MN Pioneer Press Bee Article

We know it's not cell phones, in the scientific community, that was never a possibility.

I really like this article for not being so Chicken Little about it, the way most of the stories about Colony Collapse Disorder have been. You can read the full article at the Pioneer Press, but here is an excerpt:

A new ailment had emerged over the winter, causing bee colonies to mysteriously flee, and fueling scary stories about the vanishing honeybee - and the threat to crops that depend on bees for pollination.

But Minnesota's honeybees are still here. In fact, most honeybees thrived this summer, state beekeepers report. Minnesota's crops were richly pollinated. Apples, berries and pumpkins are abundant. There's even plenty of honey here in America's No. 5 honey-producing state.

David Ellingson, an Ortonville beekeeper and past president of the Minnesota Honey Producers, told Congress this spring about losing 65 percent of his bees while wintering in Texas. Now back in Minnesota, he's still having problems among his 3,400 hives.

"We did see probably 20 percent of our colonies go from excellent to poor, at the end of June and into July," Ellingson said. "Some of them have rebounded, and others have gone away."

Losing bee colonies is one of the gloomy facts of life for beekeepers, and over the years, bee losses have been worsening. Bee mites, viruses and pesticides have taken a toll.

"Twenty-five years ago, if you lost 5 to 7 percent of your bees (during the winter), that would be normal," Ellingson said. "But today, we look at normal as being 20 percent."

"We know it's not cell phones," said Katie Klett, a University of Minnesota bee specialist, who added that, "in the scientific community, that was never a possibility." But it did grab lots of media attention.

Since last spring, scientists have identified an imported virus that appears linked to collapsed colonies. They're also examining a long list of other suspects, including a class of insecticides and an array of bee diseases. Beekeeping practices are coming under scrutiny, too.

"We've got a 50-piece puzzle here, and we've only got 10 pieces that we know are going on," Ellingson said. "There's too many unknowns."

Klett, whose family runs a North Dakota farm breeding queen bees, said it suffered big losses in 2006. Yet 2007 was "the best year we've ever had," she said, with production "through the roof."

So it's a riddle and a concern. Winter will test the state's honeybees again. But thus far, they're hanging tough.