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Are Mobile Phones Wiping Out Bees? 419

Posted by Zonk
from the oh-i-hope-this-isn't-a-late-april-fools-joke dept.
Mz6 wrote with a link to an article on The Independent site about a most unusual scientific theory. "Some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail. They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world — the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops."
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Are Mobile Phones Wiping Out Bees?

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  • by duffbeer703 (177751) * on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:16AM (#18740119)
    Perhaps its something to do with newer 3G technology on US and continental headsets?

    Or maybe the government is using some sort of exotic systems to conduct mapping, drug interdiction or surveillance? Millimeter-wave radar can produce pictures of buildings, and operates on a frequency similar to cell phones.

    In a few areas in the western US, there have been incidents when military aircraft electronic warfare systems have triggered widespread issues like garage doors opening and closing by themselves and TV signals being jammed.
  • by tacocat (527354) <tallison1@@@twmi...rr...com> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @07:31AM (#18740201)

    Yeah, but...

    There are only two frequency bands for cellular technology: analog & digital

    Starting in February, 2008 the cellular industry is dropping analog in all but the smaller rural communities, if even that.

    So by next year they'll all come back, right?

  • by skoaldipper (752281) <{skoalstr8} {at} {gmail.com}> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:22AM (#18740475)
    Pesticides? One beekeper [sfgate.com] thinks it's genetic engineering of agricultural plants. I tend to agree. I say, let's just put the beaker and lazer tweezers away already. Let insects do what they do best - suckling off mother nature's teat, not father human's trampling feet.
  • But UK bees are going missing too, just not in such large numbers yet, and the Government Bee Inspectors of the National Bee Unit are denying there is anything wrong. http://environment.guardian.co.uk/conservation/sto ry/0,,2055067,00.html [guardian.co.uk]
  • Corn fields? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Second Horseman (121958) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:10AM (#18740687)

    A lot of the die-offs have been near corn fields, and a pesticide that coats some of the GM corn is a neurotoxin that causes disorientation in bees, even at low doses. There was a similar issue in France a number of years ago, apparently. Honey production was cut in half for several years. The Star-Ledger here in NJ ran an article about it today. Some are speculating that this might be a factor.

    http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news -11/1176611470205100.xml&coll=1 [nj.com]

  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:28AM (#18740763) Homepage
    1) US and European phone systems operate on different frequencies
    2) Europe has been using these frequencies far longer than in the US. Thus if there was any sort of "deployment pattern", it would start there.
    3) Europe has higher cell use per capita and higher population density than the US. See (2)
    4) Some of these frequencies have been heavily used in the past by high-channel UHF television stations with MUCH greater power (like 10,000 times). Ever wonder where channels above 70 went when cell phones started showing up? If it was something to do with these frequencies, all bees would have been gone back in the 70's.

    and the most important one

    5) these die-offs have been happening since people have been watching, long before there was any RF except for lightening

    Maury
  • by mooboy (191903) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:39AM (#18740807)

    The cell phone theory is a little weak. From TFA, researchers found that "bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby"?? How nearby? Inside the homes of honeybee keepers? If that were the case we'd have seen the issue spring up much sooner.
    Anyway, bee population scares have come up before. From this article [newsbank.com]:

    U.S. honeybee population devastated. Experts say mites, weather killing hives
    Author: Matt CrensonAssociated Press
    Publish Date: June 23, 1996
    America's honeybees are in a bad way. Already weakened by 12 years of battling blood-sucking mites, bees have been brought to their knees by a soggy spring on the heels of many regions' exceptionally cold winter. Experts estimate that more than 90 percent of wild colonies have been wiped out nationwide, along with a large number of those tended by beekeepers. "It's devastated the population of unmanaged bees that are in hollow trees and old...

    So how did the bees make a recovery 11 years ago? Had they even recovered before this current problem? Can anyone find a bee population trend from the past 50 years?
    Another thought: could this have anything to do with the fear of Africanized honeybees spreading into North America? Sorry for spouting conspiracy theory, but what if the government tried to use GM to stop the killer bees and it backfired? (same level of plausibility as the cell phone theory).

  • by TapeCutter (624760) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:41AM (#18740825) Journal
    He could have a point and GM plants that allow heavy use of herbicides are also a problem for wild insects. The sonner we learn how to turn dirt directly into food the better.
  • by jlrowe (69115) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:46AM (#18740857)
    I have three bee hives that are doing fine AFAIK as of two weeks ago, that are placed directly beneath a commercial FM radio station antenna (inside the radius of the guy wires).

