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Is corn syrup killing the honeybees? (+video)

A trio of recent studies faults a common family of corn pesticides for disorienting honeybees, potentially leading to colony collapse disorder. The German chemical company Bayer, which manufactures the pesticides, disagrees.  

By Trevor Quirk / April 6, 2012

In this image a bee is hovering above a Marigold flower. Recent studies have found ways that even low doses of widely used pesticides can interfere with the memories and homing abilities of harm bumblebees and honeybees.

Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko

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Since 2006, something awfully strange has been happening to North America's commercial beehives. Beekeepers are finding that many of the boxed hives ranged throughout their apiaries have been inexplicably abandoned by worker bees. These ghost-hives typically have ample stores of honey and pollen, and hold gestating colony broods, sometimes even a lone queen.

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Dr Reese Halter speaks to the Daily Planet from Camerillo, Calif on the missing 50 billion honeybees.

This phenomenon is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and two papers published recently in the journal Science say that it is correlated with the presence of a ubiquitous class of insecticide called neonicotinoids. A newer study published in the Bulletin of Insectology suggests that this insecticide is introduced into bee colonies through, strangely enough, high-fructose corn syrup.

The insecticide was developed by Bayer AG, the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant most recognized for its original brand of aspirin. Today, the $53 billion company has released a rebuttal to the suggested link between neonicotinoids and Colony Collapse Disorder.

The population of feral honeybees in the US has been steadily decreasing for the past half-century, and is now almost nonexistent. In the same timescale, commercial honeybees experienced a shallower decline in population. However, since 2006, they have started rapidly disappearing in North America and Europe. Many scientists agree that the confluence of factors that drove population decline before 2006 is still in effect, but that something probably changed in light of the new rash of colony collapses.

Identifying the causes of CCD is a complex proposition, but the disorder's symptoms and effects are quite simple. It usually occurs when worker bees first depart their hives to forage, in winter or early spring. Then they don't return. Their hives typically have an active queen, ample food, and a developing brood – not exactly the home a bee would abandon under normal circumstances. Many scientists have since suggested that pesticides may disorient bees or affect their memory, making them unable to navigate home.

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