for National Geographic News
Without a trace, something is causing bees to vanish by the thousands. But a new task force hopes to finger the culprit and save the valuable crops that rely on the insects.
Pennsylvania beekeeper Dave Hackenberg was the first beekeeper to report to bee researchers what's become known as colony collapse disorder (CCD).
In October Hackenberg had delivered honeybees to a Florida farm to pollinate crops. The bees typically return to their boxed hives when their work is done. But this time was different.
"I came to pick up 400 bee colonies and the bees had just flat-out disappeared," Hackenberg said. "There were no dead bees, no bees on the ground, just empty boxes."
"In almost 50 years as a beekeeper, I've never seen anything like it."
CCD has spread throughout 24 states and ruined hundreds of thousands of bee colonies.
Hackenberg has lost roughly 1,900 of his 2,900 hives. Other operators have lost up to 90 percent of their hives.
Researchers are scrambling to find answers to what is causing the commercially important honeybees to abandon their hives and disappear.
The epidemic could put a strain on fruit growers and other farmers who rely on the insects to pollinate their crops.
(Related: "Bee Decline May Spell End of Some Fruits, Vegetables" [October 5, 2004].)
An estimated 14 billion U.S. dollars in agricultural crops in the United States are dependent on bee pollination.
"A lot of people think honeybees are only important for the honey they produce," entomologist Maryann Frazier said. "But much, much more important are their pollination services."
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