Colony Collapse Disorder “Solved”

Russell Bates of the Backwards Beekeepers keeping bees naturally.

Media coverage of beekeeping, particularly colony collapse disorder gets me a bit frustrated. This week saw the release of a study from the University of Montana, Missoula and Army scientists at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, linking CCD to a co-infection of a previously unreported virus and a common bee parasite called nosema. As usual, most reporters failed to do their due diligence, except for Katherine Eban at Fortune magazine who explored the ties between the lead researcher in this study, Jerry Bromenshenk, and pesticide manufacturer Bayer Crop Science. See her work in a provocative article, “What a scientist didn’t tell the New York Times about his study on bee deaths.”

Aside from the glaring conflicts of interest (Bromenshenk is also developing a hand held device to detect bee diseases including the ones in this study), I think what’s missing in bee research, in general, is a whole systems approach to the problem. Not only are commercial beekeepers trucking their bees thousands of miles, but they are using miticides, not allowing the bees to form their own comb, limiting the numbers of drones, breeding weak stock and exposing the bees to pesticides such as imidacloprid (manufactured by Bayer!) to name just a few questionable practices. All of this bad beekeeping promulgates bees with weakened immune systems. The researchers may find a “solution,” but with weak bees some other problem will come along in a few years and we’ll be right back where we started. Meanwhile the big commercial beekeepers cling to pesticides as the cause of CCD since this thesis allows them to carry on without addressing all of the aforementioned practices.

CCD is nothing new–it’s happened before and will happen again until we start keeping bees in a more natural manner. To “solve” CCD with some kind of treatment regimen or a hand held detection gadget is a bit like the government propping up those “too big to fail” banks. Everything works fine until the next bubble comes along. I believe that the long term solution lies with folks like the Backwards Beekeepers, Dee Lusby and in the words of the late Charles Martin Simon. In short, work with nature not against her.

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  1. Agree agree agree! Am looking at establishing hives here, but am locked in my own indecision; am not really interested in dealing with honey – but will have to, to keep my hives it would seem. Also, have no space on my property, would have to put them in the “wilderness” area behind my house which leaves them open to predetors. ANd where can I get, absolutely known healthy bees?? Eventually, all will be revealed!

  2. I live in florida and have wild hives on my property. just found out this week that the state has a “recommendation” that all wild hives be exterminated for fear that they may be africanized. I’ve lived with easily 1 million bees for 2 yrs without issue. Lots of power tools and such… My husband has been stung twice, but the state would destroy it based on fear. In my opinion my hive is less susceptable to invasion than a commercial hive that is constantly moved around and can’ t establish a home territory. And its strong and healthy. I found this info when I was trying to get a swarm from leaving me. turns out they swarm when the population for the hive is too large. 60% leave with the old queen….sounds like they were thriving here.
    Now that I know the state’s intention I will be keeping my hive a closely guarded secret. Sad.

  3. We recently took a class on top bar beekeeping. The woman teaching it has been keeping bees for 15+ years. For two years she tried the Langstroth hives and that was the ONLY time she had problems with mites. There is definitely something to be said about natural beekeeping.

    She also said that CCD is our fault. Well, kind of, but she also doesn’t really believe that it will lead to the complete demise of bees. I guess every 10-15 years bee populations decline steeply. It’s just part of their cycle. However, this time seems so much worse because of our much poorer management of hives.

    Morgainetm – If you want to keep bees on your property, do you have a spot on the roof you can keep your hive? I know several people that keep hives on their roofs. You can join a local online beekeeping group and come spring ask anyone for splits (which is what beekeepers do to prevent swarms). That way you get a healthy colony from your area. It’s important that you get bees that are acclimated to your area’s climate.

  4. Hey Morgaineotm,

    “Backwards” beekeeping–see and the Organic Beekeepers Yahoo list for more on that, does not involve much labor, actually. As for predators–you may need some electric fencing. As for where to get bees–we capture feral ones–swarm season, in the spring, is where you do that in most places. Here in LA swarm season never stops.

  5. I get emails from the NYC Beekeeping meetup group, and one of the things they mentioned is that the virus tends to be present in lower temperatures. This coincides with the old beekeeper’s preference to keeping hives in the sun as opposed to the shade. Have you guys seen the film Buddha, Bees and the Giant Hornet Queen?

