Here's a thought on the current status of Colony Collapse Disorder. Long ago...well, just over 50 years ago or so, but not too far away from where I am now, a group of University and USDA Honey Bee Scientists gathered to study a problem that had been plaguing beekeepers in all parts of the country for a couple of years. Beekeepers were complaining that they were finding colonies devoid of bees, gone, empty and barren, and nothing was left behind to give a clue as to what had happened. Quick research showed that this wasn't a new problem, and indeed had occurred quite a few times over the years...well, over the years that people had been keeping records about such things.
By the time the scientists had been rallied to do something by concerned beekeepers the situation had already gone on for a couple of seasons and was heading into the third. They wanted to meet it head on for the third year to see what could be done. Of course by the time they got together it was plain that the problem was abating...and in fact it was difficult to find samples to study.
One of the scientists was heard to say that it was a real task to study what they were calling disappearing disease, because every time they got together to study it..."the damn thing disappeared."
This spring, the damn thing seems to have disappeared again. We've looked at why we think this is the case, and, indeed, beekeepers have gone a long way in improving how they keep bees healthy. Better nutrition management, cleaner homes for the bees to live in, safer mite controls being used by beekeepers and of course many of the bees and beekeepers that were susceptible to whatever it was are gone.
Late last week a press release was issued by the White House and the USDA about one more thing that seems to have shown CCD to the door this year: honey bees that have some resistance to one of the suspected precursors of CCD the varroa mite.
The White House and CCD? Yes, the White House, the USDA and CCD.
Down in Baton Rouge, La., there's a USDA Honey Bee Research Lab. There, they've imported and refined several strains of pretty much mongrel bees from eastern Russia that have been living with varroa for over a hundred years. In that time those varroa mites have taken a terrible toll on those bees. But not all of them died. In fact, some have thrived, and it was offspring from these varroa- and tracheal mite-tolerant bees that came to America. After vigorous inspections and extended isolation time to make certain they were disease and pest free, plus a few years of controlled breeding to increase even more this tolerance to mites, they have been released to the beekeepers here that need them. The result is that beekeepers using Russian bees use far fewer (and often no) mite control chemicals to keep their bees healthy. Because of this they spend less money and less time with this aspect of their business, and they have happier bees to boot. Plus, they lose fewer colonies so that cost, too, is reduced. All in all, keeping these bees saves time, money, environmental contamination and reduces or eliminates any threat of hive product problems. And now, there's even a Russian Bee Breeders Association in place to insure quality control. For beekeepers everywhere, the Russians are coming.
And now, apparently, Russians are coming to the White House. This July the White House hive is to get one of these USDA developed Russian Queens so that varroa tolerance will reside in DC, too. The White House and the Secretary of the Department Of Agriculture engineered this late last week, and come July, a Russian will be living at the White House. How sweet is that?
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