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Colony Collapse Disorder

"..the decline in pollinator populations is one form of global change that actually has credible potential to alter the shape and structure of terrestrial ecosystems."
Committee Chair, May R. Berenbaum, Entomology Dept, University of Illinois

For their first 100 million years on Earth the sweetness of the air was the honeybees’ universe. Emerging from their dark, womb-like nest, they’d soar into the scented air to seek out the soft moist petals which held the promise of nutritional wellbeing. Flying from above, each delicate centre is ablaze with ultraviolet glory to honeybee eyes. Each points directly to the nectary where the alchemy of sun and natural sugars create what Homer referred to as 'the elixir of the gods'.

When humans came along, honeybees guided our progress. In the 10,000 years or so that we journeyed together on evolution's pathway, honeybees and humans developed an exquisite and abundant exchange. Emissaries of ancient knowledge, honeybees passed along the secrets of interdependency. We, in turn, learned to plant that which encouraged their return and wellbeing while advancing our own understanding of the sanctity of life. Throughout the ages, we became inseparable and as a direct result, agriculture became one of the greatest success stories humankind.

For all the goodwill honeybees send our way, they are happily self reliant. With so many mouths to feed, much of their business day is all about making enough food to meet the nutritional requirements of their entire colony. Much like humans, honeybees survive on a balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and water. They rely on just two natural raw ingredients to provide them with all the nutrients they need to live happy, productive lives -- nectar and pollen.

Whether wild or commercially managed, only female honeybees are foragers. Always in hot pursuit of bee goodies, the sisterhood travels up to 16 km (10m) a day to visit up to 500 million blooms. When they’ve harvested all the nectar or pollen they can carry, our flying aces cruise back home at speeds of up to 28 kilometers per hour (20 mph) guided only by the golden path of the sun’s warming rays.

Honeybee Carbs
Honeybee colonies run like a finely tuned clock. It's all about precision particularly when it comes to food procurement. Only some honeybees collect nectar. When she's returning to her nest with the harvested nectar safely stored in her honey sac, her digestive enzymes are already breaking down the natural sugar into its component parts of glucose, fructose, amino acids, antioxidants and enzymes.

The collected nectar is high in both water and natural yeasts. Left unchecked it could ferment. So once back in the nest, she starts to ‘ripen’ the sugary mixture. For up to 20 minutes the honeybee uses her body like a pump, slowly infusing the elixir with enzymes from a glucose gland located in her mouth. Gradually the sweet liquid dehydrates. Then she carefully spreads a thin layer across the honeycombs in wait for the next shift to take over the task of making homemade honey.

Much like preserves made in kitchens throughout the world, honeybees prepare the nectar to make it inhospitable to microbes. For three weeks, female worker bees continually fan the mixture to reach a further reduction of almost 18 percent. Slowly the nectar stabilizes. The resulting honey becomes naturally resistant to molds, fungi and other bacteria for years. Once the process is complete the honey is capped in the comb with wax ready to be eaten as needed.

Whether maintaining their nests, warming their wings in preparation for flight, keeping each other warm in winter, or feeding their young, natural honey is vital to the on going health of its maker and her future generations. So the sisterhood always makes more than required. A strong colony produces two to three times more honey than needed traveling over 354,000 km (220,000 miles) or six times around the world to make 2.2 kg (5 lbs) of honey.[pagebreak]
Honeybee Protein
Just like humans, protein is essential for a honeybee’s overall growth and development. Crucial to rearing their young, pollen is the only protein honeybees ingest. An efficient species by nature the protein packed pollen is collected from a variety of plants at different times of the year. While grains like corn rely on the elements to pollinate, do not require the services of honeybees. But the efficient honeybee has learned a thing or two about corn. When in bloom the golden tassels are chocked full of pollen. Cornfields are an ideal foraging ground for the intrepid flying sisterhood.

A typical colony processes almost 45 kg (100 lbs) of pollen each year. Four million foraging excursions carry up to five million pollen grains in a single trip. Once back at the nest, the honeybees off load the pollen from their corbiculae -- little basket-like structures attached to their back legs. Then they mix the granules with salivary products and small quantities of honey. The preparation is carefully packed into antiseptic cells adjacent to the empty brood cells that await the new generation. There it undergoes a chemical change becoming what is referred to as at ‘bee bread’.

