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Harvard Study Advances Knowledge Of Colony Collapse Disorder, Honeybee Die-Off

Flickr user TexasEagle

A new study by Harvard University explains a little more about colony collapse disorder (CCD), the name given to the sudden and widespread die-off of the honeybees that our food supply depends on for pollination.

The findings may also explain why Texas bee hives are doing better than those in other parts of the country.

Scientists have suspected for some time that a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids is responsible for CCD.

But the new study, which is an extension of existing neonicotinoid research, suggests neonicotinoid-infected bees are dying of exposure to the cold.

Dr. Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard School of Public Health, said the pesticide most likely causes a neurological problem.

"In the honey bee study, they put a little bit of the neonicotinoid on a bee and they can track how quickly the bee comes back," Lu said. "And they found out that the amount of time for them to complete one trip is increased according to the dosage they give to them. Eventually the bee lost the way to go home."

Lu said that the bees’ ability to survive the cold is also diminished by the effects of the poison.

Lu said an EPA study last year attributed colony collapse to several factors, including parasites and bacteria. But Lu refuted those findings, reasoning that if bees die from disease, the hives would be filled with dead bees. He said collapsed hives are empty.

Lu said neonicotinoids are used extensively across the country, but Texas bees may not be dying off as extensively because the winters here are milder.