    • They are however, several miles away from other bees making the transmission of disease and parasites less likely.
    • Both corn and soybeans are planted directly adjacent to them. So current pesticides and herbicides are not affecting them.
    • Productivity of honey is down considerably from a decade ago when I had 13 hives in a different location. However those hives were much closer to other bees and I am sure got the parasites that killed so many bees in the last decade. All 13 of those hives died.
    • Honey production is down primarily because no one is planting clover for hay anymore. It is all corn and soybeans. It is a struggle I'm sure for the bees to find enough to store away for the winter.
    • Commercial bees are transported from site to site for pollination. That is stressful to the hive and subjects them too other bees that are possibly infected with whatever.
    I just don't accept the theory that it is radio waves. The study sample is probably so small it means nothing anyway.
  • by mangu (126918) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:48AM (#18740869)
    Millimeter-wave radar can produce pictures of buildings, and operates on a frequency similar to cell phones


    What's called "millimeter" waves have a wavelength around one millimeter. Most cell phones operate around 300 millimeter wavelength, with the 2.45 GHz band used for some phones and other wireless equipment being around 120 millimeters. Not similar at all.


    military aircraft electronic warfare systems have triggered widespread issues like garage doors opening and closing by themselves and TV signals being jammed


    Again, not even close to millimeter waves. Garage openers work at 49 MHz, around 6000 millimeters, TV broadcasts range from 54 MHz in channel 2 up to around 800 MHz, which means it more or less uses the frequencies between garage openers and cell phones.


    I could believe that millimeter waves, if strong enough, could kill bees. But lower frequencies, i.e. longer wavelengths, are very unlikely to affect bees. For the same reason as ants survive in a microwave oven, the wavelengths are much bigger than the insects bodies.


    I would say the most probable reason for the disappearing bees is some epidemy. Viruses and bacteria can spread rapidly through a population, which would account for the problem apparently having started in the USA and now spreading also through Europe. If it were a technological cause, the problem would be restricted by area, appearing more or less at the same time where that technology is used.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:58AM (#18740929)
    ...but I doubt it's very much. I've just ploughed through an article in German, which seems to be the source for the 'mobile phone' story. (First pdf at http://agbi.uni-landau.de/materialien.htm [uni-landau.de]).

    My German is not what it was. But if this is the right article, then it wasn't mobile phones, it was DECT base stations. And, either way, I'm not very convinced. It seems to me that they didn't control for the smell of these things.

    That may not seem important, but smell is important to bees and if a dog can be trained to sniff out a cellphone (which the UK prison service claim to have done), a DECT base-station is probably detectable by a bee. If any of that smell mimics or masks the signals bees would normally pick up, it might change their behaviour. Besides, changes in magnetic fields supposedly confuse bees, and maybe these base-stations have transformers in them.

    I'd be grateful for any further (or better) information on this. As a UK beekeeper, I've been fielding calls about this all day (and about sunspots, GM crops and ley lines. The more I talk to people, the more I think the creationists have a point), and I've not been coping very well. Personally, I reckon it's probably a virus carried about by the varroa mite, which is now fairly resistant to most of the treatments used, but I'm used to being wrong.

  • by onepoint (301486) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @10:02AM (#18740949) Homepage Journal
    Wonderful summary, I would also like to add the following:

    There has been a general decline in beekeepers as cited in this news paper http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2007-02-15/news/bee-s pell/ [miaminewtimes.com] .

  • by LurkerXXX (667952) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @11:36AM (#18741579)
    I call Bullocks on the truck theory. My uncle, as well as numerous local farmers have bee hives that have stayed in the same place for a decade or several decades. The bees have all died off in the last couple years. Something is going on, and it's not trucking.
  • by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @12:49PM (#18742127)
    It's funny how we always blame man, I think you will find out in the
    end it is more to do with the soon to occur Geomagnetic Reversal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomagnetic_reversal [wikipedia.org]

    http://www.synchronizm.com/blog/index.php/2007/03/ 29/the-bees-who-flew-too-high/ [synchronizm.com]

    http://www.setiai.com/archives/000063.html [setiai.com]

    Excerpt: (paragraph 10)

    Perhaps the most enigmatic of the bee's senses is their ability to read the Earth's magnetic field. Magnetism is used by many animals, including dolphins and pigeons. The honeybee, however, is more sensitive than any other creature known.

