View Full Version : Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?
04-15-2007, 10:11 AM
Scientists claim radiation from handsets are to blame for mysterious 'colony collapse' of bees
By Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross
Published: 15 April 2007
It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail.
They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world - the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon - which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe - was beginning to hit Britain as well.
The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.
The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.
CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.
04-15-2007, 11:57 AM
The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.This is potentially a huge problem. However, the bit I re-quoted above suggests to me that there's some other cause - if the bees simply didn't come home, what's stopping the raiders from entering the hive? One possible reason is that raiders might only enter a hive that has signs/smells of dead bees or decay in the hive. I should ask my apiarist friend about that.
04-16-2007, 08:39 PM
According to the Christian Science Monitor (Source (http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0404/p13s01-sten.html)), the colony collapse disorder (CCD) was first reported in Florida last fall and has since spread to 24 states. Cell phones have been around a lot longer than a year and the "spread" of the phenomenon to other states suggest a very different cause than cell phones. In my opinion, the timing and spread of CCD rules out the hypothesis or speculation (I would hesitate to grace the concept with the word theory) that cell phone "radiation" is causing the bees to die. Just the word "radiation" alone should have clued us all concerning the false sensationalism that the authors of the article are trying to foist on their readers.
Researchers do not now know what is the cause but most beekeepers suspsect that it is a new virus or parasite, perhaps due to pesticides and genetically modified crops. The latter is a frightening possibility. In the last several years, a number of genetically modified crops were introduced. These crops are resistant to a particular weedkiller, allowing farmers to apply higher concentrations of this weedkiller than before. There is suspicion that this is the reason for the demise of so many bees.
The occurrence of CCD also raised a very very serious problem. We currently rely almost solely on bees to pollinate all our crops. Because of the use of pesticides, habitat loss, and imported diseases, we have eliminate many of the an estimated 4,500 potential alternate pollinators, such as butterflies, wasps, and other bees. To replace these pollinators, farmers have had to rely on trucked in honeybees that have proven to be vulnerable to die-offs.
Beekeepers are seeing hives that empty out in a matter of weeks, sometimes days. Eerily, the stored honey in the hive remains untouched, arguing against the possibility of raiding bees from nearby colonies. Although CCD has been intermittently described for over a hundred years, the magnitude of CCD is unprecedented. One apiarist, Dennis vanEngelsdorp, believes that it is a manifestation of AIDS of bees, the presence of an immune suppressor.
France had a similar problem in the 1990's. They called it the "mad bee disease" and French beekeepers blamed it on a newly introduced pesticide marketed under the name Gaucho. This pesticide targets the nicotinic receptors on aphids. The French government banned the pesticide in 1999. However, subsequent studies have not shown a causal link and bee populations still have not recovered.
Some are pointing to genetically modified crops, particularly those with a gene for a bacterial toxin called Bt. Although studies did not show any effects on bees, critics claim that the study had not been extended long enough and the studies did not examine bees infested with parasites. Approximately $14 billion of crops are at risk because of this bee problem. The reduction of honey production alone is $100 million. The nation's almond crop is at risk. Last year, almond-farmers harvested a billion pounds of the nuts.
There are about a million queen bee farmers in the United States and they may not be able to meet the demand of replacing the bees. The U.S. will end up importing bees from New Zealand, Canada, Russia. These will likely bring in new diseases and parasites to the existing bee population. In fact, foreign parasites such as bee-eating varroa mites or the pesticides used to kill them may contribute to CCD (Source (http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/crops----our-wallets---/story.aspx?guid=%7B5258733D-F4CC-4FEC-B6A1-DD6464E272C5%7D)).
Unfortunately, some people are taking advantage of this bee problem and coming out with article against cell phones, pesticides, or genetically modified foods. In my opinion, this problem is likely to be the beginning of the demise of genetically modified (GM) crop industry. The problem is that it is not enough to say that they don't know and there is no evidence that the GM crop is not causing the bee loss. They must prove that their crops are not responsible. That is hard to do. Fear will do the rest.
Fear is running rampant. In a comment on one blog (Source (http://www.celsias.com/blog/2007/03/15/bee-colony-collapse-disorder-where-is-it-heading/), for example, there is the following doomsday statement:
CO2 is the least of worries now. A worse case secnario is an immuno comprimised honey bee, infected with every kind of virus imaginable, that can’t find it’s way home.
We could very well be watching the entire food chain falling apart right now. I heard a figure once. Something like 3 out of every 4 bites of food you take, you owe to the honey bee. We cannot replicate what they do. There is simply no substitute for trillions upon trillions of honey bees world wide, pollinating an area of hundreds of thousands of square miles. If we don’t lock this thing down soon, They will become extinct, and we’ll follow shortly after.
