Vanishing Honeybees and Mobile Phones


This spring has seen a number of articles describing the mysterious disapperance of honey bees throughout the world. See, for example, here and here, here and here. All these articles describe how critical honeybees are to agricultural production (something that those of us who live in rural areas know well). No one, however, seems to know what might be causing the mysterious “colony collapse disorder.” According to the New York Times,

Now, in a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, bees are flying off in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their colonies. And nobody knows why. Researchers say the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

Theories about the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder abound with viruses, mites, a fungus, pesticides, suburban sprawl and global warming being the most likely culprits. Unfortunately, there is no evidence connecting any of these to the phenomenon.

This makes an article that appeared in the British paper, The Independent, today intriguing.

It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world’s harvests fail. They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world – the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops.

Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe – was beginning to hit Britain as well. The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives.

As Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a “hint” to a possible cause.Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: “I am convinced the possibility is real.”

I read this article with a feeling of dread. Because if, in fact, Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by mobile phone radiation then honeybees are doomed. If the cause were a virus, fungus or even a pesticide, we would take action. But there is no way we will give up our mobile phones. Just as we will never be able to “prove” dams are driving the salmon to extinction, the mobile phone-honey bee connection will never be strong enough to bring about political action.


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