Every industry has its challenges, and the same goes for beekeeping. Some common ones include swarming, absconding, pests, diseases, and predators. None of this, however, does a beekeeper dread more than a colony collapse disorder.
It’s the one thing that keeps me awake at night, dreading and hoping that it doesn’t occur to me.
In this article, I delve into the causes of colony collapse disorder and how to prevent it. And, if it happens, how do you fix it? Let’s dive right in.
What is Bee Colony Collapse Disorder?
Colony collapse disorder(CCD) is a colony’s devastating loss of worker bees. The bees leave when there’s still food in the hives, meaning hunger does not cause them to leave.
When they leave, the queen and the younger bees are left behind. A few nurse bees also remain to take care of the queen.
The phenomenon was first identified in 2006 in North America, where so many honeybees either just disappeared or others died.
Colony collapse disorder creates a range of problems as the remaining bees are young, and the remaining nursing bees aren’t able to access nectar and pollen once they exhaust the remaining feeds.
It negatively affects the population of bees which is counterproductive as the honey bees are helpful for different purposes, such as pollination, which is critical for the ecosystem and human nutrition.
Signs and Symptoms of The Colony Collapse Disorder
Bee colonies affected by colony collapse disorder demonstrate symptoms inconsistent with any known cause of bee death, such as pests or predator attacks.
The only consistent trait found across all colonies affected by colony collapse disorder is that some of the dead bees collected have been riddled with multiple pathogens.
The most common symptoms include:
- Sudden loss of a colony’s worker bee population. 30 – 90 % of the healthy worker bees have left the hive to forage but never returned, decimating their numbers almost overnight.
- Presence of a capped brood in abandoned colonies. Bees typically do not leave or migrate from a hive until the capped brood has all hatched.
- The presence of the queen bee and, in some cases, a few nurse bees are also left behind to tend to her and the brood. Bees rely on a queen and never abandon a healthy queen still laying eggs.
- The presence of food stores with abundant honey and pollen reserves indicates that the colony was not starving hence needing to migrate in search of food.
- Dead bees are also conspicuously absent within the hive, and only very few, if any, are found near the hive.
Hives are incapable of sustaining themselves without worker bees and, thus, eventually die out once the pollen and honey reserves are exhausted. This sequence of events results in the complete annihilation of a bee colony.
Acting on time to tackle the phenomenon can help fix CCD. However, you need to involve the community to succeed in addressing the challenge in its entirety.
Causes of Colony Collapse Disorder
CCD can be attributed to multiple factors. They range from the beekeeper’s incapacity to communal neglect.
Bees require highly tuned senses, spatial awareness, learning, and memory. This gives the bees a sense of direction to forage and eventually find their way back to the hives.
Anything that interferes with these skills will negatively affect the bees and effectively prevent them from feeding and pollinating.
Bees are, therefore, susceptible to sublethal stressors. These factors might not directly kill the bees but can affect their behavior.
Along with these stressors, some of the factors suspected to be behind colony collapse disorder are:
- Increased loss of worker bees in colonies due to the proliferation of the Varroa mite. The mites are parasitic and attach themselves to bees, feeding off their body fat, weakening them, and making them susceptible to diseases.
- New or emerging diseases include the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus and the gut parasite; Nosema.
- Poisoning through exposure to compounds such as Neonicotinoids present in pesticides applied to crops that affect the foraging bees and the queen and brood when fed on contaminated pollen and nectar.
- Stress bees experience due to management practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for pollination services.
- Changes to the habitat where bees forage result from increased human activities such as encroaching on natural vegetation and forests for agriculture or other industry needs.
- Poor nutrition occurs due to changes in the bees’ habitat and natural foraging sites, which are rapidly replaced by human activities as more land is converted for agriculture and industry purposes.
- Suppressed immunity is due to a combination of stressors such as poor nutrition and pesticide stress, leaving them in a weakened state and making them susceptible to infections.
