Ice cream manufacturer Häagen-Dazs is worried about the unexplained collapse of honeybee colonies around the world. Häagen-Dazs spokesperson Katti Pien says that "almost 40 per cent of the brand's flavors are dependent on bee pollination and could be threatened by CCD". Known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), no one has yet been able to verify what is causing this “apiarian apocalypse”. Usually only queens, eggs and a few immature workers are left behind while the rest of the colony mysteriously disappears.
But it’s not just ice cream flavors at stake. Scientists and beekeepers say that bees’ colonies are disappearing from the US to Europe in one of the most bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world. Implications of the spread are alarming. Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left". But whether or not it was actually Einstein that made the prediction, the concern is real. Many of the world’s crops are largely dependant on pollination by bees. A severe bee decline could cause massive food shortages as many world crops could fail.
“Honey bees are in trouble,” says Walter Leal, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. “One-third of our nation’s food supply depends on bee pollination, but bees are vanishing in massive numbers.”
Häagen-Dazs has given $250,000 in a research grant to university researchers in California and Pennsylvania to identify the culprit(s) behind CCD. Many possible causes have been suggested, but so far none have been verified. Last year researchers found that some bees were infected with the single-celled fungus Nosema ceranae. Other teams identified two further fungi and 12 viral infections that could be contributing to CCD. However, it is not clear if these infections are simply symptoms of a larger problem that is weakening the honeybees’ defenses, making them more susceptible to disease.
One theory for the bee disappearance is that the radiation from cell phones could possibly be interfering with bees' navigation systems, preventing them from finding their way back to their hives. There is some preliminary scientific evidence to back this up. German researchers have shown that bees' behavior changes near power lines. A study at Landau University has found that bees do not to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried out the study, confirmed this could be a possible cause of the beehive collapses.
Other theories involve mites, pesticides, increased solar radiation, global warming and GM crops. However, many question remain unanswered and more research is needed to conclusively determine the cause(s). To further spotlight the issue, the Haagen-Dazs brand launched a new honey bee-dedicated flavor on February 19th called Vanilla Honey Bee with the proceeds going to help fund CCD research.
Posted by Rebecca Sato. Photo credit: Rafi Ben Aharon.
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