This is serious but neither bees nor we are at the edge of extinction.
i have a big tree buy the house that has a huge honey bee colony. 2 or 3 times a year a huge amount will swarm buy another tree for couple days. day time they fly around. the swarm is about 6' around 10' high. really cool to see. at night they all make a big glob of bees. maybe 1' or so around. after couple days they just dissapear. well my house is very tall with 2' overhang soffits and twice now in the 15 years i have lived here. the lazy SOB's figured the house was great place to set up shop lol. well had to waste them , can't have bees living in my house.
04-17-2007, 03:13 PM
...the lazy SOB's figured the house was great place to set up shop...Sons of a Bee?
04-18-2007, 09:14 AM
04-23-2007, 09:14 PM
I agree that it is most likely due to a virus possibly caused by pesticides and/or genetically altered crops. The first time I heard about this was on Bill Maher, of all places.
Could you imagine how much people would belly ache if they had to give up cell phones? I think there are some that would rather starve then give up their little phone addiction, but we survived without cell phones for a LONG time.
04-23-2007, 11:56 PM
Latest info: CoxFoster Testimony here. (http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/CCDPpt/CoxFosterTestimonyFinal.pdf)
Nothing about cell phones.
04-25-2007, 04:08 PM
Thanks. Cell phones get blamed a lot for things. If cell phones were toxic, we should have seen the effects by now.
In the early 1990's, I was a consultant to Verizon (it was called NYNEX, I believe). They brought me along to town hall meetings where there was usually some quack doctor who claimed that cell phones and their "radiation" caused cancer. In many cases, they would get the community so scared that they would refuse to give permission for the installation of a cell phone tower.
At one community meeting in upstate New York, I was in a face-off with the fire-chief of a town. This man claimed that the installation of a cell antenna tower in the town would lead to a rise in cancer. The debate ended when I asked him whether he had a radio for communicating with his fire station in his car.
It turned out that he not only had a high-powered radio for communication but also had a radar gun. These devices probably are delivering to him over a million times the typical intensity of radiofrequency waves that a cell phone radio tower antenna would. Sigh.
04-26-2007, 12:51 PM
Now Taiwan gets hit.
07-10-2007, 12:55 PM
There is no agreement on the causes. Wise.
What's Killing American Honey Bees?
Benjamin P. Oldroyd
Funding. The author received no specific funding for this study.
Competing interests. The author has declared that no competing interests exist.
Citation: Oldroyd BP (2007) What's Killing American Honey Bees? PLoS Biol 5(6): e168 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050168
Published: June 12, 2007
Copyright: © 2007 Benjamin P. Oldroyd. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Abbreviations: CCD, colony collapse disorder; GM, genetically modified
Dr. Benjamin P. Oldroyd is with the Behaviour and Genetics of Social Insects Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
On February 22, 2007, many Americans woke up to media reports that something was awry with their honey bees. A significant proportion of American beekeepers were complaining of unusually high rates of colony loss as their bees broke from their overwintering clusters. Loss of some colonies (say 10%) in early spring is normal and occurs every year. In 2007, however, losses were particularly heavy and widespread—beekeepers in 22 states (including Hawaii) reported the problem. Some beekeepers lost nearly all of their colonies. And the problem is not just in the United States. Many European beekeepers complain of the same problem. Moreover, beekeepers and researchers do not understand the specific causes of the losses.
Is There a Real Problem?
Were the losses in 2007 within the normal range, or is there something new afoot in the bee industry? If there is something new, what is it? Is it indicative of a general toxic overload of agricultural ecosystems, or a problem confined to the bee industry? Should beekeepers be worried? Should we be worried? The US House Agriculture Committee is sufficiently worried to be holding hearings into the matter, as well they might. Honey bees are essential pollinators: in 2000, the value of American crops pollinated by bees was estimated to be $14.6 billion .
The syndrome is mysterious in that the main symptom is simply a low number of adult bees in the hive. . . There are no bodies, and although there are often many disease organisms present, no outward signs of disease, pests, or parasites exist.
Here, I try to get to the bottom of the unsolved mystery of colony collapse disorder (CCD)—the official description of a syndrome in which many bee colonies died in the winter and spring of 2006–2007.
What is CCD?
