Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees is big news all over the world, but particularly in the United States. And one of the things that is mentioned is how the honeybees that pollinate the fruit trees in the USA are European honeybees.

It took a long time for me to ask myself why the USA had to import foreign bees to pollinate its fruit trees.

Then I saw video in which a farmer mentioned that apples, pears, peaches, and cherries are not native American species and so they do not have a native pollinator.

It was one of those ‘aha’ moments.


CCD is a worldwide phenomenon and there is some historical evidence that there have been CCD outbreaks in the past. The weight of evidence seems to be, however, that the current outbreak that has been going on since about 2005 is far greater in scale and more devastating than any outbreak previously recorded.

The characteristics of CCD are that hives suddenly lose their bees. When the hives are examined, there are obvious signs that the hive was not healthy before the bees left, but the bees that have left have simply disappeared.

Normally, in a healthy hive that has grown too big or that is under threat from an outside source, the bees will swarm and the beekeeper will get to hear of where the bees are. With CCD, the bees just disappear.

If they were unhealthy and died one by one while out foraging, then one would expect a substantial number of them to die in the hive. But when the hives are inspected, there are very few dead bees. Sometimes there are a few bees in the hive in poor health. So if they disappear outside of the hive, what happens to them?

There are lots of theories and lots of possible culprits.

Red Herrings And Likely Suspects

Consider for a moment the argument that pollution is the cause of CCD. Let’s say that we need to protect bees because they pollinate so many plants, bushes, and trees and that without them we would lose these crops.

Pollution or pesticides may be the cause of CCD, but to suggest that is why we should control pollution is a dangerous argument and a red herring.

Just suppose for a moment that we could pollute the environment to our heart’s content and honeybees were not affected. Would that be a justification for continuing to trash the Earth? Not in my view.

Of course, this assumes that we are the cause of colony collapse disorder. In fact, the answer has not been found conclusively and there is a lot still to be discovered about the causes of CCD.

However, it is clear that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that some pesticides are the mostly likely suspects as the cause of CCD, ahead of mites, viruses, flies, and other suspects.

Articles I have Curated:

According to James Frazier, Ph.D., professor of entomology at Penn State, “Among the neonicotinoids, clothianidin is among those most toxic for honey bees, and this combined with its systemic movement in plants has produced a troubling mix of scientific results pointing to its potential risk for honey bees through current agricultural practices.

Our own research indicates that systemic pesticides occur in pollen and nectar in much greater quantities than has been previously thought, and that interactions among pesticides occurs often and should be of wide concern.”

High insecticide levels in dead honeybees: Leaked document shows EPA allowed bee-toxic pesticide despite own scientists’ red flags Beekeepers Ask EPA to Remove Pesticide Linked to Colony Collapse Disorder, Citing Leaked Agency Memo

Nature’s Linchpins In Great Peril.

What a scientist didn’t tell the New York Times about his study on bee deaths

Added January 20th 2012

An article published today in the American Society For Microbiology seems to be unaware that the Varoa mite is not the main suspect in CCD:

Acaricide, a chemical used against Varroa mites that infect honeybees, appears to render bees more susceptible to deformed wing virus infections, according to research published in the January issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Like the mites, these viruses have been identified as potential causes of colony collapse disorder. The Varroa mite is currently the main pathogen linked to colony collapse disorder among European honey bees worldwide.

Neonicotoid pesticides are the most likely culprit.

Added January 26th 2012

The Economist reports today on the effect of Bayer’s Imidacloprid pesticide as reported by Jeff Pettis of the Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. The report concludes that:

Both of the groups that had been exposed to Imidacloprid harboured an average of 700,000 parasite spores in each bee. Bees from the control colonies, by contrast, harboured fewer than 200,000 spores in their bodies. The insecticide, in other words, was exposing bees to infestation, and thus to a much greater chance of dying prematurely.

Added January 30th 2012

An article by Jeanne Roberts in ReaderSupportedNews under the title ‘Dying Honeybees: It Was The Insecticides All Along’ reports:

With news that the U.S. honeybee population has been so devastated that some beekeepers will qualify for disaster relief dollars, comes a report from Purdue University that one of the causes of honeybee deaths is – as long suspected – neonicotinoids.

