Colony Collapse Disorder

In this section we are going to  look at Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) we will take a closer look at what it is, what its origins are, and how to prevent it from happening to you!

Colony Collapse Disorder in Honey Bees

Disappearing Bees: Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)

 

It’s been 12 years since the first recorded cases of widespread colony collapse disorder were first reported. 1 For the beginner beekeeper, it is something that has become an ongoing worry.

 

You may have questions such as ‘how does Colony Collapse Disorder occur?’ ‘what is causing Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees?’ and ‘how to prevent Colony Collapse Disorder from happening?’

 

Today we will try to answer all of the most common questions and see if there is anything that can be done to prevent your bees from becoming its next victim.

  

1: What is Colony Collapse Disorder?

 

Colony Collapse Disorder is when a beehive colony collapses for no apparent reason. Entire colonies of adult bees simply vanish without a trace, leading to instant colony loss.

 

All that’s left behind are the queen bee, a few nurse bees and immature bees and a hive full of honey stores!

 

This almost immediately eliminates a lack of food stores as being the culprit. And if it were a disease killing them off, the queen and nurse bees would most likely be affected too.

 

So what exactly is going on here?

 

Everything from GM crops and climate change to parasites and malnutrition have been blamed for the disorder. But a clear cause is yet to be identified.

 

This is of no comfort to beekeepers around the world. And while no universally accepted cause has been pinpointed, some look more likely than others to be to blame.

drone emerging from cell

2. Signs of Colony Collapse Disorder

There are several signs that show when a hive has experienced Colony Collapse Disorder. It is by no means the same as colony decline, by which a colony dies off due to a variety of factors. The following are clear indications of CCD.

 

  • The Queen bee is still in the hive.

  • Capped brood are still in their cells.

  • Both bee pollen and honey stores can be found.

  • Hive beetles and Wax moths also disappear.

  • Honey in the hive is not taken by other bees.

  • Few to no dead bodies to be found.

If the Queen is missing or the base of the hive is covered in thousands of dead bees, the colony likely died due to being Queenless or from pesticide death. Neither are seen as Colony Collapse Disorder. 2

Warning signs of imminent Colony Collapse Disorder include:

 

  • Fewer larvae and mature adult bees.

  • Reluctance to consume supplemented feed.

  • The bulk of the colony is made up of young bees.

  • Reduced hive activity during the warm months.

3: The Origins of Colony Collapse Disorder

In the spring of 2007, beekeepers in the United States started to report mass bee losses. All but a few of their honeybee colony had gone. Entire colonies had simply disappeared.

 

Of course, the phenomenon had been around many years before this time, but on a much smaller scale and far more sporadically.

 

In Europe, Colony Collapse Disorder became a big issue as early 1998. Known as Spring Dwindle and Disappearing disease, in 2006, it was officially named Colony Collapse Disorder.3

 

No evidence of bee-eating predators such as wasps, hornets or honey-loving mammals could be found. And what was even more intriguing was the fact that only a few dead bees were left to be seen.

 

So what happened to the rest of the many tens of thousands of worker bees?

 

Beekeepers found neither evidence of Varroa mites nor other mite species that attack developing or fully grown bees. No evidence of diseases like American Foulbrood (AFB) or Chalk brood, which attack developing bee larvae, was found either.

 

Thus, it seemed unlikely that the missing bees had been preyed upon or ravaged by disease. Then things got even stranger! It wasn’t only bees that couldn’t be found. Moths and other insects that regularly visited the hives disappeared too.

 

Very little life could be found at the newly empty beehives for a few days, and sometimes weeks following the event.

 

Typically, the only time events like this had happened was when bees had died from disease or chemical contamination. Though bodies would usually be found in their thousands!

 

Thus, the beekeeping community was buzzing with theories and conjectures. Even today, the mystery of why bees are affected by CCD remains largely unresolved as the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder are still unclear.

Varroa Mite
Acarine Tracheal Mites
Hive Beetle Larvae
Small Hive Beetle

4: Likely causes of Colony Collapse Disorder

The Department of Agriculture (USDA), European commission, and other leading health organizations and governing bodies believe the following could be to blame:

 

  • Parasites. Honey bee parasites like varroa and tracheal mites may be exposing the bees to a yet unknown virus.

  • Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus. In clinical studies in 2007, IAPV was found 83.3% of colonies affected by CDD. 4

  • Pollination services. Stress and depression of the honey bees immune system during the process of transporting them long distances to pollinate crops.

  • In-breeding. The near-absence of genetic diversity in honeybees, making the species as a whole, prone to widespread disease.

  • Chemical Side-effects. Pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics and miticides could all play a role in Colony Collapse Disorder. Mite treatments are known to suppress the honey bees immune system, making viral illness a possible culprit.

  • Poor nutrition. A monoculture diet may be responsible. Receiving nectar and pollen from a single plant species has been shown to lead to poorer immune health than that of a mixed flora diet. While honey production remains strong, nutrient deficiencies could be to blame.

  • Feed Supplements. High Fructose Corn syrup supplementation has been shown to reduce oxidation and protein metabolism in certain genes.5 Artificial feed supplements also lack p-coumaric acid, an antioxidant that helps bees eliminate certain pesticide compounds. This could lead to poor honey bee health.

 

A combination of the above could be leading to increased levels of Colony Collapse Disorder.

bees leaving hive

5: Why is Colony Collapse Disorder a Problem?

What would happen if honey bees were to become extinct? If CCD were to become a worldwide epidemic, a certain degree of famine would most likely follow. This is because honey bees are directly responsible for pollinating roughly 35% of the world’s food supply.

 

Now, that’s not to say that humans would wind up on the endangered list… We wouldn’t! We would still have 65% of crops in the food chain pollinated by other methods, such as the wind, mammals, and other insects. But the number of available crop varieties would drop by a third.

 

So if it’s not all doom and gloom, why do we even need honey bees then?

 

Well, here’s why:

 

  • Farms today are generally monoculture farms. They use a lot of land to grow just one type of crop. Honeybees with large colonies are good at pollinating these types of crops.

  • Solitary bees are better at pollinating a more diverse range of plants and crops over smaller areas. However, these are in rapid decline due to large farms making small farms non-viable businesses.

  • The solitary bee population has suffered a steep decline due to the use of pesticides and loss of habitat. Fewer solitary wild bees means honey bees are now more important than ever for pollination.

bees making comb

6: How to Prevent Colony Collapse Disorder

Without understanding the underlying cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, it can be hard to implement proper preventative measures. However, with that said there are several steps you can take to manage the likelihood of CCD.

 

You should note that in Europe, the use of antibiotics, fungicides and other chemical treatments are banned.

 

However, on the plus side, of the 47 neonicotinoids used in commercial farming, the European Union has banned almost all of them due to their impact on bee health. 6

Steps to take to prevent CCD

  • Fumigillin® is banned in the European Union, so treatment to prevent Nosema Virus is not possible. However, certain places still allow its use.The manufacture of the antimicrobial ceased in 2018.

  • Eliminate residual buildup of pesticides in the hive by replacing old combs every 18 – 24 months.

  • Avoid using antibiotics. These lead to bacterial mutations that become resistant to treatment. Again, in Europe the use of Antibiotics for bees is banned.

  • Keep hive stress to a minimum. Ensure there is adequate ventilation and that mite levels are low. Also inspect the hive for Hive beetles and hive beetle larvae and remove them by hand.

  • If you need to supplement your bees feed, avoid using High Fructose Corn syrup. If possible, plant a wide variety of nectar and pollen rich plants in the surrounding hive area.

  • Supplement your bees with HiveAlive by adding it to their feed supplement. It has been shown to help with improved colony health and immune system functions.7

  • Avoid pesticides and chemical treatments in your garden/land and practice organic growing.

  • Keep hives dry during autumn and winter and avoid late feeding. (during autumn)

 

Until the cause of CCD has been found, all that you, as a beekeeper, can do, is take preventative steps and hope for the best. Practising good beekeeping methods that ensure the queen is healthy and the hive is clean can go a long way with helping.

Other than that, you just need to hope luck is on your side and that CCD doesn’t make its way to your hives.

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