Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Carmel on the Case: Bee Buzz
The buzz about bees this summer is serious. It's bad enough that aggressive Africanized bees have moved in, but now something is killing our honey bees in staggering numbers. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- It looks and sounds like something out of a horror movie. But all this "bizzy-ness" is just bees being bees at a Florida farm.
David Mendes: "We winter our hives in Florida, but our primary focus is to take them north in the summer to pollinate crops.
Dave Mendes has thousands of healthy hives in Charlotte County. But he and beekeepers across the country are alarmed about the staggering number of honey bees that are dying. Worse yet -- no one knows why.
David Mendes: "I've had very good friends that have lost 75 percent of their bees since November."
There's a name for what's happening: Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD.
David Mendes: "The hives that have died, they are finding high levels of pathogens such as fungus, virus, bacteria, that you'd normally find at low levels in hives."
So what's changed that could be impacting the bees? There are a lot of theories about possible causes, everything from cell phones to pesticides. But, as of now, it's a mystery.
David Mendes: "If you can't clearly identify what went wrong, how can you fix it?"
Florida experts say, statewide, forty percent of the registered colonies died this past winter and spring. Nationwide the estimates are even higher. That's increasing the price of honey and could impact fruits and vegetables, which rely on the bees for pollination.
David Mendes: "This time of year there's 40 to 50,000 bees in the hive."
If you have any doubt how important bees are to agriculture, consider this, without European honey bees, the Florida Department of Agriculture reports one third of the food we eat would disappear.
At Mendes' Headwaters Farm, the bees are being prepared to move up north to pollinate blueberries, but he says he must take extra care with them now. They are far more fragile than they used to be.
David Mendes: "In the past, we do things with them, and they are resilient, and they put up with what we do to them. Now it seems like we handle them the same way, and they come apart."
Carmel Cafiero: "Despite concern over bees that are dying, bees that invade our homes and neighborhoods are still being killed.
In the past, bees found invading homes could sometimes be saved and transported to bee farms, but Africanized honey bees complicate matters.
William Sklaroff: "The state of Florida is asking us to treat every single bee hive as Africanized honey bees."
William Sklaroff, who calls himself Willie the Bee Man, makes a living ridding homes of nuisance bees. It takes a test to determine if these are mellow honey bees or aggressive Africanized bees. Rather than take a chance, they are destroyed.
William Sklaroff: "So, if we bring these bees back we could contaminate the rest of the bees that are in the bee yards."
In addition to their value as honey producers and pollinators, bees are also seen as an indicator of the general health of the environment.
David Mendes: "And when the bees are dying like they are now, it's a sign to pay attention."
Pay attention because, clearly, something is very wrong.
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