It’s a sweet time for honeybees in the rolling hills of eastern Pennsylvania, and the ones humming around Dennis vanEngelsdorp seem too preoccupied by the blooming knapweed nearby to sting him as he carefully lifts the top off their hive. VanEngelsdorp, Pennsylvania’s state apiarist, spots signs of plenty within: honeycomb stocked with yellow pollen, neat rows of wax hexagons housing larval bees, and a fertile queen churning out eggs.
But something has gone terribly wrong in this little utopia in a box. “There should be a lot more workers than there are,” he says. “This colony is in trouble.”
That pattern — worker bees playing Amelia Earhart — has become dismayingly familiar to the nation’s beekeepers over the past year, as well as to growers whose crops are pollinated by honeybees. A third of our food, from apples to zucchinis, begins with floral sex acts abetted by honeybees trucked around the country on 18-wheelers.
We wouldn’t starve if the mysterious disappearance of bees, dubbed colony collapse disorder, or CCD, decimated hives worldwide. For one thing, wheat, corn, and other grains don’t depend on insect pollination.
But in a honeybee-less world, almonds, blueberries, melons, cranberries, peaches, pumpkins, onions, squash, cucumbers, and scores of other fruits and vegetables would become as pricey as sumptuous old wine. Honeybees also pollinate alfalfa used to feed livestock, so meat and milk would get dearer as well. Ditto for farmed catfish, which are fed alfalfa too.
And jars of honey, of course, would become golden heirlooms to pass along to the grandkids. (Used for millennia as a wound dressing, honey contains potent antimicrobial compounds that enable it to last for decades in sealed containers.)
In late June, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns starkly warned that “if left unchecked, CCD has the potential to cause a $15 billion direct loss of crop production and $75 billion in indirect losses.”
[Read More: CNN]