Virus may be killing bees

Even if you're not a beekeeper, you should be encouraged by the discovery of a virus that might be the cause of the destruction of thousands of bee colonies nationwide.

Many theories exist regarding the cause of the so-called Colony Collapse Disorder, ranging from new pesticides to invasive parasites. But whatever the cause, the effect is frightening.

Seemingly healthy bee colonies simply disappear overnight. Beekeepers find empty hives in which workers bees have abandoned the queen, something almost unheard of for these insects.

Scientists have been baffled, but earlier this month, they announced the discovery of a virus that could be the cause of the mysterious disease. The virus, called Israeli acute paralysis, may have been brought into the United States in bees imported from Australia. Australian bees don't suffer from the disorder, leading researchers to speculate that the virus acts in concert with chemicals in the environment or with another infectious agent, such as the varroa mite, which is not common in Australia.

Researchers now will try to determine whether the virus, alone or with other factors, can induce the syndrome in healthy bees. If the virus is the culprit, the next challenge will be to find a cure or a way to reduce its spread.

Why should the average American be concerned? Bees are necessary to the pollination of at least a third of the nation's food crops, including almonds, cherries, blueberries, pears, strawberries, pumpkins and citrus fruit.

While some other insects and animals serve as pollinators, such as certain wasps and even bats, none are as prolific or effective as bees. Without bees, for example, the almond industry would virtually cease to exist in this country.

This syndrome has affected nearly one quarter of the nation's beekeepers who have lost from 50 percent to 90 percent of their colonies. The crisis is not over yet, but the discovery of this virus could be a big step forward.

If you love the foods that bees pollinate -- not to mention honey -- keep your fingers crossed.

Scientists have discovered a virus that could be responsible for bee disorder.