Disappearing Act Where have North America’s honeybees gone?

Each year, bees and their hives travel across the United States aboard tractor-trailers to pollinate vegetation on the West Coast. Because wild pollinators such as birds and bats are unable to keep up with the demand for pollination of the increasing dimensions of almond groves and over 90 varieties of crops from California to Washington State, migratory beehives and their apiculturists are essential to the region’s agricultural health. However, in recent months, millions of bees have abandoned their hives, gone missing or died.

The predicament, deemed "Colony Collapse Disorder," has affected beekeepers in 24 US states and some areas of Canada, resulting in a loss of 25 percent to over 75 percent of their hives. Once-burgeoning colonies have become skeletons of their former selves, often with only the queen bee and a few of her workers left—with no trace of the thousands of previous hive inhabitants. Experts are worried about the implications of this phenomenon, and they fear it may be far from resolved.

A number of possible culprits are making the suspect line-up, including bad weather, pesticides or miticides, bad corn syrup and genetically modified corn. Many believe the problem may be compounded by the presence of the varroa mite, a tick-like arachnid that wreaked havoc on apiculture in 2005. Feeding on adult honeybees and their unborn, the parasite can destroy a hive by killing young or causing deformities that weaken colonies and make them more susceptible to invading pathogens.

For the time being, no remedy has been established. The Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group, based primarily at Penn State University, is leading research on the issue, but its preliminary report was inconclusive.