The report from Purdue University is also referred to in a report from ScienceDaily and states:

Analyses of bees found dead in and around hives from several apiaries over two years in Indiana showed the presence of neonicotinoid insecticides, which are commonly used to coat corn and soybean seeds before planting. The research (funded by The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative) showed that those insecticides were present at high concentrations in waste talc that is exhausted from farm machinery during planting. The insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam were also consistently found at low levels in soil – up to two years after treated seed was planted – on nearby dandelion flowers and in corn pollen gathered by the bees, according to the findings released in the journal PLoS One this month.

The Bee Photographer Also reported this day, The Honey Gatherers – the website of Éric Tourneret ‘The Bee Photographer’ – with excellent photos of bee populations in various parts of the world.

Added February 8th 2012

Washington State University News: Feb 2nd 2012

Exasperated by his steep yearly losses, [longtime commercial beekeeper Eric Olson of Yakima] did some research and asked around. This time, he didn’t truck his 14,000 hives from Washington to California and overwinter them in holding fields until the February almond bloom. Olson has turned to Washington State University for answers. In 2008, he and his wife Sue “knocked on doors from here to Olympia,” he said, raising nearly $350,000 to help start WSU’s Honey Bee Colony Health Diagnostic Laboratory, headed by entomologist Steve Sheppard.

For example, pesticide exposure weakens the bees, and then a fungal pathogen, Nosema ceranae, kills them. This is not the single cause of colony collapse, Sheppard said, but the findings, published in the January issue of the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, have narrowed the list of suspects. “We know the combination of those two stressors contributes to CCD. It’s a combination we see often, but not always,” Sheppard said.

And so, because multiple pesticide residues build up on the wax of the honeycombs, Sheppard has recommended that bee keepers change the combs more frequently.

Added February 12th 2012

1: Researchers Discuss Underlying Causes Of CCD “The bees are suffering from viruses and pathogens but we are not finding a consistent incidence of a virus or pathogen. This implies that there must be an underlying cause and we are finding that pesticides (particularly neonicotinoids) are interacting with and weakening their immune systems.”

2: Research Article On CCD Published January 3rd 2012 Pesticide Exposure Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields (Christian H. Krupke, Greg J. Hunt, Brian D. Eitzer, Gladys Andino, Krispn Given)

Neonicotinoid insecticides, which are widely used and highly toxic to honey bees, have been found in previous analyses of honey bee pollen and comb material. However, the routes of exposure have remained largely undefined. We used LC/MS-MS to analyze samples of honey bees, pollen stored in the hive and several potential exposure routes associated with plantings of neonicotinoid treated maize. Our results demonstrate that bees are exposed to these compounds and several other agricultural pesticides in several ways throughout the foraging period. During spring

3: The Dangers Of Anthropomorphism In Discussing Bee Colonies nNot directly on CCD, but on the dangers inherent in the use of the words queen and drone when discussing bee colonies from The Barefoot Beekeeper.

Added March 6th 2012

Environmental News Criticises LA Times Ommission Environmental News published this article under the heading LA Times overlooks major suspect in Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

In an article about the importance of pollination for California’s almond crop, reporter Marc Lifsher mentions several possible causes of Bee Colony Collapse Disorder but skips one that is getting increasing scientific scrutiny: A family of pesticides called neonicotinoids. Nowhere does he allude to one of the factors that for several years has attracted considerable scientific attention: The role of a relatively new family of insecticides called ‘neonicotinoids’ to CCD. While the potential contribution of neonicotinoids is debated and disputed by the producer of the insecticide, many scientists consider it a prime suspect.

Added March 29th 2012

It’s been a busy day for the media reporting on two studies that implicate neonicotinoid pesticides in CCD. Ars Technica report Guardian report Science Journal report CTB report Reuters report The two studies concerned are a French study that looked into the effect on honey bees of sublethal exposure to a neonicotinoid called thiamethoxam and a British study that looked at the effect of imidacloprid, the most widely used neonicotinoid, on bumble bees. The French study concluded that:

nCompared to control bees that were not exposed to the pesticide, the treated bees were about two to three times more likely to die while away from their nests. These deaths probably occurred because the pesticide interfered with the bees’ homing systems, the researchers propose.

The University of Stirling study concluded that:

Compared to control colonies that had not been exposed to imidacloprid, the treated colonies gained less weight, suggesting less food was coming in. The treated colonies were on average 8% to 12% smaller than the control colonies at the end of the experiment.

