The weak condition of bee colonies in North America

  "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." Albert Einstein

The number of managed colonies dropped from 5.9 million in 1947 to 2.4 million in 2005.   While scientists have identified potentials causes of this year’s colony decline, there is no evidence that a single major problem has led to this long-term decrease. However, my experimental observation has shown that bees’ immune systems have been weakened significantly due to a number of factors. Once their immune systems have been compromised, colonies are less capable of overcoming such problems as mites, extremely cold weather, solar activity or diseases and viruses (as is probably the case with the Colony Collapse Disorder). The overall set of issues that has had a negative impact of bee immune systems can be divided into two groups: those that directly depend on bee management techniques, and those that do not. As such, the purpose of this article is to consider how beekeepers can help strengthen the immune systems of colonies in order to prepare them to combat a plethora of negative factors that the colonies will face continuously.

There are several main issues associated with improper bee management in North America:

1. Feeding of bees

During autumn feeding, beekeepers rely on high fructose corn or sugar syrups and other supplemental feeding, instead of using natural honey and pollen. Scientific research has long proven that stress bears a negative impact on immune systems. When beekeepers remove honey, bees sense that the seasonal honey flow is over, colonies begin to experience elevated levels of stress. Even after they are fed with syrup, bees’ level of stress remains high because they feel that winter is coming and they must convert syrup into honey in a short period of time. Moreover, honey consists of many different elements that are connected in such a way that not one syrup can contain the same composition. Unlike many syrups, raw honey contains magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and calcium. In addition, the trace elements of pollen and bee propolis found in raw honey boost the immune systems of bees and protect from infections.

Honey from bees that have been fed on sugar water is deficient in vital trace elements and nutrients and as such is inferior, and is to all intents and purposes an artificial product lacking in health giving properties. This is common sense, apart from minor changes, the honey secreted by the bee is essentially an inspissated nectar. Raw Honey also contains the highest content of live enzymes of all foods as well as a small quantity of an unknown substance, another mysterious enrichment courtesy of the bees, an element science cannot identify, cannot synthesize or manufacture.
Major Components of Honey Analysis by Near-Infrared Transflectance Spectroscopy
Chemical Composition of Honey

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) refers to a group of corn syrups which have undergone enzymatic processing in order to increase their fructose content and are then mixed with pure corn syrup (100% glucose) to reach their final form.
For autumn and spring feeding beekeepers use Type 55 (which is approximately 55% fructose and 45% glucose) and Type 42 (which is approximately 42% fructose and 58% glucose).
HFCS is generally made from transgenic (genetically modified) corn!

HMF (hydroxy-methyl-furfural) and HFCS
"There is evidence that high levels of HMF have injured bees. A high level of HMF is considered 114 parts per million (ppm); honey could have as high as 40 ppm. More details are here
"HMF has been demonstrated to be TOXIC to honey bees". More details are here: A manual on honey bee nutrition for beekeepers
USDA does not mandate specific limits on HMF in HFCS.

"The UK’s current derogation for a higher HMF limit of 80mg/kg has been removed. Honey must now meet the 40 mg/kg limit except for those which come from tropical climates or blends of these." More details are here
In Holland, it is forbidden to sell honey with more than 40 mg/kg HMF.
A limit of no more than 80 mg/kg of HMF is fixed for honey imported into Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Finally, converting sugar or corn syrups into honey and filling combs take energy of bees, making them weaker.

2. Chemical treatments

Chemical treatments have become a common technique in prevention against mites, American foulbrood, and Nosema disease. This usage, nevertheless, impedes the bees’ ability to develop a natural immune response and leads to a higher level of stress. At the same time, mites develop resistance to these treatments thus constantly forcing beekeepers to depend on new chemicals.

3. Usage of plastic frames, polystyrene hives, nucs and mininucs

Each year, several million plastic frames of various types are sold in the United States. For example, in 2006 alone, only one company, Betterbee, sold almost a million Pierco plastic frames. However, wide usage of plastic frames, polystyrene hives, nucs and mini-nucs dramatically reduces the quantity of propolis. My personal observation shows that polystyrene BeeMax hives with plastic Pierco frames cause the quantity of propolis to decrease by 75% in comparison to wooden hives with wooden frames.

