Video: Where have all the bees gone?

By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/5/2007 11:47:53 AM ET 2007-04-05T15:47:53

Joe Blair is trying to smoke out clues to America's unsolved mystery — the vanishing honeybees.
       
"We're finding the hives empty like that," Blair says. "With no bees, no sign of any reason for them to have died or left."

It is called "colony collapse disorder." Beekeepers in 27 states report disappearing honeybees. That's bad news for farmers like Steve Hirsch, whose 90 acres of fruits and vegetables in Chillicothe, Ohio, need the bees.

Honeybees are the pollinator of choice "because they work so hard," Hirsch says. "They call them worker bees, you know."

Moving from flower to flower, the bees help produce $15 billion of seeds and crops each year — everything from the alfalfa in cattle feed to the pears in Hirsch's orchard.

The bees have only a short amount of time to do their work.

"When the flowers are open, that's the window that they're going to do their pollination work," Hirsch says.

That's prime time for Joe Blair, Ohio's largest beekeeper. But his bee supply has been cut in half.

"It's devastating to business," he says. "I mean, it's — we're honestly almost wiped out."

So far, no one knows why the bees are disappearing. It might be three or four or five different things intersecting all at the same time and affecting the honeybees' health dramatically.

As scientists try to solve this mystery of nature, the laws of supply and demand are already at work in the grocery aisle. If there are fewer bees to pollinate, farmers could see smaller harvests and that could mean higher prices at the supermarket.
     
Steve Hirsch needs 12 hives to do the work of 20 this year.

"We're taking a little bit of a chance," he says, hoping the bees that are left will work overtime in the nation's farm lands.

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