Sep 25 2:35 PM

U.S. bees could be facing colony collapse, but what does that mean?

On this week's TechKnow, expert contributor Kyle Hill travels around the country to investigate the dwindling numbers of America's bee population, some of which are facing a dire circumstance known as colony collapse. Without the combined efforts of science and technology, colony collapse disorder could result in a severe decline in America's food production, as many fruits, vegetables, and nuts rely on bees for pollination. To get you ready for the episode, our team at TechKnow has compiled a short primer on colony collapse and the other perils facing the modern bee population.



Colony collapse disorder is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a colony abruptly disappear. The United States Department of Agriculture acknowledges it as “a serious problem threatening the health of honey bees and the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in the United States.”

(Further Reading: "The Mystery of Bee Colony Collapse" - Mother Jones)



Scientists have identified several causative agents, though the mechanisms of what causes a colony to collapse are still being researched. Many beekeepers point to the use of strong pesticides, specifically a class referred to as “neonicotinoids,” as the primary reason for the decline in bee populations.

“Over the past 10 years or so, bee populations have been declining dramatically, with commercial beekeepers experiencing annual hive losses of 30 to 50 percent and sometimes more. Given that the majority of the world's 100 most important food crops, or one in every three bites of food worldwide, depend on insect pollination, the ongoing and steep decline in bees is of great concern. While neonicotinoids are not considered the sole contributor to bee populations' collapse — diseases and parasites are also factors — many scientists think the pesticides contribute to losses by impairing bees' ability to feed and by weakening their immune systems.”

- The day the bees died - Al Jazeera America


Symptoms of CCD (from the Mid Atlantic Apiculture & Extension Consortium)

  • In collapsed colonies:
    • The complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with no or little build-up of dead bees in the colonies or in front of those colonies.
    • The presence of capped brood in colonies.
    • The presence of food stores, both honey and bee bread
      • which is not immediately robbed by other bees
      • when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.
  • In cases where the colony appear to be actively collapsing
    • An insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
    • The workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees
    • The queen is present
    • The cluster is reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement

(Further Reading: Honey Bee Parasites, Pests, Predators and Diseases - Mid Atlantic Apiculture & Extension Consortium)



Honey bees pollinate plants that produce many of America’s favorite fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Without bees, the U.S. would lose up to $15 billion in crops, and eliminate important produce and field crops from the The National Resources Defense Council puts it simply on their “Vanishing Bees” homepage, with a list of plants that could be affected by the loss of these pollinators and a fact sheet on why we need bees.

“They have a symbiotic relationship – the flower needs the bee to pollinate it and the bee needs the nectar and pollen from the flower to provide protein and energy for itself and the baby bees. If the bee dies out that flower will soon follow and the ecosystems fall apart.”

- "Buzzfeeds: the effects of colony collapse disorder and other bee news" - The Guardian

Pollination: it's vital to life on Earth, but largely unseen by the human eye. Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg shows us the intricate world of pollen and pollinators with gorgeous high-speed images from his film "Wings of Life," inspired by the vanishing of one of nature's primary pollinators, the honeybee.




Watch "TechKnow," Sundays at 7:30ET/4:30PT on Al Jazeera America to see Kyle Hill explore the problems of colony collapse and find out how science and technology are being used to preserve bee populations for generations to come.

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