Scientists Find Mass Murderer (of Bees)

Great news for everyone who likes food

Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food.

While the disappearance of bees may seem like a good idea to children, landscapers, picnickers, or the typical homeowner trying to make their home safe for family, their demise would be a very bad thing.

It’s about your food, so pay attention:

Now, with bees and honey bees, in particular, we know that over one-third of our food supply relies upon them for pollination services and we know that pollination is essential for the reproduction of the plants the bees service.

The honey bee is a major pollinator of many of our food crops, almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon and many other crops all rely on honey bees for pollination.

So if honey bees disappear and we do not find replacements that can do the work they do then foods that we take for granted will decrease in supply and increase in price.

The NY Times reports a fortunate breakthrough:

Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.

A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

Even if it wasn’t for our self-interest, there are reasons to celebrate the bees. Margie Haack tells about her family’s experience raising honeybees. She writes:

Raising honeybees made us admire what they do. That is, if you can call owning two hives “raising bees.” All we did not know didn’t stop us from ordering that first queen and her escorts. When they arrived at the post office, we picked her up in her little wooden box with screened sides and even though we gently placed it in the back seat of our car—in unison 14,000 jostled bees raised their voices about an octave. I began to wonder if simple living wasn’t more like poking a crocodile in the eye and running like crazy.

 That began our three-year venture into honey, sticky fingers, and a bad-tempered queen who faithfully passed her personality on to thousands of aggressive children who swarmed in our neighbor’s yard when the hive grew too crowded. We kept on despite the risk—a risk mostly due to keeping the hives on the top of our flat-roofed garage, meaning Jerem & Sember, ages 4 and 2, frequently climbed the ladder to check them out; they could get up there, but had trouble getting down. Eventually I’d notice them gone missing and find them wailing on the roof with little clouds of bees buzzing round their heads (I know. Remove the ladder, but somehow I didn’t think of that.) Anyway, I became very fond of the honeybee. They do things like make you praise orchards and flowers, bake honey buns for your friends and family, and thank God you aren’t required to lay 2,000 eggs a day. I say this even though on honey extraction day every surface in my kitchen and dining room got coated with a sticky amber glue. Not only did the bees find their way back inside to reclaim what we’d stolen from them, the kids industriously helped by licking the countertops and table.

 Loving honeybees also makes me wonder about such things as mowing and paving every square inch of habitat I own and the consequences of herbicides and pesticides poured on crops and lawns, and whether in the end it will make any difference to them or us.

Ben DeVries at Not One Sparrow points to another story of beekeepers by Lisa Graham McMinn titled “The Secret Life of Beekeepers,”  and adds this important thought: 

While it might be added that bees have a value to their Creator, and thereby to each other and to us, before any services they may offer, Lisa’s reflection is a commendable and important tribute to bees and to their caretakers.

Finally, although the scientists believe they’ve identified the mass murderers of bees, there is still work to be done.

Scientists in the project emphasize that their conclusions are not the final word. The pattern, they say, seems clear, but more research is needed to determine, for example, how further outbreaks might be prevented, and how much environmental factors like heat, cold or drought might play a role.


About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group ( Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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3 Responses to Scientists Find Mass Murderer (of Bees)

  1. Ben DeVries says:

    Great post, Jim, thank you for sharing it. I wonder if you might also appreciate one which we posted a while back, “The Secret Life of Beekeepers,” which highlights a great reflection from Lisa Graham McMinn over at Christianity Today’s Her-meneutics blog:

  2. Jim Jewell says:

    Thanks, Ben. I’ve added this note and link in the story. Good addition.

  3. Ben DeVries says:

    Thanks very much, Jim, and for including the link to that post – Ben

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