Much like growing teenagers everywhere, adolescent honeybees consume large amounts of bee bread to complete their growth and development cycle. The bee bread is also the principle food of adult nurse bees. Once she ingests the bee bread, her digestive enzymes transform the nutritional supplement into a type of ‘mother’s milk’ which is then fed to the infant bee larvae.

A single larva is fed the supplement up to 1,300 times per day for five consecutive days. Once the larvae have stored enough body fat to help in the development of honeybee body parts, they move into the pupa stage of metamorphosis. When that magical moment of transformation is about to occur, the nurse bees carefully cap each larva’s cell with a mixture of wax and propolis to stave off any parasitical or bacterial pathogens.

Nourishment is regulated dependent upon whether the larva is a drone, worker or queen bee. Larvae destined to be queens are fed a steady diet of royal jelly. This creamy protein-rich supplement packed with vitamins and other nutrients is secreted from lateral pharyngeal glands located in the heads of the young worker bees.

As the sisterhood is born sterile, this intense early feeding is vital to the continuity of the colony. Once the to-be-queen is chosen by the worker bees, the selection triggers a specific feeding pattern. The essential nutrients develop the queen’s physical appearance which is quite different that than of her sisters and aunties including the structure of her internal organs and the fully developed ovaries needed to the lay eggs of generations to come.

If the colony’s protein requirements are not properly met, the brood’s food glands (hypopharyngeal glands) do not completely develop and the protein-rich royal jelly that is used to feed the selected queen becomes junk food. Nutritionally vacuous, the food supplement cannot support the normal development of larvae in the brood or the egg production in the adult queen. Reproductive capacity falters and the colony fails.

Gucci Farmers
Agriculture today is not so kind to the honeybees as days gone by. Pastoral fields filled with a diversity of crops which never took more from the soil than was left behind have almost disappeared from our landscapes. Aggressive corporate raiders are now the bullies of the barnyards.

Greedily gobbling up small local farms across the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America and parts of Europe, these pinstripe apostles position themselves in the favor of governments worldwide masquerading under the guise of altruism. Claiming industrial agriculture is the answer to ‘feeding the world’s hungry’, these Gucci farmers whose smartly worn suits have never been sullied by the good earth, structure mega planting operations to deliver maximum yield from a single crop. To the transgenic market diversity has no primary value. Nor will it feed the millions who are malnourished and without an adequate income to purchase food.

Any claim that world hunger is caused by a lack of food is simply a self-serving agribusiness myth. 1.2 billion people in the world live on less than 1 dollar a day. The truth is world hunger is not created by lack of food but rather by abject poverty.

The High Cost of GE Industrial Farming

  • At least 60% of all nitrous oxide (NO2) emissions, the most potent greenhouse gas, are caused by industrial agriculture primarily from the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Nearly 40% of methane (CH4, the second strongest greenhouse gas, is due to industrial farming practices, much of this from intensive industrialized livestock operations.

Source: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

These corporate farmers move stealth-like from planting and harvesting to processing, manufacturing and transportation. A tightly woven vertical operation, they meet financial projections by weaving what is called the 20/80 rule -- 20% of producers generating 80% of the agricultural output. Using aggressive planting techniques, industrial food ‘growers’ cram transgenic seed crops into row after row sown to the outermost edges of the fields.

When these corporations and policy makers are questioned on the dubious practices surrounding monocultural practices the answers are carefully crafted sound bites about modern food production, efficiency, cheap food and combating world hunger. But this so-called efficiency has never been proven and the hypothesis comes with a very big price tag. Aside from robbing the land of nutrients, contaminating heritage seed, polluting our fresh water ways and being a serious contributor to climate change, another ecological disaster is unfolding just as humanity bears witness to the reality of global warming.

As the over-seeded, chemically laden soil produces millions of tons of uniform bio-crops, natural diversity dies away. Without the plants that welcome the wild honeybees they too disappear. And when more than two million managed honeybee hives go forth to pollinate farmers’ fields, from coast to coast to coast billions of our little flying heroines are well within reach of genetically engineered crops.

Busily collecting their daily stores of protein from sources up to 10 miles in any direction, GE pollen laced with biochemicals is brought back to the hive. Here it is carefully stored in antiseptic cells until its time to feed the next generation.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)
Coinciding with the debate on human health and the consumption of biotech food additives, in 2003 beekeepers noticed something strange. Honeybee health took a sudden dive. By 2007 the losses were unprecedented. Reports for 2008 showed continued losses, with some commercial aviaries reporting a 90% decline. By 2010, honeybees vanished by the billions.