Propolis provides several levels of protection. Firstly, it strengthens the structure of the hive. However, more importantly, propolis defends the hive from bacterial and viral infection, which can easily spread in large colonies of tens of thousands of bodies. In addition, according to an article posted on Syben, a UK bioscience network, "It is propolis that provides the bee colony with its immune protection system."

The article explains that "...propolis, a highly complex chemical package which can contain up to 300 different chemicals and has been found to have antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties." Propolis' protective properties come from the sap (collected from trees such as poplar, willow, horse chestnut and birch) that possesses antibiotic qualities that protect trees from infection. To produce propolis, bees gathered the sap, remetobolize it with nectar secretions, and subsequently carry it to the hive in order to share it with the other members of the colony.
Therefore, the decreased quantity of propolis in polystyrene hives or nucs, or in hives that use plastic frames, exposes colonies to increased levels of infection.

In addition, there is no research that shows whether plastic frames and hives contain chemicals that are dangerous for bees.

4. Neglect of a clean water source

Water is important for bees. During brood rearing, brood food is primarily water, with close to 80 percent on the first day of larval growth and about 55 percent on the sixth day. During warm weather, bees also need water for cooling the hive. The closeness of water source frees extra bees for nectar collection. Without a nearby clean water source, bees collect dirty or contaminated water!

5. Frequent relocation of hives

According to the USDA "The number of managed honey bee colonies has dropped from 5 million in the1940s to only 2.5 million today. At the same time, the call for hives to supply pollination service has continued to climb. This means honey bee colonies are trucked farther and more often than ever before." More details are here
And now beekeepers who are involved in crop pollination must transport their bee colonies from one state to another several times during one season. This frequent change of hive location, not only stresses and weakens the colonies, but also raises the threat of rapid and broad proliferation of parasites and diseases among bee colonies in other parts of the country.

6. Stress caused during honey harvesting

During honey harvesting, almost all commercial beekeepers use bee blowers, chemicals, brush or smoke, to remove bees from supers instead of triangle escape boards, which constitute the most stress-free way for the bees.

7. Improper construction and maintenance of hives

There are two main mistakes: insufficient hive ventilation and improper hive location. Both of these factors lead to an unhealthy hive microclimate for the bees, which prompts mold and dysentery. Many beekeepers forget that adequate ventilation reduces moisture, and therefore creates an unfavorable environment for mites. How I tested different types of beehives

Other Factors:

Genetically Modified Crops

According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of the study, the bacterial toxin in the genetically modified corn may have “altered the surface of the bee’s intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry — or perhaps it was the other way around. We don’t know.” More details are here

"Honey bees commonly forage up to two km from the hive, but oilseed rape fields are such an attractive source of nectar that bees may travel at least five km to get to them. In a recent study, a bee hive was placed 800 m from a field of GM oilseed rape. When the oilseed rape was in flower, it made up 70% of the pollen that the bees carried back to the hive. One bee returning to the hive had 60,000 oilseed rape pollen grains stuck to its body (see footnote 12). As the bees brush past each other in the hive any GM pollen is spread throughout the colony and taken out again by other bees. In summer 1999, Friends of the Earth commissioned research to study this issue. The researchers put pollen samplers on the entrances to beehives around a ten hectare farm scale test site of GM oilseed rape. The pollen samplers measured how much pollen the bees were carrying into the hive. The bee hives were 150m, 2.5 km and 4.5 km away from the test site. GM pollen was found in all the samples from the different beehives, including the one furthest away. The results show that even if a beehive is 4.5 km from a field of GM oilseed rape, the honey can still become contaminated with GM pollen. This has serious implications for all beekeepers. Not only are bee hives near to GM oilseed rape fields likely to become contaminated with GM pollen, but the bees may spread GM pollen to non-GM crops several miles away. It is likely that in the future farmers will be growing oilseed rape for the 'GM-free' market. In such cases, contamination of the crop could cause financial loss to the farmer. At the moment it is unclear who would be held liable for this, and whether the beekeeper might be held responsible as well as the farmer who grows the GM crop." More details are here


California Judge makes injunction against Roundup Ready genetically modified alfalfa permanent. USDA and Monsanto will need to perform an environmental review, estimated to take 2 years, before the GM alfalfa can be planted further. Hopefully after proper review, the GM alfalfa will be prohibited. More details are here


Preliminary studies suggest that contact with pesticide-treated and genetically modified crops weakens bees. Currently, several research teams are examining these effects. Although these factors are not directly related to bee management, concerned beekeepers should consider potential threats.

