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The Military Science

Mystery of the Dying Bees Solved 347

Posted by Soulskill
from the flower-counterattack-theories-disproved dept.
jamie points out news of a study attempting to explain the decline of honeybee populations across the US. As it turns out, the fungus N. ceranae that was thought to be killing off bee colonies had a partner in crime — a DNA-based virus that worked in tandem with N. ceranae to compromise nutrition uptake. From the NY Times: "Dr. Bromenshenk's team at the University of Montana and Montana State University in Bozeman, working with the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center northeast of Baltimore, said in their jointly written paper that the virus-fungus one-two punch was found in every killed colony the group studied. Neither agent alone seems able to devastate; together, the research suggests, they are 100 percent fatal. 'It's chicken and egg in a sense — we don't know which came first,' Dr. Bromenshenk said of the virus-fungus combo — nor is it clear, he added, whether one malady weakens the bees enough to be finished off by the second, or whether they somehow compound the other's destructive power. 'They're co-factors, that's all we can say at the moment,' he said. 'They're both present in all these collapsed colonies.'"
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Mystery of the Dying Bees Solved

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:40PM (#33840498)

    Any guidelines on how to help the bees return?

    I like gardening a lot and put out a lot of ornamental flowers and vegetables to attract bees, but this year there have been very few.

    • by GrumblyStuff (870046) on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:52PM (#33840666)

      I heard one idea about stop trying to get bees to pollinate a single crop at a time. The idea is that like us, they aren't getting the nutrition they need from one plant. They need many different plants.

      My idea would be to stop shipping them all over the country. Yeah, yeah, hippie organic shit but I'm willing to bet that the fungus and the virus were in separate regions at one point. Shipping them around exposed them to new diseases and exposed native bees to new diseases. Well, that's my hypothesis anyway.

      I'd also like to see more stringent pesticide regulations.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JonySuede (1908576)

        I'm willing to bet that the fungus and the virus were in separate regions at one point

        I am pretty sure that your hypothesis is valid. However I do not see a way to test it, anyone has any ideas for an experimental setup?

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by muyshiny (944250)
          I don't have a good idea for an experiment but I think it's awesome of you to ask. This is what the Internet should be---constructive. Props!
        • by Gilmoure (18428) on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:09PM (#33840844) Journal

          First we build a second Earth...

        • Just do a comparison (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:14PM (#33840910)

          You can buy wild desert honey. The bees that make it feed on the various plants found in the desert. They are allowed to feed on whatever they can find. It isn't that common in stores nationally, but you see it in the desert states, since that's where it is made. At any rate, compare their health to the health of clover honey bees. If there is a significant difference, then maybe you are on to something.

          Remember that not all honey is produced the same way. Clover honey is popular because it is easy to make and has a very uniform taste, however polyfloral honey is available. Personally I always buy wild desert honey because I appreciate the flavour. It isn't always the same bottle to bottle, but it has some complexity than regular clover honey. Little more expensive too but then it isn't like you go through a honey bottle a week or something.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 08, 2010 @06:10PM (#33841404)

            > it isn't like you go through a honey bottle a week or something.

            Speak for yourself.

            Signed,
            The Bears.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Reziac (43301) *

            I live in the desert. I have a wild honeybee colony on my property. It's a sad affair that barely stays alive. The ONE time in the past nine years that it got up enough numbers to generate a swarm, you could have stuffed the entire swarm into a shoebox and had room to spare. I've tried feeding them but they don't seem interested (tho they show up to get water every day).

            One problem with the western US deserts is that the dirt is loaded with fungus and bacteria spores (thus explosive growth anytime it rains

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tsa (15680)

          It's a bit more complicated because bees don't only die in America but also in Europe and maybe other places. I don't think bee colonies are moved over the Atlantic, are they? If not, the virus and fungus are probably transferred via people.

      • by interval1066 (668936) on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:21PM (#33840960) Homepage Journal

        "I'm willing to bet that the fungus and the virus were in separate regions at one point."

        Would have only prolonged the wait, not prevented the combination. Also- shipping the bees around would expose them to more variety of flowers, not less. Your hypothesis on that part seems incorrect to me.

        "I'd also like to see more stringent pesticide regulations."

