The Buzz on the Bees

Scientists seem to have unraveled at least part of the mystery of colony collapse disorder: a virus called “Israeli acute paralysis,” which seems to have entered the US by way of Australia. This theory is fueled by the fact that CCD was first reported in 2004, the first year that the US government allowed imports of honeybees from Australia since 1922. It seems that the virus came with the Australian bees, which have developed an immunity to it, and then affected American bees, which had no immune system defenses against it.

Every article I have read on the subject has entomologists quickly pointing out that even if this virus is contributing to the problem of CCD, it is not the -only- issue at hand; it is still probably only a co-factor along with one or more other contributing factors in this perplexing agricultural problem. It is possible that this virus, combined with a known Asian bee parasite, nosema ceranae is causing CCD; it is just as likely that there are other factors at work as well.

It is a complex problem, one for which no simple answer is in sight. I do hope that this revelation of a possible viral component to the disease will help us find at least a partial solution to the problem of massive bee die-offs, but I do wonder about the state of science education in the USA when I read questions such as the ones found on MSNBC’s “Cosmic Log.” There a reader asked, “I was wondering if there in any research on possible effects to humans. I personally take bee pollen every day for vitamins, minerals, amino acids, energy, etc. Believe it or not, I also take it as a possible antivirus [measure].”

The author of the MSNBC blog was much kinder in his answer than I was in my head when I read it–I remember being taught in high school biology that viruses tend to be species-specific: the viruses that give your cat a cold will not affect you. While viruses rapidly mutate and some can cross-infect among different species (think Avian flu or rabies), the likelihood of the honey of infected bees being a danger to humans is quite minimal. I figured that everyone knew that.

Apparently not. In this day and age of the media pumping Americans full of fear regarding the natural world with terror tales of West Nile Virus, Avian Flu and dying bees, I guess it is no wonder that consumers might worry about eating honey.

Personally, I think folks need to worry more about eating microwave popcorn twice a day than eating honey. But, that is my own bias–I cannot abide the smell of the artificial butter flavor from that product, and am not surprised to find out it can destroy your lungs. It certainly smells evil to me.

(Thank you to Brother Thomas for sending me the note about the bees which inspired this post.)


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  1. In the office I work at, microwave popcorn has been banned for well over a year because so many people found the smell offensive. I agree that it is a disgusting smell, although I do like microwave popcorn on the odd occasion (maybe once or twice a year).

    Comment by Grace — September 8, 2007 #

  2. I had read that commercial hives had higher losses than non-commercial. They guessed that renting out hives to farmers for pollination was stressing out the bees.

    So now that they’ve discovered a viral cause, then what’s the reason for the rented-out bees collapsing more than non-rented? Were there more than one hive on a truck while transporting them? It will be interesting to see what they come up with. I’d like a hive if we ever move out of our big city suburb.

    Comment by Sherri — September 9, 2007 #

  3. hmm we have a lot of viral infections in India too..

    Comment by Nags — September 10, 2007 #

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