Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony Collapse Disorder (or CCD) in honey bees is a term that first originated in the US in 2006, to describe exceptional honey bee colony losses, as opposed to ‘natural winter mortality’ (or natural winter losses). However, colony losses have been witnessed throughout Europe, with the result that there have been many campaigns.

Firstly, it should be noted that many beekeepers report finding a few dead honey bees during winter, and these are dead bees that are cleaned out and removed from the hive.

Additionally, it is thought that around 10% would be an “acceptable loss”, whilst some source state 10 – 15%.

However, exceptionally high losses have raised alarm bells. So what kind of losses are we talking about?

US surveys showed colony losses of 31% in Autumn 2006, and Spring 2007 - but some beekeepers reported higher losses.

Further losses of 35% over 2007 – 2008 were also recorded. In 2010, overall honey bee losses in the US were estimated at 34%. Worrying reports of similar losses have occurred in Europe. The term is often used synonymously with expressions such as ‘vanishing bees’ and ‘disappearing bees’.

The aim of this page is not to attempt to explain what CAUSES colony collapse disorder. Scientific research into the causes of colony collapse disorder are ongoing, with a number of factors suspected. This page merely provides a description of CCD itself. 

Perhaps it is worth mentioning that there may be some confusion around the phenomenon, and it could be that this hinders scientists and researchers in their efforts to understand the problem. This issue was highlighted in a report: “Bee Mortality and Bee Surveillance in Europe”, 2009, in the following comment:

    “....there is frequent confusion between two different phenomena:

    • CCD, that is a rapid loss of the bees of the colony, with no dead bees inside the beehive, occurring during the beekeeping season,, and mainly studied in America;

    • The increase of winter mortality, which is mainly studied in Europe.”

What is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)?

For the purpose of defining Colony Collapse Disorder, MAAREC (Mid Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium), have provided the following definition and description as follows:

“ It is characterized by, sudden colony death with a lack of adult bees in/in front of the dead-outs. Honey and bee bread are usually present and there is often evidence of recent brood rearing. In some cases, the queen and a small number of survivor bees may be present in the brood nest. It is also characterized by delayed robbing and slower than normal invasion by common pests such as wax moth and small hive beetles.

Characteristics of CCD

Colonies impacted by CCD have the following characteristics:

• The complete absence of adult bees in the hive, (in some cases the queen and a small number of survivor bees are present in the brood nest) with no or little build-up of dead bees in the hive or at the hive entrances.
• The presence of capped brood.
• The presence of food stores, both honey and bee bread, which is not immediately robbed by other bees. Invasion of common hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle is noticeably delayed in dead-out equipment left in the field.

What are the early signs of CCD? 

In cases where the colony appears to be actively collapsing:

• There is an insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present.
• The workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees.
• The queen is present, appears healthy and is usually still laying eggs.
• The cluster is reluctant to consume feed provided by the beekeeper, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement.
• Foraging populations are greatly reduced/non-existent.”

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