TEXT ON SCREEN: April 4, 2007
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 4-4-07):BRIAN WILLIAMS: This might be one of the most interesting, disturbing and puzzling stories to come along in a long time.
NARRATION: In early 2007, the news broke that beekeepers across the United States had made a surprising discovery.
ARCHIVAL (FOX, 2-9-07):NEWS REPORT: Bees are mysteriously dying.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 4-4-07):NEWS REPORT: Its called colony collapse disorder. Beekeepers in 27 states report disappearing honeybees.
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN):NEWS REPORT: Pollination by bees produces 30 percent of our food.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 5-16-07):ANDERSON COOPER: Congress is holding hearings. Even the vice president has been briefed.
ARCHIVAL (ABC):NEWS REPORT: The end of honeybees, the end of pollination a dire threat to crops the world over.
NARRATION: Today, whats happening to the bees, and whats really at stake?
THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING BEES
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 5-17-07):RANDI KAYE: The buzz began with these bees at Dave Hackenbergs bee farm, ground zero for the mystery of the missing bees.
NARRATION: In November of 2006 Dave Hackenberg discovered that nearly all of the 400 beehives in his Florida bee yard were empty.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 5-17-07):RANDI KAYE: So this is what you call a dead hive?DAVE HACKENBERG: Yup. Empty box. No bees.
NARRATION : The veteran beekeeper had seen bees die before, but never like this.
DAVID HACKENBERG (COMMERCIAL BEEKEEPER): I keep asking myself, what am I doing wrong? I mean, its, it’s, uh, its a mind-boggling thing. I mean it really is a mind-boggling thing.
NARRATION: Hackenberg contacted scientists at Pennsylvania State University. They were intrigued by the beekeepers story.
DENNIS VANENGELSDORP (FOUNDING MEMBER, COLONY COLLAPSE WORKING GROUP): And I said, well, bring up some bees and well check it out. So indeed he brought up some bees and those bees got sampled and we found all these things I couldnt explain and I didnt understand, and certainly nothing popped out. And then it became apparent that this was happening in different parts of the country.
NARRATION: VanEngelsdorp helped give the die off a name: colony collapse disorder or C.C.D. Suddenly bees were big news.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, 7-29-07):NEWS REPORT: The population of honeybees down roughly 25 percent across this country.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS):NEWS REPORT: Its a simple equation. Without bees to pollinate many plants, the plants just dont grow.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, 2-11-07):NEWS REPORT: The fear is, most of the honey bees will be dead.
ARCHIVAL (THE SIMPSONS TV SHOW):LISA: Dad, we have to do something. All the bees are dying.HOMER: Oh no. No bees?
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS):NEWS REPORT: Colony collapse disorder.
NARRATION: The mystery fascinated the public, and strange explanations soon began to spread.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 5-17-07):RANDI KAYE: Do you buy that this could be a Russian plot?DAVE HACKENBERG: Not really.RANDI KAYE: The Rapture? God calling all the bees back to heaven?DAVE HACKENBERG: Uh, I dont think he needs em up there.
NARRATION: But much of the television coverage missed an important bit of backstory. Beekeepers had been struggling to maintain their hives ever since the 1980s, when the invasive Varroa mite arrived in the U.S.
DENNIS VANENGELSDORP: We have a saying: Before Varroa mite, you could be a bee haver; after Verroa mite, you had to be a bee keeper, because you had to manage your bees.
NARRATION: Verroa mites infest and slowly weaken colonies, but Hackenberg’s C.C.D. losses came quickly to colonies that appeared healthy.
JEFFERY PETTIS (U.S.D.A BEE RESEARCH LABORATORY): A number of us thought that we may be dealing with a new pathogen, a novel pathogen. So if we could find that novel pathogen lets say a virus or something then that might explain, that was the missing link.
DENNIS VANENGELSDORP: The only thing we could say about C.C.D. bees and it was a very distinct thing, was they were really sick, they sort of had every disease going.
NARRATION: One theory was that stress was making bees sick. To meet the growing pollination demands of large-scale agriculture, commercial beekeepers truck their bees from state to state to pollinate crop after crop.
DAVE HACKENBERG: Some of us are running these bees to two, three, four crops a year, pollinating, and so they dont get a chance to ever get rejuvenated. And it used to be you could get them onto some clean food for two or three weeks and away theyd go, but pasture land in general is running out because of land being turned into crop land, and so we are running out of places to go with the bees.
NARRATION: More crops mean more pesticides, and many beekeepers have blamed C.C.D. on neonicotinoids, widely used chemicals that are absorbed by plants and can accumulate in pollen and nectar.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 5-6-13):NEWS REPORT: The European Union voted to suspend the use of neonicotinoids because of possible links to bee collapse.