Winter die-off in the bee industry is not unusual. But this mysterious malady did not travel at the slow pace of conventional disease. Spreading like wildfire, losses were reported in migratory operations wintering in California, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas. Then larger non-migratory beekeepers in the mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northeast regions also reported significant losses of more than 50%.

In all thirty-five states reported losses. Honeybee hive losses were reported in five Canadian provinces. In Europe, forty percent of Spain’s honeybee flock was wiped out. Britain, France, and Germany all reported losses as did countries in South and Central America and Asia. Today the world’s honeybee population has declined by half.

Exhaustive study cancelled out radiation from mobile phones interfering with the honeybees' navigation systems, bacterial agents, mites, parasites and other pathogens.

Labelled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) one of the key symptoms is that there is no accumulation of dead honeybees around the hive. This matriarchal, community-oriented society leaves behind their queen for which they unselfishly care; the brood they so meticulously tend and the food they carefully collect prepare and store. The vast majority of adult honeybees simply do not return to their colony, contrary to instinctual behaviour developed over 100 million years.

The few young bees that are left have not been trained to forage and are reluctant to eat or leave the nest. The scarcely scattered dead located around the hives underwent autopsy. Scientists found multiple pathogens in the honeybee gut indicative of an AIDS-like syndrome. The brood cells where the infant larvae were so carefully wrapped in protective propolis were cut open to discover they too exhibited the same symptoms.

For some mysterious reason, honeybees can no longer fight off the disease and infestations that they were once able to. The honeybee's immune system seems to be failing. Located in their digestive system a mysterious sub lethal effect is acting like a slow killer. While scientists worldwide scramble for answers, now, just like the honeybees, humans have developed a health mystery all their own.

Related Posts

  • Death By Nutrition
    Both the medical and independent scientific community have declared a nutritional pandemic and the forecast for our children is not promising.
  • The Gene Gamble
    As recently as the last two decades, science has uncovered some exquisite truths about both honeybees and humans -- not the least of which is the barriers which separate us are thinner than we like to believe.
  • The Black Swan
    Between 1995 and 2004 the US Geology Department took on a monumental task. In the most comprehensive river study to be carried out to date. What raised the Black Swan of concern was how prevalent the new species of ‘intersex’ fish swam in the fresh water river ways throughout North America well away from industrial sites and over populated urban areas.


  • CRANE, E (1975) History of honey, In Crane, E (ed.) Honey, a comprehensive survey, William Heinemann; London; pp 439-488.
  • Lifetime learning by foraging honey bees, Reuven Dukas, P Kirk Visscher, Department of Entomology, University of California, September 1993
  • D. Cox Foster, Pennsylvania State University, and C. Rexrod, USDA’s ARS, Statement before the Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, U.S. House of Representatives, March 29, 2007, at [http://agriculture.house.gov/testimony/110/h70329/
    CoxFoster.pdf] and [http://agriculture.house.gov/testimony/110/h70329/Rexroad.pdf]; and published interview with Jerry Hayes, Florida’s
  • http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/07/060721-bee-study.html

Rethink Food

The average consumer believes they are not very powerful - but the exact opposite is true. Corporations deliver what the consumer demands. The average meal purchased from your supermarkets travels 1500 miles to arrive at your dinner table. You can change the industrial food system with every bite.

  • Vote with your purchasing dollar
  • Read the food label
  • Buy only from companies that treat workers, animals and the environment with respect.
  • Choose foods that are in season and locally grown.
  • Buy organic or naturally grown food
  • Shop at farmers' markets
  • Cooking is fun and easy. Make the time to cook a meal
  • Our government agencies are supposed to protect us. Tell them to enforce food safety standards.

Citizen's Science - Be Involved

Wildflower Initiatives
There are over 20,000 species of wildflowers in North America belonging to 300 different families. Kissing cousins to the flowering food crops that end up on our dinner table, their colour and beauty grace our landscapes. From the delightful eye candy of wildflower fields to a groaning board full of culinary delights, honeybees make it all happen. Today half of the world-wide honeybee population has vanished.

Often there appears to be a great divide between ecological problems and probable solutions. Not in this case. Without honeybees diversity rich food sources which are naturally grown are in jeopardy. But we can turn things around using practical applications that are accessible to everyone. We just have to shift perspective - abit. Please join us.