Added March 30th 2012

Center For Foood Safety Press release

Beekeepers & Environmental Groups to EPA: Pesticide Approval is “Irresponsible” & “Damaging.” Over 1 million urge EPA to suspend use of pesticide harmful to bees, fix broken regulatory system March 21, 2012 – Today, commercial beekeepers and environmental organizations filed an urgent legal petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suspend further use of a pesticide the agency knows poses harm to honey bees, and adopt safeguards to ensure similar future pesticides aren’t approved by the agency. The legal petition is supported by over one million citizen petitions also submitted today that were collected from people across the country calling out one pesticide in particular – clothianidin – for its harmful impacts on honey bees.

Added April 9th 2012

Discovery News is one of several news sources over the past couple of days that have been reporting a new study linking a neonicotinoid with CCD.

Harvard University biologist Chensheng Lu found a correlation between an imidicloprid contaminated diet and one of the symptoms of colony collapse disorder. Lu replicated commercial bee keeping procedures by feeding bees high-fructose corn syrup, an enzymatically-treated super-sweet sugar used to give bees an energy boost. He spiked some of the syrup with imidicloprid. Many of the bees that fed on the neonicotinoid tainted syrup left their hives in the middle of winter, a deadly mistake associated with colony collapse disorder.

Lu’s study will be published in the Bulletin of Insectology in June.

Added April 25, 2012

This is courtesy AllGov, which reported that last September Monsanto bought Biologic.

ST. LOUIS, Sept. 28, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) today announced it has acquired Beeologics, which researches and develops biological tools to provide targeted control of pests and diseases. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

AllGov reports the takeover somewhat differently:

Monsanto has purchased a research company whose mission is to combat the massive die off of honeybees—a problem blamed in part on the biotech giant’s genetically modified corn. Last fall, Monsanto quietly purchased Beeologics, which is “dedicated to restoring bee health and protecting the future of insect pollination,” by combating Colony Collapse Disorder, according to the company’s website. Since then, beekeepers and agricultural officials in Poland publicly blamed Monsanto’s MON810 corn for killing off thousands of bees. More than 1,500 people demonstrated in Warsaw against the company, and later the Ministry of Agriculture banned MON810 from use on Polish farms.

Wikipedia describes MON810 as follows:

MON 810 contains a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that expresses a toxin (Bt toxin) poisonous to insects in the order Lepidoptera, such as the European Corn Borer. It was approved for use in the European Union in 1998, but since then, several countries (Austria, Hungary, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Bulgaria and Germany) have banned its cultivation due to concerns that it causes environmental damage. Until it was banned in April 2009, MON 810 was the only GM crop that could be cultivated commercially in Germany. A 2010 systematic review in the journal Transgenic Research… concluded that the German decision to ban the cultivation of MON 810 was “scientifically unjustified. “In 2011 the European Court of Justice and the French Conseil d’État ruled that the French farm ministry ban on the cultivation of MON810 was illegal. On the 5th of April 2012, Poland has announced that it will completely ban growing MON810 on its territory because the “pollen of this strain could have a harmful effect on bees.” MON 810 is approved for use in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, Switzerland, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States and Uruguay.

Added June 28, 2012

Reported in PlosOne, Kimberly A. Stoner of the Department of Entomology, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, Connecticut, and Brian D. Eitzer of the Department of Analytical Chemistry, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, Connecticut looked into the amount of neonictinoids (imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) in squash plants when sprayed into soil before seeding, or applied through drip irrigation in a single treatment after transplant. They found the levels to be higher than that found in the nectar of canola and sunflower grown from treated seed and similar to the concentrations found in a recent study of neonicotinoids applied to pumpkins at transplant stage and through drip irrigation. So that is now two studies with similar results.

Added July 04, 2012

United States Department Of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service reports today:

When it comes to solving the puzzling syndrome known as “colony collapse disorder” (CCD), which has been attacking honey bee colonies since 2006, the best that can be said is that there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the rate of honey bee losses seems to have leveled off rather than continuing to increase. The bad news is that the cause or causes of CCD remain unclear. “We know more now than we did a few years ago, but CCD has really been a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and the best I can say is that a lot of pieces have been turned over. The problem is that they have almost all been blue-sky pieces—frame but no center picture,” Pettis explains. nThe bee lab’s scientists have been looking for the cause or causes of CCD within four broad categories: pathogens; parasites, such as Varroa mites or Nosema; environmental stressors, such as pesticides or lack of nectar diversity; and management stressors.

