Millions of America’s honeybees are simply leaving their hives and never coming back. It’s a serious problem. On the importance of bees, Einstein once noted: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years left to live.”

Our time starts … now. As Crikey reported in February:

Some US beekeepers say they’ve lost up to 50% of their bees and with 22 US states now affected, there are concerns that the lack of little pollinators could seriously affect crop production — each year $US15 billion worth of crops like strawberries, almonds and pumpkins rely on honeybee pollination. And Pooh Bear might soon have to take out a mortgage to get his honey fix.

US researchers don’t know what’s actually causing bees to die, but they have a label for what’s happening — colony collapse disorder. It’s also called “disappearing disease”, because most adult honeybees just vanish from a hive, leaving the queen and some younger bees.

Honeybees in Ontario have also been dropping like, ahem, flies, according to the Globe and Mail, though Canadian officials are yet to concede a link between the two nations’ similar problems. Heavy bee losses have been reported across Europe, but government bee inspectors in the UK, who met recently to discuss the issues, say there is “no evidence … right now of colony collapse disorder”.

Theories on the cause of this strange beehaviour range from pesticides, mites, and GM crops to pathogens and global warming. Recently, another possibility entered the ring: mobile phone radiation.

The theory, based on a limited study at Landau University, is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, “preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives”, write Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross in The Independent.

“Does this mean the best way to cope with being ‘attacked’ by a bee, is to whip out your mobile make a ringing sound then pass it to the bee and say ‘It’s for you’? quips one blogger (Crikey gratuitous blog reference).  

Will the issue get the attentions it deserves? Celia Rivenbark at Fort Wayne News Sentinel isn’t convinced: “Scientists are trying to figure it out, but, let’s face it, unless we can train the bees to find out why the crazy space lady had bondage photos and orange pills in her car, nobody’s really going to pay them much attention. Until our bellies start growling that is.”

Surely the words of Debbie Lawton from Dixie Growers in the US should be scare tactic enough. “If you don’t get good pollination, you get deformed fruit.”

Peter Fray

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