Causes of Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony Collapse Disorder – Causes & How to Protect your Hive ?

Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD is a mysterious occurrence where entire colonies of bees vanish, for seemingly no reason.

A hive that has fallen prey to Colony Collapse Disorder will have no adult bees or adult bee corpses inside. The queen will usually be alive, as will many of the young and the hive will still contain honey. The hive usually contains evidence to support the presence of Varroa mites.

Whatever the cause of CCD is, it only seems to directly affect the adult bees, the hive collapses due to the neglect caused by the absence of adult workers. As you should know by now, it is the worker bees who do everything in the hive. The queen and the drones are only concerned with mating, leaving all the others duties to the worker bees.

While reported cases of Colony Collapse Disorder has been on the rise since October 2006, the condition has been known to beekeepers for a long while now. The first occurrence that was recorded happened in 1869, and it has been given several names over the course of time. Spring Dwindle Disease, Autumn Collapse Disease, Spring Dwindle Disease, May Disease and Disappearing Disease are some of the titles formerly given to this phenomenon.

Preventing Bee Diseases

Experts are at a loss to explain why or how the bees are vanishing. Researchers have found a combination of factors that, when considered together may be an important part of why CCD is becoming more and more prevalent. Some of the major factors thought to be at the root of the current Colony Collapse Disorder epidemic are:

  • Environmental factors such as, the increased use of pesticides, the constant encroaching of humans upon the natural habitat of bees (and every other animal, for that matter) and the increasing rarity of suitable food sources.
  • The emergence of several new diseases and an increase in varroa mite infection
  • Stress. Like people, bees can only do so much before they reach a point of diminishing returns. Also like many people these days, bees are finding themselves working way too hard in exchanges for substantially less than they need in order to survive. The end result is a substantial decrease in the colonies ability to defend itself and maintain its health- both at the collective and individual levels.

The heavy, careless hand of man has altered and polluted the environment in such a short amount of time and to such a great extent that bees have not been able to evolve fast enough to handle them. The continued ruination of the planet is unlikely to stop, or even slow down anytime soon leaving humans to ponder the now very real and imminent threat of bees becoming extinct in the not too distant future.

The total extinction of honeybees spells disaster for the rest of the life on the planet.  Bees do more than make honey and ruin picnics – they are solely responsible for pollinating most of the plants which humans and many other living things depend on for food. Just in the United States, bees are responsible for pollinating upwards of 66% of the crops grown for food!

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That’s just what bees do for people in the United States; the rest of the world is no less dependent on the favors of bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder is already affecting more than your local bee population; the drastic reduction in the worldwide bee population is starting to affect agriculture and other areas of commerce.

Some farmers now rent bees to pollinate their crops, since they can no longer depend on being visited by feral or wild bees. While this solution works for now and has prevented the loss of tons and tons of food, it won’t work forever. Unless something can be done in the relatively near future to substantially increase the number of bee colonies and stop CCD, humans the world over will be facing facing an unprecedented food crisis.

Colony Collapse Disorder is everyone’s problem. Everyone needs to eat, and the crazy truth is that bees are primarily responsible for providing us with almost all of the food we eat. Until CCD is properly understood and a cure, treatment or method of prevention is available there isn’t much that seems like it can be done. The most sensible strategy is to become more aware of our effects on the environment in general and bees in particular.

 

Each and every one of us can make a few minor changes in our daily routines and lifestyle that can help reduce the contributing factors of Colony Collapse Disorder:

This should go without saying, but the simplest thing anyone can do to help fight CCD is to simply be nicer to bees. Don’t kill them, go out of your way to avoid them and let them have their space. If you can help one escape or find its way back to where it came without hurting it, do so.

The ability for this method to make a positive difference is totally dependent upon these practices becoming widespread. You can do your part to educate others by your example.

If you have a garden, consider some minor additions to make it “Bee Friendly”. You can grow flowers and plants that appeal to them. Avoid using pesticides of any kind and rely on non-chemical and organic methods of pest control.

  • If your property can accommodate it, consider making a few attractive spots for bees to nest. Not so you can harvest the honey – just so they can do their thing. One of the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder is the vanishing of suitable areas for bees to live. Doing what you can to encourage them to nest on your property is a small gesture that can potentially have a large impact.
  • Become a beekeeper. More beekeepers mean more bees that are able to benefit from the watchful eye of a caring human. The bees that you keep will have several distinct advantages over their wild counterparts.
  • Become aware of  your personal impact on the environment and take some steps to minimize them. There is no need to convert to solar panels or move off the grid or make any extreme changes to your life, but you probably could make a few dozen small ones that will have a positive impact over time. Take a look at your daily routine and see where you can make more “bee friendly” choices throughout the day.

The only way to ensure the future of healthy,strong bee colonies is for everyone to do their part, no matter how small it may seem. Colony Collapse Disorder is a byproduct of how our modern society takes the natural world for granted and uses it up like it will grow back in a few days, until this fundamental attitude changes, CCD and all that comes with it is unlikely to get better. The only hope is that people begin to make small changes that add up to make a big difference.

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Other Diseases in Honeybees

American Foulbrood

American Foulbrood is a bacterial disease caused by  Paenibacillus larvae, a spore-forming bacteria. This disease targets young bee larvae that are less than twenty-four hours old. It is passed into the bee larvae while eating infected food.  Infected larvae will usually die within three days of being infected. The spores do not die, but rather reproduce and can infect the entire hive’s young. Paenibacillus larvae spores can live over thirty years, hiding on and in your beekeeping gear and cause reinfection of your hive, making it difficult to get rid of once it has taken hold.

