Originally posted on Agritate, which is no longer active.
Colony collapse disorder has been a big deal for years, and lots of culprits have come out of the woodworks. Earlier this week, a friend and fellow DC food blogger over at FoodNewsie posted about a parasitic fly that attacks honeybees. Having done a large research project during university about parasitic wasps and flies whose sexual reproduction is controlled by a microbial infection (Wolbachia), it doesn’t surprise me that honeybees have a parasite that can kill them off. The fact that it hasn’t really been noticed until we started looking for bee death kind of indicates to me that it might not be a leading factor in the disappearance of all the bees—but of course, I’m sure it plays a role in California, where it’s been found.
Photo: Erik Hooymans
In the same issue of PLoS ONE that the article FoodNewsie was talking about is an article about potential bee exposure routes to neonicotinoid insecticide seed coatings on corn and soybean. These insecticides are put around cropseed to protect them before and after they’re planted. But, when they’re sown using huge drilling machines, the insecticidal coating gets chipped and pulverized—larger particles fall to the ground, and dust-sized particles are pumped into the air to be dispersed by the wind. Italian researchers also recently found the drilling machines to be a leading cause of colony collapse disorder around agricultural fields, even with seed that has been coated with thicker, sturdier coatings to prevent chipping and pulverization. Despite the attempt to keep the insecticide on the seed (or at least out of the air and killing bees), the thicker seed coating seems to chip more, releasing about the same fine particulate matter into the air and more larger chunks onto the soil.
The more research being done about colony collapse, the more complicated it seems. The picture is muddled with Bee HIV, mites, parasitic flies, corn-sowing season, pesticide application—and, perhaps, even more unknown causes of bee death. It may be an additive thing—bees with the HIV-like immune-system virus may be more susceptible to mites, for instance, or more prone to die of lower doses of incidental insecticides near fields. And regional influences clearly play a role—if you’re near farmland during corn-sowing season, well, watch out, bees! But perhaps city bees have more issues to watch out for—a windshield, for example. It’s definitely going to take some time to suss out the true culprit, but it’s starting to look more like a joint bee-eradication effort than any one serial bee killer.