February 17, 2009 at 10:49AM
by Kim Flottum
I'm often accused of being overly optimistic. Sometimes that's true. It is today. I listened to those with their heads on straight, with long experience in the field, with years of scientific background ... and they all said basically the same thing. And I even looked at the evidence myself, listened to the bees, watched them fly. The experts said they were in good shape, the bees looked like they were in good shape, and the beekeepers said things were going the way they used to go ... just fine, thanks.
But Colony Collapse Disorder strikes most often right about now, and up until right about now things were going just fine. Finer, in fact than in years. I, in my optimism, listened to all of the experts and all of the beekeepers and even saw all of the improvements ... better nutrition, fewer mite-controlling chemicals, cleaner hives, less pesticide exposure. And it looked good. Really, it did. Or at least it did on the west coast. Mostly, the bees out there were doing fine. And with fewer trees and more bees, suddenly it sounded like the days of old ... the wild, wild west once again.
But it's those east coast bees that that didn't get the message I guess. Florida bees, strong only weeks ago, one operation went from nearly a thousand colonies to a handful ... only 50 or so ... in a mere three weeks. 1,000 to only 50. That's a loss of about 50 a day, two an hour 24 hours a day for three weeks.
Samples indicated that the Nosema disease was present but not at lethal levels. But it was there. Virus was too. And here's an interesting turn....
Another operation went through a similar loss, though not in the huge numbers the first one did. But the pattern of infection is interesting, and those involved were able to watch it over time.
Initially, in colonies that were apparently healthy, samples indicated that there were usually two to four viruses present ... garden variety types, the researchers said. But when the colonies began to show signs of problems, the samples indicated there were seven to nine viruses present in the bees. As the colonies continued to rapidly dwindle, virus samples showed that at the end, only one or two viruses remained ... the same as were there at the beginning. So were these tiny villains the killers? Did they provide the stress that allowed others to take advantage, weaken the bees, then finish them off at the end? The Nosema disease that's attracting attention was part of the complex ... but what part? There wasn't pesticide or nutritional stress. If, indeed, colony collapse disorder is a pathogen, this is the prime example of what it looks like. No cell phones. No pesticides. No bad food. A complex of viruses, bacteria and ... and what?
And just to cloud the picture, another east coast operation, with a history of having colony collapse disorder in the past, had it again right at the end of January ... right on time. This time they were aware of what was going on and called in the scientists. Mites, Nosema off the scale, and a long, dwindling decline. An indistinct virus complex with no real other obvious causes ... go figure. Maybe one of the viruses is in common with the rest. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe something else.
Like I said. It's not over til it's over. And it's not over yet.
Now I'm a believer, again.