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A look at disappearing bees

Published June 29. 2013 09:03AM

Colony collapse disorder continues to plague the bee population.

It means honey bees are disappearing in alarming numbers.

This is a big deal because, for one, bees play an important role in our food supply.

Some alarmists quote Albert Einstein: "If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live."

This probably isn't true and Einstein never actually said it. But bees are very important.

Brought here from Europe in the 1600s, bees not only produce honey but also pollinate crops. Niney farm-grown foods, including many fruits and nuts, depend on honey bees. But colony collapse disorder has surfaced in recent years and honey bee populations across the continent have plummeted by as much as 70 percent.

Biologists are still scratching their heads as to why. Above all, they want to figure out what to do about the problem.

Some say chemicals are killing bees. Pesticides and herbicides are ingested by bees as they go about their pollination business. Maybe such contamination is causing the problem, some guess.

Others says genetically modified crops are to blame.

"It may be that the build up of both synthetic chemicals and genetically modified crop pollen has reached a tipping point, stressing bee populations to the point of collapse," says one source.

Proof of this might be the fact that organic bee colonies, without chemicals and genetically modified crops, are not experiencing the same kind of catastrophic collapses, according to the nonprofit Organic Consumers Association.

A study at Germany's Landau University has suggested that cell phones might be the culprit, due to electromagnetic radiation and even wireless communication towers.

I chuckled when I saw it. Why are bees using cell phones?

Seriously, don't use your cell phone near a beehive. But would you actually go near a beehive to begin with?

Other factors cited are radiation and even global warming.

Global warming, for instance, might be exaggerating growth rates of pathogens such as the mites, viruses and fungi that can wreak havoc on bee colonies. One source says the unusual hot-and-cold winter weather fluctuations in recent years, also blamed on global warming, may be doing a number on bee populations accustomed to more consistent seasonal weather patterns.

But those Al Gore-type theories sound a bit far-fetched.

One thing is certain, scientists are taking the problem seriously.

However, a recent gathering of leading bee biologists came up empty. They agreed that a combination of factors is likely to blame but they just can't figure it out.

"We're going to see a lot of money poured into this problem," says University of Maryland entomologist Galen Dively.

He says the federal government plans an allocation of $80 million to fund bee research.

"What we're looking for," Dively says, "is some commonality which can lead us to a cause."

I have faith they'll make headway and come up with an answer.

If not, the problem eventually will impact my favorite fish sandwich.

I always enjoy tuna. And the tuna comes from Bumble Bee.

Sorry Charlie.

Humor aside, we need to support steps to find an answer to disappearing bees.

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