Added August 26, 2012

Pathogen Webs in Collapsing Honey Bee Colonies This paper was published on plosive by R. Scott Cornman, Yanping Chen, Dawn Lopez, Jeffery S. Pettis, and Jay D. Evans of the Bee Research Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, David R. Tarpy and Lacey Jeffreys of the Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, and Dennis van Engelsdorp of the Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland

Added September 19, 2012

This article in the Huffington Post under the title ‘Bee Deviled: Scientists No Longer Bumbling Over Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder ‘describes the author’s investigation into CCD and her talk with Pesticide Action Network, North America who lay the blame for CCD at the door of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Added September 24, 2012

With a hat-tip to Jamie Hamilton comes the unhappy news that DEFRA is not convinced that neonicotinoids are involved in bee deaths.

Added September 25, 2012

The Soil Association states that it is against the use of neonicotinoids because of the danger to honeybees.

Added October 2, 2012

There is an article in Symmetry magazine about cleaning hives with a particle accelerator.

Bees use wax combs to store larvae, pollen and honey—often using the same wax combs for several years, allowing intruders like fungi and bacteria to build up over time. One of the worst wax-inhabiting infections, a common disease known as American foulbrood, can form and release spores that live for up to 40 years. No amount of cleaning will eradicate the spores, so beekeepers often burn or bury their hives to prevent the disease from spreading. Particle accelerators offer an alternative that allows beehives to be put back into use.

Added November 6, 2012

As reported in the Yale Daily News:

…in the Oct. 30 issue of the mBio journal, Yale professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Nancy Moran published a study showing that beneficial bacteria found in the guts of honeybees have acquired genes that make bees resistant to tetracycline, an antibiotic used to prevent colony-destroying infections and other bacterial diseases. The lead author of the paper was former Yale postdoctoral researcher Baoyu Tian, and other authors included Yale researchers Nibal H. Fadhil and J. Elijah Powell. The research was funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Added 16 January 2013

From the Guardian today

The world’s most widely used insecticide has for the first time been officially labelled an “unacceptable” danger to bees feeding on flowering crops. Environmental campaigners say the conclusion, by Europe’s leading food safety authority, sounds the “death knell” for the insect nerve agent.

The Guardian article refers to a report by the European Food Safety Authority which states:

EFSA scientists have identified a number of risks posed to bees by three neonicotinoid pesticides. The Authority was asked by the European Commission to assess the risks associated with the use of clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, with particular regard to their acute and chronic effects on bee colony survival and development; their effects on bee larvae and bee behaviour; and the risks posed by sub-lethal doses of the three substances.

The findings for clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam are that:

A high risk was indicated or could not be excluded in relation to certain aspects of the risk assessment for honey bees for some of the authorised uses. For some exposure routes it was possible to identify a low risk for some of the authorised uses.

The Guardian report also states that:

The effect of neonicotinoids on pollinators is under investigation by the UK parliament and the Guardian has learned that Bayer’s spokesman, Little, is being recalled to explain “discrepancies” in his evidence. “Our inquiry has identified apparent flaws in the assessment of imidacloprid,” said Joan Walley MP, chair of the environmental audit committee. “Despite data from field trials showing the pesticide could linger in the environment at dangerous levels, imidacloprid was approved for use in the EU. We have asked chemical giant Bayer to return to parliament to explain discrepancies in its evidence on the amount of time that imidacloprid remains in the environment.”

Added 1 March 2013

The Guardian now reports – depressingly and alarmingly:

UK’s national ‘inaction’ plan on pesticides betrays bees nA legal requirement for reduction targets is apparently ignored, as ministers’ fig leaf for delaying EU-wide action is blown away by their own chief scientist

Article in Business Week on Europe and how it could get a reprieve from pesticides – with a cautionary note about the UK government’s position on this.

Added 12 April 2013

The American Bird Conservancy has issued a press release under the title ‘Birds, Bees, and Aquatic Life Threatened by Gross Underestimate of Toxicity of World’s Most Widely Used Pesticide’ in which it states:

“It is clear that these chemicals have the potential to affect entire food chains. The environmental persistence of the neonicotinoids, their propensity for runoff and for groundwater infiltration, and their cumulative and largely irreversible mode of action in invertebrates raise significant environmental concerns,” said Cynthia Palmer, co-author of the report and Pesticides Program Manager for ABC, one of the nation’s leading bird conservation organizations.

Added 1 May 2013

Under the title ‘Honey constituents up-regulate detoxification and immunity genes in the western honey bee Apis mellifera’ the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) reports that:

The widespread apicultural use of honey substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, may thus compromise the ability of honey bees to cope with pesticides and pathogens and contribute to colony losses

I note the ‘may’. But leaving that aside, we can say that if pesticides are the cause and pesticides were banned, then there would be nothing for the bees to have to cope with and nothing to be compromised by using corn syrup. The European Union has just banned neonicotinoid pesticides.

