News Stories

Saving the Bees

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) escalated in November 2006 and seems to have spread to 27 states and Brazil, Canada and many parts of Europe. Scientists and beekeepers are trying to figure out what is causing entire hives of honeybees to disappear before it's too late, since nearly one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80% of that pollination.

Among the crops to be affected are apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, cucumbers, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons. The bee shortage will potentially affect the beef industry too because the growth of alfalfa is dependent on pollination from the bees.

Scientists around the country are investigating several possible causes for CCD, including pesticides, viruses, genetically modified crops and even cell phones. Researcher James Amrine, who has been doing bee research for almost a decade, is certain that at least 70% percent of the CCD is caused by tiny mites, roughly the size of a sesame seed, and the pathogens they carry.

Working with beekeeper Bob Noel, he has come up with a way to kill or deter the maximum number of mites while having very little impact on the bee colony. First they treat the hives with two essential oils: spearmint and lemon grass. Amrine says, "African people used lemon grass to manage honeybees for the last 60,000 years. They deserve the original credit for that. We mix it with spearmint, and it helps the bees resist the pathogens the mites carry by possibly boosting the bees? immune systems."

The next step is using a special wintergreen formula mixed with grease and shaped into patties. The grease is mixed with sugar, mineral salt, honey and wintergreen and placed inside the hives. ?The bees will eat it,? Amrine says. "It also combats pathogens and gives the honeybees an edge in improving their health. It doesn?t kill bacteria, but it stops their growth. Also the grease gets on the bees and makes it harder for the mites to try to hitch a ride."

The final part of the treatment involves applying a formula of formic acid to the hive with soaked pads that trap the heat and cause the acid to evaporate. "Formic acid is present in the honey already in small amounts," Amrine says. "Heat from the brood causes the formic acid to evaporate and holds this vapor inside the nest. It kills 93% of the mites inside the hive in a one-day treatment."

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

We may be able to save the bees, but the question is, what did we do wrong that encouraged the mite infestation in the first place? Stay tuned to Dreamland to hear continuing updates from our science reporter Linda Howe about this dangerous situation! You know we bring you the truth?and we post an update if we?re wrong?but we can only be here for you if you?re here for us, so subscribe today.

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