The syndrome is mysterious in that the main symptom is simply a low number of adult bees in the hive. (This is a bit like going to a previously well-populated hen house and finding hardly any hens.) There are no bodies, and although there are often many disease organisms present, no outward signs of disease, pests, or parasites exist. Often there is still food in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present. The cause of the loss of bees seems to be the sudden early death, in the field, of large numbers of adult workers . Curiously, the dead colonies tend to be left alone by the two cleptoparasites that normally infest dead honey bee colonies: the wax moth Gallaria mellonella and the small hive beetle Aethina tumida. Could this be due to some toxic residue in the dead colonies? Perhaps this was a contributing factor, but more likely the time of year meant that there were few cleptoparasites about—their abundance is seasonal.
Figure 1. A Colony of Honey Bees Affected by CCD
Note the small number of adult workers relative to the large amount of brood.
(Photo: Keith Delaplane)
Were the Losses Unusual?
Some winter losses are normal, and because the proportion of colonies dying varies enormously from year to year, it is difficult to say when a crisis is occurring and when losses are part of the normal continuum. What is clear is that about one year in ten, apiarists suffer unusually heavy colony losses. This has been going on for a long time. In Ireland, there was a “great mortality of bees” in 950, and again in 992 and 1443 . One of the most famous events was in the spring of 1906, when most beekeepers on the Isle of Wight (United Kingdom) lost all of their colonies . American beekeepers also suffer heavy losses periodically. In 1903, in the Cache valley of Utah, 2000 colonies were lost to a mysterious “disappearing disease” following a “hard winter and cold spring” . More recently, there was an incident in 1995 in which Pennsylvania beekeepers lost 53% of colonies .
Often terms such as “disappearing disease” or “spring dwindling” are used to describe the syndrome in which large numbers of colonies die in spring due to a lack of adult bees [7,8,9]. However in 2007, some beekeepers experienced 80–100% losses. This is certainly the extreme end of a continuum, so perhaps there is indeed some new factor in play.
What Are the Possible Causes?
Diseases and parasites
Honey bees are affected by a large number of parasites and pathogens. Mostly these have a set of well-defined symptoms that do not relate to CCD. For example, there are two major bacterial diseases that affect the brood: European Foul Brood (caused by Mellisococcus pluton ), and American Foul Brood (caused by Paenibacillus larvae ). There is also a fungal disease of the brood Ascosphaera apis . These organisms have no effect on adult bees but have distinctive symptoms in larvae and pupae.
The parasitic mite Varroa destructor infests brood cells and lives phoretically on adult bees . But heavy mite infections are obvious to professional beekeepers, especially by the stage where colonies are dying of the infestation. So in itself, Varroa infestation is unlikely to cause CCD.
A Tarsonemid mite Acarapis woodi can infest the trachea of adult bees  and is now widespread in North America. Acarapis infections were once thought to be the cause of the famous Isle of Wight disease, with symptoms like CCD. However, eminent honey bee pathologist L. Bailey is extremely sceptical that Isle of Wight disease has anything to do with an infectious agent . This is not to say that the Isle of Wight disease is the same as CCD, nor does it exclude the possibility that Acarapis may contribute to CCD.
A protozoan, Nosema apis, infests the guts of adult bees, and when present in high numbers, causes dysentery and early senescence of adult workers . This is also unlikely to be the direct cause of CCD, because the dysentery is obvious and because just about all honey bee colonies are chronically infected with the parasite every spring, even when there are no colony losses. In an interesting twist, however, a new Nosema species, N. cerana, has been recently identified from the Asian hive bee Apis cerana  and has now been found on A. mellifera in Europe [18–20]. This “new” pathogen has spread to the US and some researchers speculate that it has contributed to CCD.
More likely to play a role in CCD are a variety of viruses that affect adult bees (Table 1). Most adult honey bees carry symptomless viral infections [21,22]. However, under conditions of stress caused by poor nutrition, inclement weather, or parasitism by V. destructor  or N. apis , viral populations can increase and cause symptoms in adult bees. The paralysis viruses cause adult bees to tremble and shake, crawling away from the nest unable to fly. Paralysis can certainly reduce the life expectancy of workers dramatically , and cause spring dwindling. But in the 2007 outbreak of CCD, there was no evidence of trembling distressed workers. Therefore, the paralysis viruses are not strong candidates for the causative agent of CCD.
07-10-2007, 01:27 PM
I read somewhere that the cause of CCD might be a rapid change in the earth's magnetic field. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomagnetic_reversal
The Earth's magnetic north pole is drifting from northern Canada towards Siberia with a presently accelerating rate -- 10km per year at the beginning of the 20th century, up to 40km per year in 2003. It is also unknown if this drift will continue to accelerate.Whether or not this is the cause of CCD, there's no doubt that magnetic field fluctuations can affect animals that use the field for navigation. And unlike global warming, this is a problem we can't blame on ourselves!