For the last few years there has been a constant buzz about bee “colony collapse disorder.” Collapse is not necessarily a bee die-off. It’s bees abandoning a hive. The bees don’t die; they just head somewhere else.
Not that there isn’t a loss of bees over the winter. For reasons still unexplained, these over-winter losses have been higher than average over the past decade.
On July 12, a Washington Post story appeared in newspapers around the country that essentially was based on a Guardian newspaper story from England that said agricultural use of neonicotinoid insecticides were killing insects that birds needed and so there were fewer birds.
That followed a collection of the usual quotes about “wholesale loss of biodiversity” from assorted other university types.
But the real capper was at the very end of the article where the writer threw in a Harvard study of bees and neonicotinoids published in May.
“Researchers took 18 bee hives and treated 12 with neonicotinoid-treated colonies,” the Washington Post story stated. “Bees from six of the neonictinoid-treated colonies had abandoned their hives and were eventually dead with symptoms resembling colony collapse,” the study stated, according to the Washington Post.
First, it sounds like one of those studies where they feed rats with some overdose of a common thing that most of us may drink such as tea or coffee and use that as proof that coffee or tea causes cancer.
The actual title of the scientific paper published in the Bulletin of Insectology in May was “Sub-lethal exposure to neonicotinoids impaired honey bees winterization before proceeding to colony collapse.”
The press release summarizing it on the Website of the Harvard School of Public Health is more cautious: “Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies.”
From the Washington Post description one would have thought the researchers sprayed the hives with what we’ll shorten up to neonic pesticides. Heck no. The researchers — Chensheng Lu, Kenneth M. Warchol and Richard A. Callahan — actually included the pesticide in sugar water or corn syrup they fed the colonies of bees. It’s a wonder they only got a 50 percent die-off in the hives fed poisoned sugar water.
“We found honey bee colonies in both control and neonicotinoid-treated groups progressed almost identically, and observed no acute morbidity or mortality in either group until the arrival of winter,” the researchers wrote.
The study was done in Worcester, Mass.
Also, “We found that the severity of CCD caused by sub-lethal neonicotinoid exposures might be modulated by winter temperature. A colder and prolonged winter in 2010/2011 in central Massachusetts rendered a higher CCD mortality rate of 94 percent (Lu et al., 2012) than the current 50 percent in 2012/2013.”
Alan Dove, Ph.D., reviewed an advance copy of the scientific paper and noted as a resident of Massachusetts just east of Worcester County that during 2010-2011, “That was an absolutely horrific winter, breaking all kinds of records for snowfall, ice accumulation and cold. It was hardly representative of the way traveling commercial hives spend their winters (they go to Florida).”
Dove also noted that dead bees on the ground near the hive entrances “isn’t typical of colony collapse.”
Another critique was published in the July 23 Wall Street Journal by Dr. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and previously was founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology.
Miller pegged the insecticide doses at “32-100 times their usual exposure in the field.”
“That does poison bees, but it doesn’t replicate real-world exposure in the field, which in any case seems now to be declining. According to University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEngelsorp, no cases have been reported in three years,” Miler wrote.
Further, the world’s honeybee population rose from 50 million in 1960 to 80 million colonies in 2011, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization statistics, Miller wrote.
Feeding poisoned food to bees and watching them die off in the deep freeze of a New England winter is just bee-ing silly.