Bees Facing Catastrophic Epidemic

A mysterious ailment is having a catastrophic effect on the nation’s bee population.

A mysterious disease is killing off U.S. honeybees, threatening to disrupt pollination of a range of crops and costing beekeepers hundreds of thousands of dollars, industry experts said on Monday.

Beekeepers in 22 states have reported losses of up to 80 percent of their colonies in recent weeks, leaving many unable to rent the bees to farmers of crops such as almonds and, later in the year, apples and blueberries.


Researchers from state and federal agriculture agencies have been frustrated in their search for a cause because affected hives are often empty except for the queen and a few bees.

The number of bees in a hive typically diminishes over a period of days to the point where there are very few or none left, Hackenberg said. There is no indication of where the bees have gone or what drove them away, he said.

“The rate of loss is startling,” said Jeff Pettis, a bee researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Maryland.

This is a rather disturbing development. Large sectors of the nation’s agricultural output is dependent on pollination by honeybees, and a significant decline in population can affect harvests to the tune of billions of dollars. Hopefully the cause of this population destruction can be isolated and a cure developed in short order. It’s tough to say how parts of the industry might cope if the bee population continues to dwindle.

FILED UNDER: Health, Natural Disasters, , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. anjin-san says:

    This is upsetting news, but hardly unexpected. Human beings have placed huge strains on pretty much every ecosystem in the world, and the Bush admins policy towards destruction of the environment has been pretty much “the faster, the better”.

    Word to the wise… “Soylent Green is people”.

    Alex you sound like a pretty rational guy… how the hell did you get a job here?

  2. anjin-san: Can you tell us how GWB is destroying the environment? In particular, his policy of “the faster, the better”.

    Just curious.

  3. steve says:

    Anyone know if the africanized bee populations are being devastated, too?

  4. Bithead says:


    I’d modify that question just a bit, to ask if the African strain of bees are carriers of this new problem, having built up an immunity to it.

    “Soylent Green is people”.

    And Girl Scout cookies are made with real Girl Scouts?

    Sorry, Anji, but like Demmons, I’m calling ‘nonsense’..

  5. anjin-san says:

    Sure heres one specific, relating to looser emissions standards for coal fired plants. They are certainly not hard to find…

    EPA has omitted 41 power plants that are either in or directly adjacent to nonattaining metro areas. The biggest polluters that were left out are the J.M. Stuart coal-fired power plant in Adams County, Ohio, which is adjacent to the Cincinnati metropolitan area. In 2002, this plant discharged over 117,000 tons of SO2 and over 46,000 tons of oxides of nitrogen. The Homer City coal-fired power plant in Indiana County, Pennsylvania and adjacent to the Pittsburg metropolitan area was also left out. In 2002, this plant discharged over 105,000 tons of SO2 and over 25,000 tons of NOx.

  6. Meanwhile, back at the hive, I wonder how important the loss of drones is in the grand scheme of things. I’d be more interested in learning what’s happening to the Queens.

  7. Dodd says:

    I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say: You can rent bees?!?

  8. anjin-san says:

    bithead? michael?