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Vanishing Bees: Science, Politics, and Honey Bee Health

By Sainath Suryanarayanan and Daniel Lee Kleinman

Published: Rutgers University Press

Price: $26.95

Available at www.rutgersuniversitypress.org/ vanishing-bees/9780813574585 (by clicking on the red shopping cart icon) or by calling the distributor at 1-800-621-2736

Pollinators are the backbone of agriculture. When bee colonies collapse, it affects anyone who needs food to survive. The authors of this book have presented several possible triggers of accelerated honey bee deaths and colony collapse disorder.

Since 2005, bee colony collapses have continued and intensified. Commercial and recreational beekeepers alike have suffered losses. Any one caring for live animals or insects knows death loss is a given, even healthy hives are at risk from parasitic mites, diseases, pesticides and poor nutrition.

A honeybee colony collapse is signified by the sudden loss of their adult population. According to the authors, the bees “boil out” of the collapsing hives in droves.

In healthy hives, bees will occasionally leave and rebuild in a new location. The honey they have left behind is often used by other bees or organisms; the bees that remain are healthy and continue producing.

In a collapsing hive, the bees leave behind their queen, her immature offspring and all of the honey they have produced. There are no dead pollinators found near the rejected hives. The abandoned honey goes to waste and the young bees that persist are often abnormal and suffering from viral or fungal infections. Most bee experts agree that these are secondary factors and not entirely responsible for the collapse itself.

Colony collapse disorder has raised many questions and the factors involved are mired in controversy. The authors have done their best to present potential answers from all sides and all facets of the beekeeping industry. One theory points a finger at inferior beekeepers who refuse to evolve in their bee work and continue to fight farmers and pesticide manufacturers, blaming the latter for their loss of bees.

Another notion is the increased use of insecticides and the wide range available to help farmers produce crops. One agrochemical company is called out within the book’s pages, but authors are careful to not blame chemicals as a whole. Sadly, it seems the cause of accelerated honeybee deaths is not entirely clear. A veteran beekeeper in Texas hypothesizes that it is a combination of restricted nutrition of bees through monoculture crops and newer insecticides used to control aphids. His information is drawn from observing where his own bees pollinate and the chemicals applied to crops nearby.

Other studies were conducted under strict laboratory settings with known variants and backed by some of the most powerful institutions in the race to find answers. No two hives are the same and that muddies the waters when it comes to solving the collapsing hive problem.

It is pointed out in the book that knowledge of any phenomenon is affected by how and where one looks and the authors have provided a broad field of information in under 200 pages. If you have beehives in your backyard or truck your hives to Maine to pollinate blueberry fields, this book contains worthwhile information. While they haven’t pinpointed the cause of honeybee death, the authors have diligently explored numerous possibilities and presented the information in a readable format.

Jennifer Theurer can be reached at 620-227-1858 or jtheurer@hpj.com.

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