        We already have some of the strongest pesticide regulations in the world. Its not clear to me how pesticides play a role in this scenario.In an unrelated pesticide story larger US cities are currently reporting much higher incidences of bedbug infestation, largely blamed on the banning of DDT in 1972.

        • I'm not sure what you're trying to say in the first part but as for the second, I mean store bought pesticide for home use. I don't have much hope that the person who buys that stuff will use it sparingly when they could spend some time outdoors with a trowel.

          Maybe regulations was the wrong word. I'll use that other scary word TAXES here but I think curbing home use of pesticides would be good.

          As for the bedbugs, I'm of two minds here. It would be good to get rid of them and responsible use of DDT (you k

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Mikkeles (698461)

          ..., largely blamed on the banning of DDT...

          By whom? I largely blame prohibition and overfishing of cod.

          (For a creature with a generational reproductive rate of about a month or two to take over 30 years to become a problem requires a bit more evidence than 'blame'.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Kenja (541830)
        If we stop shipping them around, that means no more US produced nuts or fruit.
    • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

      The wildlife biologists have been struggling with what to do about the white-nose syndrome fungus that is wiping out bat populations for years.

      Not much good news on either front.

      We are headed for a very buggy and polen-less world.

      • by EdIII (1114411)

        We are headed for a very buggy and polen-less world.

        Yeah, yeah... but if you want it to hit home we are heading for a world without Honey Nut Cheerios. I just got goosebumps saying that...

        • by ultranova (717540)

          Yeah, yeah... but if you want it to hit home we are heading for a world without Honey Nut Cheerios. I just got goosebumps saying that...

          And even more importantly, you won't have Cutey Honey and will be overrun by monsters.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Sloppy (14984)

          Dude, we're heading for a world without mead!

          • by idontgno (624372)

            Even more tragic.

            No Post Honeycomb cereal. Swarms of cereal-deprived children turning into whirling, raving, wild-eyed (and bug-eyed) brown-furred monsters. Seriously, do you want to live in a world full of millions of these? [richardrosenman.com]

            No way. Bring on the zombies first.

    • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmailCURIE.com minus physicist> on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:53PM (#33840676) Homepage

      Kill the fungus, they can survive to repopulate hives if they have the virus. Really all that needs to be developed is a weak fungicide that targets it, and that's not as hard as it sounds. Either that or you find queens that have survived a collapse and breed them with normal bees, who haven't developed an immunity.

      I'm also going to say, the whole "RF/Secretgovernment testing/out to destroy us all" conspiracy theories have once again proven to what they are. Bullshit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Kilrah_il (1692978)

        Really all that needs to be developed is a weak fungicide that targets it, and that's not as hard as it sounds.

        Actually, it is not that easy. Antibiotics (for bacteria) are easier to make than antifungals and that is one of the reasons why we don't have so many anti-fungal drugs for humans (and hu-womans).
        Granted, when you develop a drug for bees you are less worried about side-effects than you are with humans, but it's still not that easy.

        • by oldspewey (1303305) on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:31PM (#33841092)

          Granted, when you develop a drug for bees you are less worried about side-effects than you are with humans, but it's still not that easy.

          Damned straight. I find that I get stung roughly once for every 12-15 bees I try to force feed medicine. Even when I explain how it's for their own good, they buzz and scream and kick up a fuss and somebody always ends up getting stung.

          I hate my job.

      • by t33jster (1239616) on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:17PM (#33840932)

        I'm also going to say, the whole "RF/Secretgovernment testing/out to destroy us all" conspiracy theories have once again proven to what they are. Bullshit.

        Are you kidding? This so-called "paper" was "co-written" by some Army chemists. If anything, it PROVES the conspiracy theories!

        *adds yet another layer of tinfoil to an already heavy hat*

      • by Spykk (823586) on Friday October 08, 2010 @06:39PM (#33841622)
        Why not just breed the honey bees with a hardier strain of bee? Perhaps something from Africa...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Reziac (43301) *

        Trouble is, it's extremely tough to eliminate the average fungus, being they're opportunistic. Ask anyone who's battled a fungal infection -- treatment isn't one-shot, it can continue for months or years and still not succeed in eliminating the problem. (Frex, blastomycosis has about a 40% fatality rate even with the best of treatment, which if you're lucky can drag out for 6-9 months.)

