One of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with an immediate problem of colony collapse disorder and scientific research is the downtime between experiment, analysis and publication. Scientists are reluctant to steal the thunder of any serious announcement from the publication before it hits the stands. Sometimes they do though, in subtle ways and the people who need that information (the beekeepers) benefit by not having to wait to get information that can help them.
Recent work by the Penn State scientists is a case in point. These scientists tried an experiment where the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus was introduced to healthy honey bee colonies to see what would happen. It was shown quite dramatically that bees with that exposure pretty much all died. Moreover, they died away from the hive, just like in the cases of Colony Collapse Disorder. After about a month all that remained in the colonies were small clusters, many of them queenless. This certainly makes a case for this virus being extremely pathogenic, and perhaps associated with CCD, say the scientists. But they are quick to add that theres more going on than just this virus.
And, just released in the June issue of The American Bee Journal were additional findings on the agricultural chemicals investigators found last year when examining components inside beehives. The chemical analyses were painstakingly careful, and thus slow (the old saying, do you want it fast, or do you want it right? comes in here). Samples come from healthy hives, collapsed hives, pollen samples and other in-hive collection points. These results, too, were kind of leaked early because much of the data was distributed at meetings and symposiums so that at least some of the information could be used by those who needed it. Some of it was discussed right here in The Beekeeper a few months ago because I was able to attend some of those symposiums, and thus get the information out early.
For this work 108 pollen samples were collected from hives that showed signs of CCD, healthy hives and just pollen from pollen traps. The researchers identified 46 different pesticides and their metabolites in the samples. Up to 17 different pesticides were found in one particular sample, but the average was 5 different pesticides in each.
They also took beeswax samples from the broodnest areas of these hives and of the 88 wax samples taken 20 pesticides were identified.
For both pollen and wax, the three most common pesticides found were Coumaphos, Fluvalinate and Chlorpyrifos. The first two compounds are chemicals beekeepers use to control varroa mites. The third is an agricultural insecticide.
The biggest surprise was that the researchers found that over the 20+ years that fluvalinate has been used to control varroa mites in beehives the formulation has changed significantly. This certainly scared me, and it should you, too - the toxicity of this once safe and benign chemical has increased from an LD50 of 65.85 micorgrams/honey bee (a non-toxic level) down to only 0.2 micrograms/honey bee (a highly toxic level). That means it has become over 300 times more toxic to honey bees, and there has been no change in instructions, that is, USE LESS nor has there been any warnings to beekeepers relative to this change. As a result, toxic levels of fluvalinate, toxic levels to honey bees that is, were found in the beeswax of some samples.
The interactions of the many other chemicals found, particularly Coumaphos, with each other to from toxic levels of poison is only now being looked at. Plus, the sub-lethal effects these chemicals (most of the rest are agricultural chemicals used by farmers and applied to crops including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) have on honey bees, and on honey bee larvae remain unknown. And one more problem? What happens when these chemicals gather together in a beehive? Does a little of this and a little of that remain only a little, or, combined, do they become a monster that only kills? No one knows. What would you think?
Anyone taking a quick look at the levels and numbers of chemicals found in these beehives would not be surprised that honeybees are having troubles. Add in the now documented effects of IAPV and the problems seem to compound. Then stir in varroa mites, tracheal mites, that new Nosema disease, traveling thousands of miles all hours of the day and night, nutritional issues due to drought, substitute diets and those monoculture deserts to forage in, plus reduced acres to even try and earn a living on and its no wonder our bees have problems. Good Grief!
And lets add one more small item, shall we? EM (that's electromagnetic) radiation has more than tripled, Im told, in only the last 5 years or so. You and I seem not to notice, but some scientists have found significant biological implications at the cellular level ... and honey bees have fewer cells than we do. Stay tuned for this...
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