Colony Collapse Disorder: What It Is, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do
We're passionate about saving bees! For us, that often manifests itself in carefully removing bees that have set up residence in people's homes or businesses. But we're also passionate about saving bees as a species.
You've probably seen news stories about plummeting bee populations around the world. Frequently, this is due to something called "Colony Collapse Disorder," or CCD, which is when the majority of workers disappear from their hive, leaving behind their queen, brood, and food stores.
Luckily, CCD cases are on the decline. Unfortunately, it's still a phenomenon that is affecting bee populations in the U.S. and around the world.
But what causes CCD? And can we do anything to prevent it?
Colony collapse disorder still isn't very well understood
Scientists have been unable to nail down exactly what causes CCD, but there are lots of theories. Researchers are focused heavily on several potential causes, including:
High levels of varroa mites and other pests
Diseases and parasites
And a few other related theories
Although researchers haven't been able to identify one underlying culprit, there are some steps we can take to try to make the world a safer place for bees. They include:
Monitoring hives for pests and diseases
Every beekeeper does this to an extent! Regular inspections of hives can help you catch and prevent a varroa mite infestation or other problems. Catching an infestation or outbreak of an illness early gives you time to treat your bees or handle the infestation properly.
Planting a variety of plants
Bees depend on access to a variety of plants to get complete nutrition. Unfortunately, we live in a time where we frequently plant acres and acres of crops, which is a practice called "monoculture." Monoculture limits bees' access to different plants, which means their pollen stores often lack critical nutrients. Think of it like a food desert: you can access plenty of food, but all of the food is made of corn. How long would you stay healthy if you only ate corn for weeks at a time?
Planting a variety of plants in our yards or fields will give bees desperately-needed variety in their diet. Bees will be stronger and more likely to stay healthy, which helps them fight off disease, pests, and other calamities.
Avoiding pesticide use
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: pesticides are bad for bees! As tempting as it can be to spray our yards to kill mosquitoes, grubs, ants, and other critters, avoiding using pesticides and other poisons. Remember, there's no such thing as a "targeted" pesticide: you can't buy a spray that kills, say, ants and only ants. All pesticides affect all organisms that come into contact with them, including beneficial ones like bees and other pollinators.
Instead of spraying your home or lawn with pesticides, look into other pest-control measures that are less harmful to important insects.
Exploring genetic variety in bees
It's common knowledge that having a strong gene pool can help prevent health problems in creatures. Take purebred dogs as an example: many purebreds are susceptible to breathing issues, joint problems, and a variety of other health issues due to their limited gene pools. The same is true for bees!
Weak genetics may very well contribute to CCD by making bees more susceptible to illnesses, pests, and other environmental stressors. If you're a beekeeper, explore the possibility of keeping feral honey bees alongside any other species. Feral bees may not produce as reliably as their European cousins who make up the majority of commercial hives, but they're stronger and more disease-resistant.
Advocating for bees
It's tempting to dismiss advocating for bees and other pollinators as weird or as ineffectual. But bees can't speak for themselves!
When your Home Owner's Association debates about what landscaping elements should (or shouldn't) be allowed, be a voice for local fauna that may be negatively affected. Encourage your friends and neighbors to avoid widespread spraying of pesticides. Learn how your city plans landscaping for urban areas, parking lots, and other municipal fixtures. Support local beekeepers. Your voice is powerful — use it!
We don't fully understand Colony Collapse Disorder. But what we do know is that several suspected causes — inadequate nutrition, weak genes, environmental stressors, and loss of habitat — are things we can counteract on our own. Do your part to solve the Colony Collapse Disorder crisis by making the world a better place for bees!