You’ve probably noticed the unusual lack of honey bees buzzing around your garden this year.
Sure, there are plenty of other spring-time insects. But those fuzzy, docile insects that occasionally plagued your childhood with a sharp sting are strangely absent.
Beekeepers in the United States first noticed that their bee colonies were dying off in 2006. Since then, scientists have been desperately trying to figure out what’s causing the collapse.
Now, if you think this doesn’t concern you, think again!
The honeybee plays the most significant role in our ability to produce the basis of our diet: fruits and vegetables.
In fact, Albert Einstein once prophetically remarked, “Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”
Joachim Hagopian from the Center for Research on Globalization reports that “in the last half decade alone… 30% of the national bee population has disappeared, and nearly a third of all bee colonies in the United States have perished.”
Things are getting desperate…
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided $3 million to help reseed pastures in the Midwest with plants like alfalfa and clover, which provide food for bees.
And last year, Newsweek reported that the agriculture industry resorted to “migrating” honeybees in trucks to various regions in order to pollinate an estimated $40 billion of produce.
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Researchers have pointed to multiple reasons for phenomenon, which is known as Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Pesticides, habitat destruction, and global warming (with the incredibly harsh winters) have all been considered culprits.
But a specific parasite has proven particularly damaging to the honeybee population. And based on recent findings, the magnitude of the problem could be astounding.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego discovered that this microsporidian parasite, called Nosema ceranae, causes adult bees to die early. And the parasite spreads easily through the air on spores.
Making matters worse, the new research indicates that the parasite doesn’t just target adult bees. It can kill honeybee larvae before they can fully mature!
This parasite is not easy to treat, either.
“One puzzling aspect of Nosema ceranae… is that infection in adult bees usually decreases after medication is given by beekeepers to a colony, but can later resurge,” said James Nieh, a professor of biology at UC San Diego who headed the research effort. “Some of this resurgent infection could be due to transmission between bee colonies or to adult bees that have a low, but resistant level of infection.”
Many questions remain about the cause of CCD and the effects it could have on our food supply. But the biggest question is, will we survive?