Added 8 May 2013

Bad news from Bee Informed, which reports that winter bee losses in the United States are up 42% compared to the previous year.

Added 15 August 2013

A bit late to the party, but the EPA has issued new guidelines for the use of neonicotinoids in relation to risks to honeybees. But see this article from ezezine which says as follows, and more:

News From Beyond Pesticides and others. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new pesticide label for honey bee protection, announced last Thursday and published in CATCH THE BUZZ, has been widely criticized by beekeepers and environmentalists as offering inadequate protection in the face of devastating bee decline.

Added 28 August 2013

Science Insider reports that Bayer and Syngenta take the EU to court to try to get a reversal of the decision to suspend the use of neonicotinoid pesticides:

BRUSSELS—Two agrochemical companies are fighting back against an E.U.-wide ban on three common neonicotinoid pesticides. Syngenta Crop Protection, which manufactures and sells one of the compounds in Europe, announced yesterday that it has brought a legal case earlier this month before the Court of Justice of the European Union, based in Luxembourg. Bayer CropScience, another producer, has done the same, a company spokesperson tells ScienceInsider.

Added 13 October 2013

From the Clinton Global Initiative a commitment from Monsanto (showing how to let the fox rule the henhouse)…

In 2013, Monsanto committed to addressing the collapse of the honey bee population in United States through the implementation of on the ground solutions to restore and protect honey bee populations. This commitment will tackle four key issues: parasites and pathogens, poor nutrition, the use of pesticides, agricultural practices, and the economic empowerment of bee keepers. Our planet’s food security is largely dependent on an abundance of natural pollinators; including honey bees, birds, and other insects. Since 2006, honey bee colonies in the United States have been declining at an alarming rate. This commitment seeks to address issues related to dwindling honey bee populations by investing in increased foraging spaces for existing honey bees; funding R&D for solutions to honey bee collapse; training over 50,000 farmers and growers on pesticide stewardship; and training dozens of female beekeepers in the US Midwest. Each of these will promote growth in honey bee populations and provide a mechanism for sustaining healthy honey bee colonies. This commitment is an important step in restoring vital honey bee populations and ensuring sustainable crop yields; a critical need for global food security.

Added 22 October 2013

Under the title Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae researchers led by Jeff Pettis (see references above) published a study in PlosOne on July 24th this year and found that:

We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load.

(Esfenvalerate is a a pyrethroid type fungicide and Phosmet is an organophosphate.)

Added 15 April 2014

National Taiwan University study of the effects of imidacloprid – a neonicotinoid pesticide – concludes that it impairs the ability of bees to return to the hive, even in very low concentrations.

Added May 14, 2014

I just posted this comment in response to the USDA post on its blog yesterday. Here is a quote from the blog post, followed by my comment. It will be interesting to see whether my comment passes moderation and is published.

While scientists continue work to identify all the factors that have lead to honey bee losses, it is clear that there are biological and environmental stresses that have created a complex challenge that will take a complex, multi-faceted approach to solve. Parasites, diseases, pests, narrow genetic diversity in honey bee colonies, and less access to diverse forage all play a role in colony declines. To confront this diverse mix of challenges, we require a mix of solutions – the odds are that we won’t find one magic fix to help our honey bees. The parasitic mite Varroa destructor remains the major factor in overwintering colony declines. The varroa mite’s full name is Varroa destructor, and it is perhaps the most aptly named parasite ever to enter this country. An Asian native that arrived here in 1987, Varroa destructor is a modern honey bee plague.

My Comment

My jaw dropped on reading this. When Stamford has just published its findings implicating neonicotinoid pesticides; when the European Union Food Standards Agency has imposed a European-wide ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, why do you not even mention them as a likely or even possible culprit in colony collapse disorder in honeybees?

[Just checked 2 March 2017 and the comment isn’t there so I added a new comment detailing bee losses at reported by the USDA for 2015

Added July 19, 2014

Study finds neonicotinoids implicated in bird deaths: The more people who know about this, the more who are likely to oppose applications like the one from Syngenta in the UK a couple of weeks ago to lift the European Union ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. Tamara found the reference to this in ‘The Week’ magazine (p21, 19 July edition) Quote from the study: “Here we show that, in the Netherlands, local population trends were significantly more negative in areas with higher surface-water concentrations of imidacloprid…. Here is the link to the study in Nature journal