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What’s the buzz?

A quick lunchtime scan of Google news brought up this story:

Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.

CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London’s biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.

Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: “There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK.”

The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world’s crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, “man would have only four years of life left”.

It’s certainly an intriguing hypothesis as to the cause of the bee collapse. There are other, competing hypotheses.

Colony Collapse Disorder (from Wiki)

The cause (or causes) of the syndrome is not yet well understood and even the existence of this disorder remains disputed. Theories include environmental change-related stresses, malnutrition, unknown pathogens, mites, pesticides such as neonicotinoids, disease, genetically modified (GM) crops or electromagnetic radiation (such as cellular phone signals).

From 1971 to 2006 approximately half of the U.S. honey bee colonies have vanished, but this decline includes the cumulative losses from all factors such as urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa mites and commercial beekeepers retiring and going out of business, and has been fairly gradual. Late in the year 2006 and in early 2007, however, the rate of attrition was alleged to have reached new proportions, and the term “Colony Collapse Disorder” was proposed to describe this sudden rash of disappearances.

Scary. Even scarier that we don’t really have a firm grasp of what is killing off these vital pollenators.

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9 thoughts on “What’s the buzz?

  1. Bees are responsible for pollinating the vast majority of our fruit crops and a good part of other food crops as well. They are many times more efficient than ANY anthropomorphic technique known, and they essentially work for free (although the bee-keepers don’t). Losing the bees will be catastrophic. I have seen an article saying there has been a study in germany indicating that the use of GM crops, plants that have a gene for Bt – which is a natural biocide from bacteria – inserted into their genome, may be contributing to CCD there. Since incidences of this phenomenon are ‘suddenly’ popping up all over Europe and in the US and Canada, the culprit probably does lie in something common to modern farming practices. But as Briguy points out, we just don’t know exactly what it is. Gee, doing something inadvertently harmful in the blind scramble for increased production and profit – that’s not a theme we’ve seen before is it?

    I like bees. They are cute. They do their job well, and without complaint. Plus they give us honey as an added bonus to ensuring that a lot of our food reproduces. If you don’t bother the bees, they won’t bother you. There are a lot of people on the other hand, who are somewhat annoying, and generally stupidly greedy in their blind pursuit of profit. Maybe we should start gassing them. If only Bt worked on corporate scum. Wrong kind of invertebrate, I guess.

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  2. Aha! Now I get it. All this time, we’ve been calling them “Killer Bees”, when in reality it’s been motivated by revenge.
    “Vengeance Bees”?

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  3. Flash – I ain’t ‘skeered’ a’ no bees. I have spent the last 5 years (Christ, has it been THAT long?) of my life becoming an expert in the use of biological agents for wiping out Hymenoptera (that would be the Order of insects bees belong to).

    As for you, well, Mr. Artsy Fuzzy Science, by the time you get finished writing that list out in flowery prose, I’ll be long gone…. ;o)

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  4. Ah, science. Helping to discover and explore the wonders of nature before wiping it out entirely. Too bad I’m only a social psychologist – there’s probably some weird repressed shit in there somewhere…;)

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  5. Oh yeah, you know there is. I refer you to the George Carlin quote you had attached to your emails – you know the one about flamethrowers?

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  6. Point taken, He also has my favourite ‘sociology’ quote:
    “I love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.”

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