Social media was breaking out in hives over the weekend with concerned Facebookers posting memes about the plight of the bees without much information on “CCD,” where it was happening and what the real problem was.
The main cause of the hype was most likely a case of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) according to entomologist and experienced bee keeper, Roland Kennard. While CCD is a factor, it is not the ‘bee’ all and and all of the problem and considering the causes of CCD are important, especially when something quite different might be affecting South Africa. CCD occurs when worker bees disappear, leaving the Queen Bee and lava behind with a few nursing bees to defend the hive. Nobody really knows if they die or simply fly off, “they’re just gone,” said Craig Campbell, a commercial bee keeper from KZN. “The threat applies more in overseas countries,” said Kennard and Campbell confirmed that CCD has not affected South African bee keepers yet, though it has been reported in the US with commercial bee keepers losing a high percentage of their bees. “In terms of international studies honey bees species are definitely declining,” said environmental consultant, Nicus Durieux. “When we look at these declines we should note that they are based on commercial colony counts, since no one really knows for sure how many wild or “feral” colonies are out there,” he said.
Durieux explained that CCD can be caused by overworking honey bees. “Honey bees are used for crop pollination because of their species-specific pollination potential,” said Durieux. This means that the honey bee will feed from sunflower after sunflower in a field, whereas a solitary bee will bounce around between a variety of plants. “The problem is that when commercially kept honey bees are used for crop pollination, they are forced to eat a mono-crop diet and this can cause CCD,” said Durieux. This is a cause for concern if natural pollination is not occurring and Campbell explained that most farmers are hiring commercial bee keepers to pollinate their crops because they can not rely on wild bees. “There is habitat loss,” explained Campbell. ” Wild bee populations decrease when people grow plants that are not bee friendly,” he said.
This is why maintaining a healthy wild bee population is so important. Although CCD is a factor, the bee population in Europe and America is widely threatened by the loss of natural habitat according to Durieux. Bees are susceptible to pesticides and these do pose a huge threat, not only to bees, but all pollinating insects, as Durieux pointed out. “The local drought has effected the bee population here,” said Kennard, adding that “bees need water, pollen and nectar to survive.” Another local threat to bees is an outbreak of American foulbrood in the Western Cape, said Campbell. American foulbrood is a bacteria that devastates honey hives- it is “the most serious bee disease in the world and we must always be aware of these diseases spreading,” said Campbell, who explained that American foulbrood is spread through bee keeping equipment and bee products.
Preventing a threat to the bee population could be as simple as creating an ideal bee-habitat. “One of the practical steps people could take is to plant nectar and pollen producing plants,” said Kennard. There are many blooms worth planting for the bees, including Cosmos, Lavender, Sunflowers, Rosemary, Mint and Echinacea although Natal bottlebrush, white pear trees, wild pomegranate, water berry and forest elder are great indigenous options and it’s always better to go indigenous. Avoiding pesticides is essential for a good bee habitat and if a bee problem should arise, its best to call in a bee keeper, not a fumigator.