Bees Disappearing, Scientists Baffled

By: Haley Harrison Email
By: Haley Harrison Email

State scientists say they're concerned about a growing trend.

Several years ago, bee keepers started noticing their bees were disappearing. Since then, the problem has only gotten worse and scientists fear we may start noticing some changes at the grocery store.

While 17 million buzzing honey bees sounds like a lot, the hives at Dennis Whetzel's Rockingham County farm aren't what they used to be.

"You end up scratching your head a lot trying to figure out what to do," laughs Whetzel.

Bee keepers like Whetzel have seen their hives dwindle over the years and they're not sure why it's happening.

"They just disappear," says Whetzel. "Apparently it's a lack of communication,"

However, while there are some theories out there about what's happening to the bees, it's a mystery scientists are just starting to pry open.

If there aren't as many bees, a jar of honey may be more hard to come by, but that's just the start. Apples, almonds and other items at the grocery store that depend on bees for pollination, may lose quality.

About 80 crops depend on bees and they're responsible for pollinating $20 billion worth a year. And if bees continue to disappear, it's a problem we'll start to notice soon.

"Availability may not be as great, but what we may see first is that the quality will decline," says Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services apiary inspector Keith Tignor. "The perfectly shaped apple, the perfectly shaped cucumber will become a little lopsided because the seeds inside aren't developing fully."

Tignor says mites, viruses and something called colony collapse disorder may be causing the problem, but scientists don't know how to stop it. Until there's a solution, bee keepers will watch the problem and hope for the best.

"Bees are good environmental indicators, so if we see them dwindling down, we could be next. So it's a concern," says Whetzel.

If you are interested in the problems facing bees or want to become a bee keeper, contact Keith Tignor at (804) 786-3515. You can also visit the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services online.


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