Researchers Try To Pinpoint Cause Of Honeybee Deaths

Friday, February 16th 2007, 4:16 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A mysterious disease is wiping out thousands of honeybee colonies in 21 states, including Oklahoma, and some bee farmers here don't know if the worst is yet to come for their hives.

The ailment has researchers in Montana, California and Pennsylvania, among others, scrambling to figure out why some bees are coming down with an ailment called colony collapse disorder.

In Oklahoma, farmers say they won't be able to tell how hard-hit their bees are until it gets warmer and they can get access to their hives.

So far, no widespread colony losses have been reported in the state, officials said Friday.

``In this area, there are a few isolated cases where bees have just disappeared out of hives,'' said Kenny Hammond, president of the Oklahoma State Beekeepers Association. ``It could be as simple as a mite problem.''

But Hammond, a hobbyist beekeeper, is bracing for the worst when it warms up.

``That poor one- or two-hive guy, if (the disease) hits him, it's toast,'' he said.

First signs of colony collapse disorder cropped up in the Midwest, officials said. They believe the problem began a couple years ago but have yet to pinpoint a cause of the deaths.

Gary Grose, a commercial bee farmer who runs the Tipton Valley Honey Co., said there were too many variables, such as Oklahoma's brutal drought or chemicals used in mainstream agriculture, that might explain how the bees could be affected here.

Since the 2005 drought, Grose's 1,500 colonies have been cut in half. If widespread disease does hit, he says he could lose his business.

``It's just been a steady spiral down,'' he said. ``Our industry is getting the triple whammy.''

Researchers are expected to discuss the disease in Florida in a couple weeks. Meanwhile, a Montana-based company is surveying beekeepers across the country to find out how widespread the problem is.