        A vaccine against the virus is more likely to be successful, and more likely to succeed with only one or two treatments. Al

    • Well, this is the time of the year to have zombies, but normally, when something is dead, it is dead.
    • by c6gunner (950153)

      Any guidelines on how to help the bees return?

      Teeeeeny tiny vaccines?

    • Solitary Bees (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bill_mcgonigle (4333) *

      I like gardening a lot and put out a lot of ornamental flowers and vegetables to attract bees, but this year there have been very few.

      You don't need colonial bees for your garden. Take a block of hardwood, drill a bunch of holes in it (about 3/8" but look it up) and tack it up to a post or tree near your garden. Solitary bees will build homes in it.

      Encourage your local wasp population too. I'll assume you don't spray bug killer on your garden, seeing as how you understand the need for bugs*.

      * speaking as

  • The cure (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So let me get this straight all the bees need is some athletes foot powder and some chicken soup?

  • Are bees an integral part of our society, and do they need to be present else we die off somehow....the impact of the species becoming extinct is not unimportant as let's say the platapus....I think if we can, we should help the species by giving them some sort of cure, if we can find it....else we might go without honey in our future.

    • by RingDev (879105) on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:51PM (#33840648) Homepage Journal

      Are bees an integral part of our society, and do they need to be present else we die off somehow.

      If you'll excuse a slight over simplification: Yes.

      -Rick

    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:53PM (#33840682)

      Somehow?

      Do you eat any fruits or eat anything that ever ate a fruit? Including fruits that some people think are vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, cumcumbers, etc?

      If so thank a bee. We do not have the man power to pollinate our crops by hand, without bees no fruit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by MaWeiTao (908546)

        Bees aren't the only pollinating insects. Certain kinds of flies also do a decent job. Many plants are also self-pollinating, to one extent or another. And there's always the option of doing it manually.

        That said, bees are extremely vital and their disappearance is cause for serious concern.

      • Do you eat any fruits or eat anything that ever ate a fruit?
        Including fruits that some people think are vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, cumcumbers, etc?

        I think you got that last one backwards - those aren't fruits, those are eaten by fruits.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by notaspy (457709)

        "We do not have the man power to pollinate our crops by hand, without bees no fruit."

        We can solve two problems with a single stroke. With 20 million Americans out of work, let's get them out in the fields, woods, orchards and gardens with little paintbrushes, pollinating like crazy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Xtifr (1323)

        Including fruits that some people think are vegetables.

        You say that as if fruit and vegetable were exclusive categories.

        Vegetable, n.
        1.
        a. A plant cultivated for an edible part.
        b. The edible part of such a plant.
        c. A member of the vegetable kingdom; a plant.

        Oranges and strawberries are vegetables by any of those definitions just as much as tomatoes and cucumbers are fruit. All four fall into both categories; all edible fruits are vegetables.

        Wikipedia has a slightly more nuanced definition of Vegetable [wikipedia.org]: "an edible plant or part of a plant other than a sweet frui

    • by bhcompy (1877290) on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:56PM (#33840706)
      Bees are the primary pollinators in our world. Without them we'll have serious issues with plant growth and our food supply
      • This is not a problem world wide, and it is only a problem for professional bee keepers and farmers in the US. Even farmers are able to compensate by keeping their own hives, as non-mobile colonies tend to fare better, or by providing habitat for native pollinators. All of the wild honey bees in the Americas are really feral bees, escaped domesticated bees. The interesting point here is that the decline of the honey bee, a European species, is allowing American native pollinators to return. This include
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Are bees an integral part of our society, and do they need to be present else we die off somehow....the impact of the species becoming extinct is not unimportant as let's say the platapus....I think if we can, we should help the species by giving them some sort of cure, if we can find it....else we might go without honey in our future.

      Actually, almost all flowering crop species and many keystone plant species in most biomes depend upon bees for pollination. Keeping bees alive, is an ultimately selfish act. It could be argued that even species such as the platypus are indicators of overall biosphere health. The loss of any species is an indication of poor conditions for life in general including ours.

      Like the canary in the coal mine, you may not consider the canary helpful in removing coal for productive use, but if it dies, I don't thi

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Surt (22457)

      I assume you're joking, but just in case:
      Honey is not the main thing we get from bees. The main thing we get from bees is pollination, and our food supply would suffer significantly if they were wiped out.

