By Susan Milius, U.S.News & World Report, 12/16/2009
INDIANAPOLIS, IND—Jeff Pettis continues to break the hearts of mystery lovers.
Two years ago he and other entomologists went to work on what sounded like the scenario for rip-roaring fiction: widespread, unexplained disappearances of honey bee workers that left the youngsters and queen behind for no obvious reason.
His progress report to the national meeting of the Entomological Society of America, however, isn’t pointing toward a fictional crescendo. Pettis argues that there may not be a Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with the candlestick, but a web of subtly interacting factors. At his presentation December 12, he might have been an epidemiologist chiding humans about the need for life style changes: … multiple stresses … subtle interactions … importance of nutrition.
Pettis is an entomologist though, the research leader at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. For at least a year, he has been talking about the interaction hypothesis.
He points out that a working honey bee leads a tough life in today’s landscape of imported parasites and long-distance road trips to agricultural fields that may have low nutritional value but considerable pesticide residues. He proposes that such stresses weaken the bees and interact with other menaces, such as viruses, which can massacre a colony.
Other research, which he didn’t review, has identified viruses that lead bees to expire when they have ventured beyond their hives. That quirk might explain the syndrome’s illusion of vanishing workers…