In my opinion, all of these factors are sources of tremendous levels of stress, which weakens bees’ immune systems. In cases when all of the aforementioned problems occur simultaneously in a given bee colony, the impact on the immune system is strongest. Therefore, when new viruses or other pathogenic influences emerge, bees are not capable of combating them.

How can my theory and observation results confirmed?
Everyone can easily repeat my experiments:
- There are many studies that show differences in the immune systems of wild animals (and birds) and domesticated animals (and birds), since wild animals feed on natural food. Also, there are many studies that show that children who are breast-fed have stronger immune systems and are healthier than children who were fed with formula milk.
- Scientists and beekeepers can extrapolate the results of these studies to bee colonies and add data from other experiments. For example, in the fall, feed two colonies with syrup and another two colonies with honey and natural pollen (beebread). Scientists from universities from different locations can use a wider sample (perhaps 10 colonies to be fed with sugar syrup, 10 colonies with corn syrup and 10 colonies to be fed with honey and natural pollen). In the spring, during the first colony inspection, compare the number of dead bees in each of the observed colonies. You will see that colonies that were fed with honey and pollen will have at least 15-20% less dead bees than the colonies that were fed with syrup. During this experiment, maintain bees in identical conditions in order to observe only the effect of feeding. This experiment should be repeated 2-3 years in a row.
- Scientists and beekeepers can record the sound of bee colonies during the time of higher stress for the colonies, and then conduct a spectrum analysis.
- Scientists and beekeepers should analyze data for the harsh winter of 2000-2001, when many domestic colonies, but not many ARS Russian colonies, died.
- Scientists and beekeepers could analyze the current data on ARS Russian bees, especially the colonies that were not treated with chemicals and were not fed with syrups or other supplements. Preliminary data did not show massive spread of CCD among ARS Russian and Russian colonies.

Additional data required:

I am searching for certain data described below. If anyone has access to this information, please forward me the links or citations to publicly available sources.

- Data that indicates the number of dead colonies among those that were fed with syrup as well as other supplements and were chemically treated.
- Analogous data on the number of dead colonies among those that were fed with honey and were not chemically treated.

How to fight against Varroa Mites without chemicals

More about ARS Russian Project ( Here)

Boris Romanov,   March 10, 2007

Last Modified: December 31, 2008

Comments and Latest Findings:

"I do not know of any massive deaths of Russian colonies. I don't know about the causes of the massive deaths of colonies this year. I do know that last year was the worst year on record for honey production. There were crop failures in many different places which must have caused beekeepers to feed. However, it is difficult to replace natural pollen with a substitute. This might be enough explanation."
March 14, 2007   Dr. Thomas E. Rinderer
Agricultural Research Service, USDA

"We believe that some form of stress may be suppressing immune systems of bees..."
March 29, 2007   Dr. Caird E. Rexroad, from the Agricultural Research Service

"Stresses include poor nutrition (due to apiary overcrowding, pollination of crops with low nutritional value, or pollen or nectar dearth) and migratory stress brought about by the increased need to move bees long distances for pollination. Stress could compromise the immune system of bees making colonies more susceptible to disease."

Last Modified: July 25,2013

Works Cited

de Guzman, December 2005. Overwintering Survival of Russian Honey Bees. Journal of Economic Entomology Vol. 98 no.6
Tubbs, H., C.Harper, M.Bigalk, S.J.Bernard, G.T.Delatte, H.A.Sylvester, and T.E.Rinderer. 2003. Commercial management of ARS Russian honey bees. Am.Bee J. 143:819-820.
Obrycki,J, Losey, J, Taylor,O, Jesee,L. "Transgenic insecticidal corn: Beyond insecticidal toxicity to ecological complexity." Bioscience May 2001/Vol 51 No. 5

Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, 1860. "A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-bee" (Chapter 7 Ventilation of the bee-hive)

Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae

HMF - References

Wild Bees And The Flowers They Pollinate Are Disappearing Together


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