    • by b0bby (201198) on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:01PM (#33840746) Homepage

      Are bees an integral part of our society, and do they need to be present else we die off somehow....the impact of the species becoming extinct is not unimportant as let's say the platapus....I think if we can, we should help the species by giving them some sort of cure, if we can find it....else we might go without honey in our future.

      Honey is just a nice side benefit - many many crops rely on bees to pollinate them. So much so that in the US, farmers pay people to drive hives around on trucks to pollinate their fields at the right time. Before this study, the stress of transport was thought to be connected to collapse disorder; it may still be a contributing cause.

  • Cure (Score:2, Funny)

    by p0p0 (1841106)
    Let's hope the scientists make a beeline for the cure. :P
  • Headline (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ffreeloader (1105115) on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:48PM (#33840604) Journal

    So, the headline is: Mystery of the Dying Bees Solved.

    The first sentence in the first paragraph says: jamie points out news of a study attempting to explain the decline of honeybee populations across the US.

    I guess "attempting to explain" now means "solved". The English language sure is changing rapidly here on /..

    • I'm pretty sure I heard people say from time to time that global warming wa killing the bees

    • Re:Headline (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Halo1 (136547) <jonas.maebe@elis ... .be minus author> on Friday October 08, 2010 @06:26PM (#33841510) Homepage

      I recently saw a documentary [canvas.be] (in Dutch) on this topic on TV (which was a translated version of a French documentary [www.arte.tv]).

      They indicated many different causes:

      • the parasite (a kind of mite) mentioned in the summary, and the fact that it spreads viruses. Good news: a few colonies have learned to adapt by recognising and killing larvae infected with mite eggs, and removing them from the colony

      • The current bee population is way too homogeneous. All bee queens that are currently sold on the global market are bred in the US by a handful of people. Moreover, the bee population in the US is was already not very diverse in the first place because honey bees are not native to North America, they were imported by European settlers (so they all descend from a few colonies).

      • The global bee trade from the previous point also results in quickly spreading diseases and parasites all over the world.

      • Bee colonies are "abused" in many parts of the world. For example, California has immense almond plantations, with hundreds of thousands of acres that contain nothing but grass and almond trees (apparently it's the state's larges source of income). These flower at the end of winter and have to be fertilised within a period of a few weeks. In order to be achieve this, they import bee colonies from all over the US.

        Problem: bees are normally still hibernating at that point. "Solution": a few weeks in advance they put patties with antibiotics and food concentrate in the colonies to "warm them up". Problem: apart from the forced de-hibernation, many bees die of malnutrition in those plantations because even though there is an abundance of pollen, it's all almond pollen and these do not contain all different kinds of nutrients that bees requires.

      • Pesticides, in particular neonicotinoids (but not just those). There were some pretty horrible stories in the documentary about Bayer refusing all responsibility in the face of all evidence, which included negative effects on bees even when researchers diluted the pesticides to the extent that they could no longer detect them.

        It has become that bad that several beekeepers now take their colonies "on holidays" (e.g. to the Provence in France) to allow them to recuperate from all the poison they get from the farmlands and plantations. Even more surreal was that apparently a number of beekeepers are moving from the countryside into cities, because the lack of pesticides in urban settings more than compensates for the other pollution and the reduced availability of pollen.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by turtledawn (149719)

        A contributing factor to the severity of varroa mite infestations is the use of pre-manufactured wax or plastic comb supports, which cause the bees to build comb with cells that are just slightly larger than the cells bees build in the wild. For some reason, the bees aren't able to clean out the larger cells as effectively or perhaps they don't notice the presence of the mite eggs as soon. When bees are allowed to build comb to their own liking, as in a top-bar hive, you see very few varroa infestations (an

  • by jfz (917930) on Friday October 08, 2010 @04:50PM (#33840630)
    Wait, so it isn't God's vengeance for Bee homosexuality?
    • by mooingyak (720677)

      No, that's still the reason. We've simply figured out how God's will has manifested itself.

    • by Surt (22457)

      Yes it is. In this case, God smited them with a pair of plagues. A lot like what he did to the Egyptians for picking on the Jews.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by charlesj68 (1170655)

        Yes it is. In this case, God smited them with a pair of plagues. A lot like what he did to the Egyptians for picking on the Jews.

        It took ten plagues for the Egyptians to catch on, and only two for the bees? Are you mocking the Egyptians?

