April 16, 2007 -- The latest explanation for the mysterious disappearance of honeybee colonies comes from Europe, but it isn't getting much buzz. The Independent, a British newspaper, reports a study by a German researcher that has people wondering if cell phones may be the culprit. Research conducted at Landau University found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby.
Beekeepers in the United States began reporting the disappearance of honeybees last fall. Colony collapse disorder, as investigators term it, has now spread to Europe. Worker bees leave the hive to forage, but fail to return, leaving only the queen and some juveniles. The disorder has serious implications for agriculture since many crops are pollinated by bees.
"The economic worth of the honeybee is valued at more than $14.6 billion in the U.S.," said professor Diana Fox-Foster when she appeared in Washington, D.C., before the House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, which is looking into the mystery.
Some beekeepers think the bees will return. Randy Oliver, a commercial beekeeper from California, said there have been mysterious die-offs before. "There is a phenomenon called 'disappearing disease' that recurs every 15 to 25 years," he said. "It's called disappearing disease because the disease disappears and nobody knows what causes it."
And Oliver said bee hives will collapse from extreme weather. The droughts in the Midwest and the temperature swings in the Northeast this year, he said, would have destroyed a number of colonies.
Bees are also traveling a lot more these days, which could add stress.The industry is experiencing a shift from honey production to the pollinating of crops, which requires bee colonies to be driven around by truck.
Honey is being imported from China and Argentina, driving down the price and forcing American beekeepers to find other uses for their bees. So with traveling, pesticides, habitat destruction and extreme weather, bees have a lot more enemies than just cell phones.
"Somebody has to connect the dots," said John Moyer, editor of Beeline Magazine. "The thought that this study came out is intriguing but I haven't seen how it's connected."