because I teach environmental safety classes regarding insecticide applications and alternative measures in NYS

  • stuart

    Very scary. What a destructive creature we turned out to be.

  • Jennifer Reid

    I know where the bees are! They’ve moved into our house under the aluminum siding!!! Seriously, any bee-friendly suggestions???

  • Ronnie

    C’mon you so-called scientists. The symptoms are malabsorption and dementia (inability to remember how to get back home). This is the problem with letting engineers solve biological problems. Anyone out there with some veterinary/medical training have any suggestions about the etiology?

  • Vivek

    This program talks about the years 2006-2007. Today is 2011, are there any updates on this?

  • John

    I just saw this on Discovery channel in Taiwan and after hours of searching on google I found this was about things 4-5 years ago. And honestly no updates since 2009 worries me a lot. Any progress on this?

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  • Arthur

    I would like to have a current update on the bee population around the world. Has this problem become stable? Human beings, in my eyes are the underlying factor of CCD. Trying to fix one problem always causes another problem in my eyes. This problem, among many, may be because of human nature to consume resources in remarkable amounts without taking in consideration the effects on Nature. How long has nature survived without human influences?? longer then we have been on the planet, thats for sure. We need to be aware and take more consideration in protecting Nature before we all, “Humans” are soon whipped out or existence.

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  • Susan

    There also could be GMO DNA that is reducing the Population of the Bees through the Soy Bean that has got a DNA Homoene that reduces the Population of Humans by a certain percentage rate in China, and India where the Population has exploded out of proportions, and The FDA is trying to sell the GMO’s to those country’s to reduce their level of Birthing, but they are also effecting our USA Population expectations also. We are only 312 Million People in the USA, where in other Countries there are far more people per capital income. What does that say for our way of life, and how we are steering the Growth or loss of Population expectations, and Control of the Money and how much we each get for the Business or Comsumer goods we sell to those other country’s.

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