Chalkbrood Disease and other Infections in Honey bees

Chalkbrood

Chalkbrood, also known as Ascosphaera apis, is a fungus that takes up residence in the guts of bee larva. Much like a tapeworm in a human’s stomach, Ascosphaera apis, eats the food that has been eaten by the larva. It puts itself in direct competition for the young bee’s food. Once the fungus has starved the larva to death, it begins to consume the carcass, which turns a chalky, brittle white color.

Most often this is an issue during a spring season with heavy rainfall. More often than not, if the ventilation of the hive is improved, Chalkbrood will clear up without further attention from you.

Stonebrood

Stonebrood is also caused by a fungus known as Aspergillus fumigatus, which is usually found in dirt. Several other types of fungus are also responsible for this condition.

Working in a similar fashion to Chalkbrood, Stonebrood also uses food to arrive in the bee larva’s stomach and sets up shop. Instead of stealing the larva’s food, the spores are hatched inside the young bee, who soon dies. The corpse becomes black and hard. It is difficult to break or smash the infected bodies, a characteristic which gives this condition its name. The Stonebrood fungus will then encase the body in a fake skin, similar to mummification and reproduce.

Stonebrood is not a guaranteed death sentence to the hive but can be. Odds of recovery depend on how healthy and strong the hive is and the severity of the outbreak.

Aside from bees, this condition may affect other kinds of bugs, birds, and small animals.

Pests

Acarine  or Tracheal mites

On the Isle of Wight, in 1904 many of the bees started to die in a mysterious fashion. The condition worsened until most of the bees in the British Isles were gone. The cause of this mass die out was discovered in 1921 to be a parasite known as Acarapis woodi.

These tiny mites take up residence in the airways of the honey bee. They live there and lay eggs for
a while and then climb out of the bee’s airway and attempt to transfer themselves to a younger bee, where they will begin laying eggs again.

Usually, it is required to send a few dead bees out to a lab to confirm the pretense of these mites. Treating an infection involves using grease and sugar or Menthol.

Nosema

Nosema is also a fungal infection. It targets the intestinal track of adult bees. It is not a serious threat to your hive as long as your bees are able to leave the hive to clean the waste from  it and themselves. Conditions such as an extra rainy or cold season and poor hive placement encourage Nosema to take root.

It can usually be resolved by increasing ventilation and removing the honey from the hive. It should be replaced with sugar water

Small Hive Beetle

Small Hive Beetle aka Aethina tumida is originally from Africa.

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The beetle is born in the dirt near a hive, makes its way in (much like a fox in a hen house) and does its best to do as much damage to your bees and their hive as possible.

Effective treatments include the use of  diatomaceous earth, which kills the young beetles and keeps them from entering the hive. This is a rather new technique but has many supporters who swear by it. Pesticides are also an option but are only used when absolutely needed, bees are very sensitive to pesticides and their use is minimized as much as possible in beekeeping.

Varroa destructor mite

Varroa mites

Known in scientific circles as Varroa destructor these mites can be seen unaided on the body of an infected bee and look like a red dot on an infected bee’s thorax. These mites target bees in all stages of maturity from pupal up to adult.

Mostly a threat to smaller colonies, these mites help themselves to the bodily fluids of their host until the host expires. Varroa mites are capable of destroying an entire hive and have done a good job eliminating wild bees from several areas of the world.  If the infection is too much, the remaining uninfected bees will often leave in search of a new hive.

The condition is often treated with pesticides and barrier methods of pest control, which make it difficult for the mites to get inside the hive in the first place.

Wax Moths

Galleria mellonella or, the greater wax moth feeds on beeswax. It essentially eats away at the inner structures of the hive. Unusually, no intervention is needed to clear up an infected hive. The bees are pretty capable of hunting down and killing wax moths, keeping them from becoming a serious problem. Some beekeepers use moth balls or discs to keep these pests at bay.

Other Unfavorable Conditions

Chilled brood

This is more a result of poor bee keeping habits rather than a proper disease. This condition is caused when the interior temperature of the hive cannot be properly maintained because the hive remains open too long for maintenance in cooler temperatures. This is similar to opening your front door while the heater is on but instead of catching a chill or cold, the young bees (or brood) are prone to deformities or death.

Dysentery

People aren’t the only creatures that can suffer from the effects of Dysentery, this serious condition is also a threat to bees as well.  It is caused in a hive the same way it breaks out among humans- by living with your own waste. Dysentery outbreaks are possible when it is too cold for the bees to leave the hive to remove their waste. If it is a very cold winter with few warm or warmish days, the bees will not leave and waste piles up, setting the stage for Dysentery to break out.

Many beekeepers attempt to prevent Dysentery by removing the honey from the hive and replacing it with syrup water before the winter. This cuts down on the waste the bees produce and by extension keeps Dysentery  out of your hive.

Exposure to pesticides

Bees are incredibly sensitive to pesticides and other commonly used toxic chemicals. Minimize your bee’s exposure to pesticides by not using them in your garden, or on your property. There’s not much you can do to make other people stop using them, the best course of action is to be aware and try to reduce exposure as much as possible.