I recently talked to Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, a professor from the University of Montana and one of the owners of Bee Alert Technology, a company that seeks out problems affecting honey bees, or problems that honey bees can solve. His group has been in the forefront of the projects that have honey bees seeking, and finding, hidden land mines. His group does some good stuff.
He also works a lot with the Military conducting research, some as with the mines just mentioned, but other projects also. Ill discuss one of these projects in a few weeks involving hardware that is very well adapted to examining biological samples for pathogens, pesticides and the like to discover whats inside. This has been a difficult project to pull off and all of us are glad to see it finally come to pass.
Jerry has been involved in the Colony Collapse Disorder crisis since the very beginning, and in fact was one of the players who actually named this disorder. What he did was describe what was actually happening to colonies when they came down with this problem. Below, in his own words, is probably the most graphic description of what Colony Collapse Disorder is ... how it begins, the process, and how, ultimately, it ends in a bee yard. I advise you to not continue if you are sensitive to the plight of our honey bees.
CCD colonies are not necessarily completely dead remember, we usually see a queen and a small cluster of young bees. Typically, in a given bee yard we see a few strong colonies, some moderate colonies both of which visually look to be OK. Then we see failing CCD colonies a queen, mostly young bees, an excess of brood (at the time of year when queens are laying often only 2-4 frames with some bees). We also see some collapsed colonies (consisting of only a queen and a small retinue of very young bees barely able to cover 1/2 of one frame), and a few empty boxes. Over a period of a few weeks we usually see more failing and collapsed colonies in a yard, with CCD sometimes taking out every colony, but more often, taking out 50-80% of the colonies within a beeyard or holding yard. In large holding yards, we've seen it start at one end and roll through to the other end like a wave.
When pressed, Dr. Bromenshenk elaborated on the Wave effect of this disorder when it went through a holding yard. You have to know what a holding yard is to appreciate this description. Before the almonds bloom in California in February each year, beekeepers move their bees from where ever they spent the fall. Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, any of many states. Since there is little to nothing blooming in the Central valley in California where the almonds grow in December and January beekeepers need to feed these colonies to keep them strong and to actually get them to grow and be ready to pollinate almonds. To do this efficiently they place thousands and thousands of colonies in small (too small) holding yards ... which are usually barren valleys, fields or nonproductive growing areas. There they can, because the colonies are close, efficiently feed these many colonies. Like crowded quarters everywhere however, this very efficiency can play against them because any problem can easily spread from colony to colony with incredible speed ... and yes, efficiency.
Dr. Bromenshenk was one of the first researchers to study CCD, and is one of the few from the western U.S. looking at the problem, where the problem is by far greater in scale than in the east. It is not uncommon to encounter a holding yard with many thousands of colonies in the California region. And when CCD strikes it looks like this....
We saw CCD move through holding yards, from one end to the other as early as December, 2006. We've been all over the U.S. looking at CCD and have often seen it move through holding yards and apiaries.
We've also seen it (CCD) move from bees brought in (to a holding yard) from one state, to bees (that did not have CCD) that came from another state when the introduced bee colonies were set down beside colonies already in the receiving state's beeyard. Again, we first saw this in 2006 and have seen it happen over and over put CCD colonies in a yard with non-CCD colonies, and you are likely to see many of them collapse.
Keep in mind, we DO NOT see every colony in a CCD beeyard collapse, but we see a few, then more, until only a few are left. In some cases, it takes them all out, but more often, it will take out 50-80% of the colonies in an apiary before it runs its course. In some cases, the beekeeper has picked up the survivors from several beeyards, placed them all in a common (holding) yard. Depending on whether these are 'survivors' or are still collapsing, the next visit is likely to show one of two extremes colonies coming back, or all of them dead.
Colony Collapse Disorder is alive and well, and while whole holding yards disappear, Congress fiddles, while honey bees continue to burn. If you are as convinced that this is a real, serious, and terrible problem, then contact your congress persons and get them to move off the dime and pass the Farm Bill ... and then, to work to get the money the Farm Bill authorizes, found and appropriated for the research that will solve this problem.
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