    This is a signpost of nature, if we watch we can learn...

    Ex-MislTech ...

  • by calcapt (975466) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @12:52PM (#18742151)
    Lazer tweezers? Gee golly, that sounds COOL! Why don't we have THOSE in our labs?

    Back on topic. I'm suspicious of any comments regarding GMO's. Bt cotton toxin's effects are supposed to be specific to lepidoptera LARVAE. Honeybees are of the order hymenoptera, and it's supposed to be the adult bees that disappear from the colonies. Furthermore, prior to collapse, the bees that appear to make up the workforce are young adult bees. If the larvae are getting wiped out, this fact doesn't make sense. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colony_Collapse_Disor der [wikipedia.org]

    Then again, it could be something as simple as the gene insertion into the genome of Bt plants have caused some undesirable protein product, but this should be isolated to certain or even just a single Bt plant species. This is because Bt gene insertion into genomes is completely random, at least to my knowledge. Because of the randomness, I think something definitely weird can happen, but the chances of the insertion landing in "junk" DNA instead of coding DNA, well, it's pretty high. Granted, "junk" DNA isn't always junk...

    I say test it out. Get a multiple hives in multiple greenhouses, each with it's own GMO crop, along with other non GMO crops for controls, and see what happens. This shouldn't be too hard to do since you can control flowering time or what not. I think the only real issue is getting the bees. If the bees start dying, then the Europeans and the SF Gate's suggestion may prove to be valid.
  • by arpad1 (458649) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @01:46PM (#18742593)
    There's another source of microwaves that's been around since the '40s - radar. Some of them are awfully powerful, certainly more powerful then a cell phone or a cell tower transmitter, and the RF is definitely pulsed. If high-powered, pulsed microwaves were the cause of the disappearance of honey bees you wouldn't have found a single bee within miles of a radar dish and the disappearance would have gotten started around the end of World War II.

    Given the economic importance of bees, I don't think it'll be tough to score a bunch of grant money to study the disappearance. I'll bet it's a pathogen, probably a fungus.
  • by Wah (30840) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @01:56PM (#18742691) Homepage Journal
    There's also the possibility that some human action is unknowingly mimicking a nasty natural one.

    Possibly...but not likely. Seems more likely it's something along these lines [youtube.com].
  • by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn AT earthlink DOT net> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:21PM (#18743323)
    FWIW, I believe that the only bees affected are the hive bees. These ARE the source of honey, and they are the kind that can be carted around from place to place. They are also a minority of all bees. If pesticides aren't used indiscriminately, then native bees can do much of the work of pollination. But, of course, this won't happen if you kill them off whenever your plants aren't in flower.

    If hive bees vanish, then successful farming will REQUIRE that less insecticide be used...or at least that it be of a very targeted variety.
  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:22PM (#18743329)
    Mother Nature built in some sort of defence to stop the spread of disease etc. That will be as old as the hills. Perhaps though this mechanism is being falsely triggered by some modern source.

    Blaming it on cellphones is a bit of a stretch though. There seem to be far more likely causes:

    Pesticides/herbicides/fertilisers, particularly modern hormonal ones, could be disrupting the hives.

    Cross breeding of bees (eg. Africanised killer bees) could disrupt bee/hive behaviour.

    Monoculture farming cuts down of plant food diversity, leading to a less balanced diet. GM crops alter the composition of pollen & nectar.

  • US first? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LinuxInDallas (73952) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @10:19PM (#18746331)
    Why would this start in the US and then go to Europe? Europe is far denser in population than the typical rural US where farming is comon. With the higher density there will of course be more cell phones. Seems odd to me.
  • by DCheesi (150068) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:19AM (#18750829) Homepage
    It's the lack of selectivity that makes it seem natural, or at least something sensed using the common senses. Ok, you can drive the bees off with cell radiation, I can buy that. But the idea that *every* natural predator, scavenger, and parasite of bees happens to be sensitive to the same specific radiation?! Come on, what are the odds!

    OTOH, something like a natural poison that's been around a long time could be detected by all those natural enemies. Even an "unnatural" chemical could be detectable simply as a bad smell. But EM radiation in that band is just not something that every animal species is going to detect.

No amount of careful planning will ever replace dumb luck.

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