Consider for a moment the contents of your fridge and pantry – it has been estimated that about a third of our diet is thanks to the industrious foraging of insect pollinators. The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is by far the most lauded. Each time a worker bee sets out to forage for pollen and nectar to feed her colony mates, she fulfills another invaluable function. She fertilises the flowers of crop plants that she visits with the pollen she carries in her pollen basket, ensuring that humans benefit from the fruits of her labour as much as her younger siblings and queen do. And then, of course, there’s the honey — the delicious sugary syrup we have been collecting from wild hives for at least the past 15 millenia, and harvesting from maintained colonies of domesticated bees since the 1700s.
Since late 2006, a mysterious affliction — known as colony collapse disorder — has threatened to end this long-standing partnership we have with bees. When a colony collapses, worker bees fly from their hives, never to return. They abandon their queen, as well as the developing brood of larvae that now lie unfed in their individual honeycomb cells. Bee disappearances like this had occurred prior to 2006, but never in as great a number, and never as wide-spread. In the USA, about a third of honey bee colonies were lost to colony collapse disorder each year since 2007, but losses in 2012-13 could be as high as 50%. Similar losses have occurred in Europe. Continue reading “Honey bees treat themselves to guard against colony collapse”