NARRATION: The EPA is reviewing these pesticides, but a direct link to C.C.D. has not been established. Indeed, most scientists now believe that no single factor can explain the phenomenon.
JEFFERY PETTIS: Were probably dealing with multiple factors coming together to cause a set of symptoms that we call C.C.D. Personally, I fall back to nutritional stress and maybe pesticide stress leading to pathogen outbreak, Ill call it. And so the pathogen, or the types of pathogens that are there, dont really matter that much, but the bees are in a weakened state, and that allows these pathogens to multiply and cause the bees to die.
DENNIS VANENGELSDORP: Bees have this behavior called altruistic suicide. What happens is that a bee somehow knows shes sick, flies away from the hive so she doesnt infect her nestmates. So we think that explains behavior of collapse, why we are not finding dead bees and why we are seeing this quick spiral down in the population.
ARCHIVAL:HARRY REASONER: In South America right now, and moving north towards North America, theres a new strand of bees.
NARRATION: Colony collapse was not the first time bees captured the publics attention.
ARCHVIVAL:NEWS REPORT: This is the African Killer Bee. In the last four years, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people in South America.
NARRATION: In the 1970s fears over the spread of Africanized honey bees
ARCHIVAL (NBC, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE):JOHN BELUSHI: Do as I say, seor, or your wife dies!
NARRATION: gave bees a bad name.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE):ELLIOT GOULD: Thats right gringo, the killer bees!
NARRATION: But since the onset of colony collapse disorder, bees have become a symbol of environmental protection.
ARCHIVAL (FOX, 8-1-13):JOHN STOSSEL: If you couldnt understand that, they were singing all we are saying, give bees a chance.
JAMES FISCHER (NYC BEEKEEPING): When people saw the bees they said uh-huh, heres something that I can really do something significant, you could save the bees by actually getting some bees.
NARRATION: Hobby beekeeper Jim Fischer keeps about two dozen beehives on Manhattan rooftops and he teaches beekeeping classes in Central Park in Brooklyn. He says enrollment surged in the wake of the CCD mystery.
JAMES FISCHER: Hundreds of people, more people you could fit in a room started attending the classes.
ARCHIVAL (CNN):RANDI KAYE: They call it urban beekeeping and its getting a ton of buzz.
JAMES FISCHER: Pre-media blitz, pre-C.C.D., beekeeping was a hobby taken up by retired, white, blue-color guys, for the most part. The demographic immediately became a lot younger, a lot more female.
MARGOT DORN (HOBBY BEEKEEPER): Before I started I was nervous because of all the diseases, but as a community across the country, were eventually going to figure it out, and being part of that process is what I think is for the common good.
JEFFERY PETTIS: Theres been a couple of silver linings on the C.C.D. story. One is just public awareness about the role that pollinators play in the food supply. Its also brought new researchers from other areas.
ARCHIVAL (KRON4.COM):NEWS REPORT: Scientists are attaching tiny backpacks to honeybees in order to study them.
NARRATION: These radio frequency I.D. tags track bees as they move through the landscape to better understand the causes of colony collapse disorder. At Harvard University, scientists are taking a different approach. Theyve engineered, the robo-bee. Its still a work in progress and there are several other potential uses, but these miniature robots could one day assist is crop pollination.
ARCHIVAL (FOX):NEWS REPORT: A huge threat to the food supply.
NARRATION: But the dire predictions of the falling bee populations leading to a food crisis, have not come to pass. Beekeepers replace their dead hives, so there are just as many honey bee colonies in the U.S. today as there were in 2006.
DENNIS VANENGELSDORP: We are not worried at all that bees are going to go extinct in this country, or in the world. What were worried about is, that, will we have the beekeepers?
DAVE HACKENBERG: Were buying bees to keep our head above the water. Its not the basic beekeeping that I remember as a kid and as a young guy running bees, you know. Its just theres a whole lot of things that have changed. Theres lots of days that I would just like to pull the plug, you know, and just walk away, but I like what Im doing. I mean, you know, its something that gets into your system and doesnt go away.
NARRATION: Today, honeybee colonies continue to die off in large numbers, but the C.C.D. mystery has as new twist.
JEFFERY PETTIS: We havent seen this much C.C.D. over the past few years. The classic symptoms of C.C.D. have changed or disappeared, but we are still loosing a lot of colonies. And that can be for a variety of reasons: parasitic Verroa mite, pesticide exposure, poor nutrition, nutritional distress and in particular we are seeing a lot of queen loss, so we are doing some queen experiments, here. Theres a multitude of things beekeepers are facing in order to keep colonies alive in addition to C.C.D.