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A beekeeper on Taiwan's northeastern coast reported 6 million insects missing "for no reason", and one in the south said 80 of his 200 bee boxes had been emptied, the paper said.
Beekeepers usually let their bees out of boxes to pollinate plants and the insects normally make their way back to their owners. However, many of the bees have not returned over the past couple of months.
Possible reasons include disease, pesticide poisoning and unusual weather, varying from less than 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) to more than 30 degrees Celsius over a few days, experts say.
- Deserted beehives, starving young stun scientists***
A colony collapse disorder working group based at Pennsylvania State University has become a central clearinghouse for all the suspected causes, which include:
•An overload of parasites, such as bloodsucking varroa mites, that have ravaged bees. The parasites reportedly spread to Hawaii only last week.
•Pesticide contamination. Hotly debated suspicion centers on whether "neonicotinoid" insecticides interfere with the foraging behavior of bees, leading them to abandon their hives.
•Fungal diseases such as Nosema ceranae, which is blamed for big bee losses in Spain. It was spotted by University of California-San Francisco researchers who were examining sample dead bees last week.
•The rigors of traveling in trucks from crop to crop.
A complex problem
"We may have a perfect storm of many problems combining to kill the bees," Hackett says. And bees are social animals, who cue each other through "bee dances" to find food. "Something could be just disrupting bee society and causing the problem. That's very difficult to tease out."
Weaver says the beekeeper federation is "bombarded with lots of interesting theories," including "far-fetched ideas like cellphones," the notion that radio waves from mobile phones are zapping the bees' direction-sensing abilities.
"But right now there's not a lot of evidence to support any of these theories," Weaver says. "We think science is the only way to get to the bottom of this."
Asian Parasite Killing Western Bees - Scientist
SPAIN: July 19, 2007
MADRID - A parasite common in Asian bees has spread to Europe and the Americas and is behind the mass disappearance of honeybees in many countries, says a Spanish scientist who has been studying the phenomenon for years.
The culprit is a microscopic parasite called nosema ceranae said Mariano Higes, who leads a team of researchers at a government-funded apiculture centre in Guadalajara, the province east of Madrid that is the heartland of Spain's honey industry.
He and his colleagues have analysed thousands of samples from stricken hives in many countries.
"We started in 2000 with the hypothesis that it was pesticides, but soon ruled it out," he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
Pesticide traces were present only in a tiny proportion of samples and bee colonies were also dying in areas many miles from cultivated land, he said.
They then ruled out the varroa mite, which is easy to see and which was not present in most of the affected hives.
For a long time Higes and his colleagues thought a parasite called nosema apis, common in wet weather, was killing the bees.
"We saw the spores, but the symptoms were very different and it was happening in dry weather too."
Then he decided to sequence the parasite's DNA and discovered it was an Asian variant, nosema ceranae. Asian honeybees are less vulnerable to it, but it can kill European bees in a matter of days in laboratory conditions.
"Nosema ceranae is far more dangerous and lives in heat and cold. A hive can become infected in two months and the whole colony can collapse in six to 18 months," said Higes, whose team has published a number of papers on the subject.
"We've no doubt at all it's nosema ceranae and we think 50 percent of Spanish hives are infected," he said.
Spain, with 2.3 million hives, is home to a quarter of the European Union's bees.
His team have also identified this parasite in bees from Austria, Slovenia and other parts of Eastern Europe and assume it has invaded from Asia over a number of years.
Bulk bees are exported as “package bees”, which are cardboard and wire mesh units that contain 1-1.5 kg of bees, a queen bee and a food source. Exporters paid $20/kg delivered for bulk bees and $20/queen bee. These prices are the same as last season.
A major development was the opening of the US market for live bees, albeit with fairly restrictive pre-testing requirements. New Zealand officials and beekeepers have been trying for over 30 years to access this market in anticipation of demand from almond growers in California for pollination. This industry may be in a crisis situation next February-March as there have been huge new plantings of almonds, honey bee stocks have been decimated by varroa and other conditions not fully understood at this time, and the costs of trucking hives in from as far away as Florida are increasing. There are also restrictions in bringing in hives from the southern states where there are africanised bees and fire ants. Because of the impending shortage of hives, pollination rental fees paid to US beekeepers increased from around NZD70 to NZD150/hive, with spot prices of over NZD200 being paid. Some sources are saying there will be a demand for 1 million hives for almond pollination next year.
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