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A string of warm days, blooming daffodils and crocuses, honey bees buzzing through the air—these are the first signs of spring. This year you may have noticed something amiss in these early signs of spring. This year there are fewer honey bees.
04072013-10It is not a new phenomenon. In 2006, farmers and beekeepers noticed honey bees were vanishing at an increasing and an alarming rate. Their mysterious disappearance was named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Since then, CCD has attracted the attention of scientists, farmers, bee keepers, and politicians worldwide. Last week, Britain’s environment audit committee called for more control on certain pesticides, and urged the British government to take a more active role in protecting bees. The same conversations are taking place in the United States as people try to protect the honey bee from CCD, and contain its affects on our economy, agricultural industry, and lifestyle. 

This week, flit between several websites and collect the inside scoop on honey bees. Discover more about bees and bee hives, find out more about honey, investigate the mysterious disorder that threatens honey bees, and probe why people are all abuzz about CCD.

The ABCs of Bees—

04072013-3What do you know about honey bees? Honey bees are social insects: they have specific roles, they communicate with each other, and they work together. Take a trip inside a honey bee hive. Here you will learn more about the physical and the social structure of the hive. Click on each honeycomb to discover more about the interactions and roles of the honey bees (colony, queen, worker, drone, communication), and how the hive is constructed (nest, comb, food, temperature, defense).

04072013-2Would it surprise you to learn that honey bees communicate with each other? What, you might wonder, do honey bees have to ‘talk’ about? Honey bees use sound and movement to tell other bees where to find nectar. PBS’ Dances with Bees teaches the language of the bees. Fly with a bee on its search for nectar. Click on chapters three through seven to learn honey bee dance moves, and then chapter eight to see if you can correctly interpret a bee’s dance.

The honey bee life cycle is a complete metamorphosis cycle. View honey bees in different stages of their life cycle in the video Honey Bees Life Cycle.  Tap into some fascinating facts about honey bees.

04072013-5Honey bees are most famous for, well, honey. But, they do not produce honey so much as they transform nectar into honey. In the spring and summer, honey bees use their proboscis (straw-like tongue) to drink nectar. They carry the nectar to the hive, where they regurgitate it into the beeswax honeycombs. Nectar is 80% water; honey is around 15% water. To decrease the water content, honey bees fan the nectar with their wings. This process of mixing nectar with the enzymes in a honey bee’s stomach, and then evaporating the water transforms nectar into honey. Left unmolested, a hive of honey bees will cap the honeycombs with beeswax and save it to eat during the winter. However, Winnie-the-Pooh is not the only one who enjoys honey. The average person consumes 1.1 pounds of honey a year. To feed our taste for honey, bee keepers harvest honey. The process is the same whether it is a small-time apiarist or a large company. Sue Bee shares how to harvest honey. Honey is tasty but it is also good business. Meet four people who use honey in their work: a bee keeper, a honey producer, a doctor, and a chef.

Colony Collapse Disorder— 

04072013-6Honey may be delicious but honey bees are important not for the honey they help produce but for the vital role they play in the world’s food web. According to Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, "The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world's food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.” The introduction and opening segment (2:02 to 5:26) of PBS’ Nature episode, Silence of the Bees, explains the big picture of why honey bees are important.

04072013-8As a keystone species, the health of the honey bee population affects US agriculture. Fruit and vegetable farmers do not rely on chance. Honey bees do not only fly free to happily pollinate naturally. They are also transported nationally to fields in flower; watch from 5:26 to 9:21 and 11:11 to 12:19.

04072013-9Honey bees first started disappearing in larger numbers in 2006. Called Colony Collapse Disorder, it is one of Mother Nature’s most important mysteries. Since then, bee keepers and scientists have considered several theories. Watch one last clip from the PBS show: 12:20 to 16:30. Discover how CCD works and some challenges of being an apiarist. There are several theories to explain CCD. (Just for fun, watch Dr. Who’s alien explanation.) One recent hypothesis is that honey bees are being affected by neonicotinoids, the type of pesticide that Britain’s EAC hopes will be more tightly monitored. Discover some ways researchers are working to solve the mystery of the disappearing honey bee. Finally, listen to Pennsylvania State Apiarist Dennis vanEngelsdorp’s Plea for the Bees