    • by ukemike (956477)

      Wait, so it isn't God's vengeance for Bee homosexuality?

      No. No. No. This is about Bee polygamy. You should always get your "offensive in the sight of GOD" sin right before you go on a smear campaign. Having all your distorted facts in a row is critical in preventing the liberal mainstream media from painting you as a nutcase.

    • by c6gunner (950153)

      I thought it was God's vengeance for cellphone use.

  • Great! Now that we know what's wrong, all we have to do is develop a method of killing the fungus, and the problem is solved. (Not much you can do about the virus, but if it takes two...)

    Meanwhile, I wonder if something similar is going on with those bats' white-nose syndrome (also caused by a fungus).
    • > Not much you can do about the virus ..except vaccination...

      Not sure how you'd deliver a vaccine to the bee colony, though.

  • After all, since He created the Earth in seven days, he figured why mess with biology and science and not do a little Divine Intervention to keep Bees from ruining his Picnic.

    Every time He holds a picnic, after all, Jesus always complains about his dinosaurs getting stung by them.

  • You mean, I'm not killing baby bees every time I take a call or text? My, what a relief!

  • by dunsel (559042) on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:14PM (#33840906)
    As a practical beekeeper I feel it is my duty to take this one step further and speculate on how to apply this finding to saving my bees. Virus transmission should be kept to a minimum, I can't think of much else to do to keep a virus like this in check. The primary vector for honeybee viruses is the varroa mite and this pest continues to be the primary killer of honeybees despite all of the hubub about this "Colony Collapse Disorder". Finding that this mite has a hand in CCD is no surprise to me. Nosema is not new to the beekeeping world although N. ceranae is a bigger problem than the tamer N. apis that we're used to dealing with. The treatment is the same though, feed Fumidil B. The bad news is that there isn't much new here so there won't be a silver bullet cure. Keep the bees healthy as best we can, that's about all I can see here.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 08, 2010 @05:46PM (#33841204)

      > As a practical beekeeper I feel it is my duty to take this one step further and speculate on how to apply this finding to saving my bees.

      You should leave the speculation to the theoretical beekeepers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by turtledawn (149719)

      have you tried top bar hives? Supposedly bees can keep control of the mite more easily in natural-sized comb instead of the slightly too-big comb you get when using commercial frames with pre-molded supports. Of course it's more work for somewhat less honey, but mites suck.

  • I first noticed a real decline in bee populations a couple of years ago.

    It was late spring, there were wildflowers everywhere at the airfield where I work -- but not a single, solitary honey-bee.

    Their absence was kind of scary (silent spring anyone?) and things have not improved in the years since.

    It's now mid-spring here in the Southern Hemisphere and there are still no honey-bees to be seen in our gardens. The only bees buzzing around the flowers are bumble-bees and there are far too few of them to do a

    • by bartwol (117819)

      ...a couple of years [...] not a single solitary honey bee [...] in the years since. [...] When you consider that honey-bees play an absolutely vital role in the food chain on which we depend

      Two years, no bees, and no visible effect on our food supply. Am I to believe my eyes, or your alarming declaration?

      Perhaps the "food chain" is not quite as fragile as you suggest? Perhaps, if we just do nothing, the bees will slowly recover while we will continue to observe no significant diminishing of our food supp

  • As the climate changes, fungus and possibly virus infections will reach new populations that previously hadn't evolved immunities. The entire process will be evolution in action, with populations unfit to the new infectious agent footprints dying out, hopefully replaced by descendants of the fraction which randomly possess immunities. I hope species essential to human civilization like honeybees aren't destroyed faster than we can cope with losing them.

  • by SlashDev (627697) on Friday October 08, 2010 @09:50PM (#33842824) Homepage
    Everyone who repeats this non-sense phrase, is a complete moron, it's like asking which came first the woman or the child. Of course the chicken came first, it evolved from another creature, unless you can imagine the egg suddenly appearing out of nowhere, like the monolith for example.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by smellsofbikes (890263)
      Gonna have to disagree with you here: there were eggs long before there were chickens. They weren't chicken eggs, but they were eggs nonetheless. Something that wasn't a chicken laid an egg, and from that egg hatched a chicken, to oversimplify a million years of evolution.

Organic chemistry is the chemistry of carbon compounds. Biochemistry is the study of carbon compounds that crawl. -- Mike Adams

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