  6. Thanks for posting this- I’d seen the news reports and was hoping that they had indeed ‘fixed’ the issue, but didn’t know about the connection to Bayer Crop Science.

    Which is interesting to me, because I’m usually very skeptical of University studies, since I know that they tend to be funded by one industrialists and companies that have a vested interest in the outcome.

    I guess I was just hoping for the best and didn’t consider the source of the money. Shame on me….

  7. Those odd practices sort of remind me of factory farming practices but applied to bees. But I think the U.S. needs to pay serious attention to the results of the northern Italian ban on nicotinoid insecticides, which, except for one hive which may have been exposed to nicotinoid-impregnated seeds from the previous year by one farmer, completely stopped CCD in that area this past year. To go from an 80% hive death rate to practically 0% by removing one possible source is not something to ignore.

  8. I agree with Marie A… the Italian ban and French and German research are very telling. I think the combination of high pesticide use and the stresses imposed on most commercial bees are collectively responsible for the bees’ demise. CCD is actually very low among “hobby” beekeepers.

    We’re just getting into small cell bees and learning from a commercial beekeeper who’s been keeping small cell organic bees for over 30 years. He has around 200 hives and rarely has to treat them. They’re the happiest and healthiest bees I’ve met.

  9. Is the bee honey from treated hives or sick, weakened bees of the same high quality of healthy bees? I am thinking of the nutrients in free range eggs that is higher than from chickens’ eggs that are always on antibiotics and fed unnatural food. It seems that sickly bees cannot possibly produce hig-quality honey.

  10. i was getting disheartened that so many friends of mine were sharing articles about how some scientists “solved” the ccd mystery, so it’s awesome to know that major magazines are starting to criticize this major bullshit.

    the LD 50 of imidacloprid is amazingly low when it’s delivered over time. and that’s just lethality, who knows how many parts per billion would cause errant migration, change feeding patterns, or dissolve the system of communication that the entire hive depends on.

    A definitive Swiss study reported:

    “Klaus Wallner confirmed in his study of Imidacloprid prepared Phacelia with a burden of 50 g/hectare, that the bee’s honey-sac average contamination was 5ppb and the pollen taken from the ‘pollen baskets’ of the bees contained 7ppb. The centrifuged honey contamination level could not (yet) be ascertained. The level was less than the 3ppb trace ability level for honey.

    Clarification in France:
    In a report issued by the French Agriculture Ministry it was stated: According to the sunflower variety the residues in the flower on the 65th day (at start of blossom period) varied between 2.5ppb (Pharon) and 8.7ppb (Natil). These values could possibly be higher at point of harvest. The sunflower pollen is contaminated at an average level of 3ppb (up to 11 ppb max.). In untreated plantings (sunflower, rape and corn), which were planted in Imidacloprid-contaminated-soil, up to 7.4ppb was detected in the flowers.

    “The Bayer study produced a mortality rate due to Imidacloprid for bees as follows: The LD 50 (the lethal dose which kills 50% of test organisms within 48 hours) lay between 3.7 and 40.9 Nanogrammes of Imidacloprid per bee. Long term injury was investigated by Bonmatin. He achieved an LD 50 after 8 days by feeding individual bees an Imidacloprid/ sugar solution of 0.1 ppb. The substance showed itself to be highly toxic when delivered over time.”

    0.1 ppb!

  11. Practical Parsimony,

    I don’t know the answer to that question. But, I’d love to test honey for contaminants–both from agricultural pesticides and the junk commercial beekeepers treat their hives with.

    And Whelky–thanks for the info. Sadly imidacloprid is everywhere. Our own California Department of Food and Agriculture doused every citrus tree in our neighborhood with the stuff last year.

  12. Erik—they sure as heck didn’t douse MY citrus trees, and the trees are still doing just fine. So are my bees. NO WAY was I going to let them put that s**t anywhere near my bees or chickens—or ME— even though they assured me I could be responsible for starting an infection that would wipe out the citrus crop in all of Southern California. Hah. Hasn’t happened, that I’ve heard of.

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