The good news is that you can see most of these causes in their early stages. For my hives, I record what affects them and in which season. That way, I can prepare for winter feeding and food for the summer.
How to Fix and Prevent the Colony Collapse Disorder
Bees play a pivotal role in the environment and, more so, in ensuring food security. Therefore we must do all that is possible to ensure that we keep their numbers up for the continuity of their services to our environment.
Some of the things that you can do to fix and prevent colony collapse disorder in your bee colonies include the following:
1. Becoming a beekeeper
By creating your hive or multiple hives, you will introduce new bees to your local area and increase their population. This can be further enhanced by getting your family and friends involved.
Beekeeping is a hobby that doesn’t require much input and can be done comfortably in your backyard or even on apartment rooftops. No effort towards saving these pollinators is too great or too little.
2. Keep colonies strong by practicing best management practices.
This means having an api centric approach where you respect the needs of a colony. It means that honey production won’t be your primary cause for keeping bees; instead, you will be doing it to protect them for their role in pollination and food production.
3. Replacing old comb with new foundation every one or two years.
This will minimize the number of residual chemicals that might be present in old wax.
It also prevents the transfer of disease-causing pathogens, such as Nosema, that might be present in the wax from one colony to the next.
4. Avoid stressing your colonies.
This can be achieved by:
- Providing adequate ventilation within the apiary/hive area.
- Feeding your bees when pollen and nectar are scarce, such as during drought.
- Keep mite populations in check.
- Treating your colonies against Nosema disease(digestive tract illness).
5. Do not reuse the equipment if the colony displays symptoms of colony collapse disorder.
Such equipment should be stored or disassembled, and the parts repurposed for other uses until colony collapse disorder is understood better.
Instead, once you notice the signs and symptoms of colony collapse disorder, strive to completely replace all equipment to prevent the transfer of this disorder from one colony to another.
6. Monitor the Varroa mite population.
Also, take steps to treat your bee colony when mite levels begin to increase.
7. Consider using the integrated pest management (IPM) approach for Varroa control in your bee colonies.
This will minimize the need for chemical use in your hives and therefore reduce your bees’ exposure to chemicals.
8. Go all-natural and avoid using chemicals and pesticides on your garden and lawn whenever possible.
Chemicals are among the critical stressors shortlisted, negatively affecting bee colonies and making them susceptible to colony collapse disorder.
Also, talk to your neighbors to adopt the same approach to create an adequate buffer zone where bees can forage safely without interacting with harmful chemicals in the form of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc.
9. Plant a bee-friendly garden.
Good nutrition is vital to the overall health of a colony. Creating a garden that encourages bees to collect pollen and nectar from your backyard keeps them from traveling long distances searching for food.
This, in turn, prevents them from interacting with stressors beyond their control and helps the ecosystem at large.
Attracting bees to your garden can be made possible by growing plants that are most attractive to bees, such as lavender, oregano, sage, thyme, borage, tree dahlia, sunflowers, hypericum, bottlebrush, tea tree, cut leaf daisy, flowering gum, pincushion hakea, and grevillea pink surprise. Mums also attract bees and should be considered in your garden.
Fixing the colony collapse disorder requires a collective approach. You need to ensure that society comes together and actively participates in planting gardens and reducing the chemicals released into the environment to ensure the availability of safe forage for the bees.
This is because it is a venture that will ensure that bee populations are safeguarded from decimation by the colony collapse disorder.
Although Colony collapse disorder is yet to be attributed to one single factor, those that have so far been shortlisted must be addressed so that we can protect the bees from dying out.
As beekeepers, we need an api centric approach when keeping bees where honey production is not the main aim of keeping the bees but rather for their benefit to the environment.
Colony collapse disorder requires an entire community’s involvement to tackle since the phenomenon could affect an entire region. Using bee-friendly chemicals in the garden across the neighborhood is the starting point in tackling CCD.