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About A Week: The Plight Of The Honeybee

Peter Hinchliffe is shocked by an experiment in which cocaine was administered to bees.

Bees dosed with cocaine behaved in a similar fashion to humans, dancing and "talking'' frantically.

They suffered withdrawal symptoms when the drug was no longer given to them.

Australian researchers dabbed cocaine on the bees' backs to see how they would behave.

When foraging bees return to a hive with pollen or nectar they indicate the direction and distance of a worthwhile food supply with a ritualised dance -- their means of "talking'' to each other.

The results of the research at Macquarie University in Sydney were reported in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Dr Andrew Barron said that bees given low doses of cocaine were more likely to dance for their hive mates, performing particularly vigorous routine to explain where the food was located.

"The poor little buggers had to drink cocaine for a week. Then we just stopped it dead and we gave them a learning test," Dr Barron was reported as saying. "Their performance absolutely crashed."

Although drug addiction in humans is far more complex than that in honeybees, Dr Barron thinks the Macquarie research could have some relevance by indicating which genes are activated when a bee goes cold turkey.

It could perhaps be seen as bad timing for the Macquarie team to release the results of their investigations in a year when there have dire warnings of the decline in bee populations.

Colony Collapse Disorder (or CCD) was the description coined when there was a drastic increase in the disappearance of bee colonies in North America in 2006.

Beekeepers in the UK, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and other European countries are noticing similar declines.

The cause or causes of the syndrome are not yet fully understood, although many authorities attribute the problem to biotic factors such as Varroa mites and insect diseases.

Suggestions have been made that cell phone radiation, pesticides of genetically modified crops could be to blame.

Experts warn that honeybees could die out in Britain in 10 years as virulent diseases and parasites kill off colony after colony.

The British Beekeepers Association says that if the decrease continues at the present rate will disappear completely from Britain by 2018, causing "calamitous" economic and environmental problems.

The decline in honeybees threatens food production in Britain and elsewhere. The Association says that the insects pollinate 90 percent of the UK's flowering food-producing crops worth millions of dollars a year to the economy.

British beekeepers want their government finance research programmes in a major effort to save bees.

Tim Lovett, the association's president, said: "The situation has become insupportable and the Government is unwilling to take steps to avoid disaster.

"We're increasingly unable to cope with threats as they arise. No bees means a huge cost to agriculture, without touching on the ecological and environmental issues. We're facing calamitous results."

Two-thirds of the bee colonies in the nation's capital city, London, were estimated to have died out last year.

Ice cream maker Haagen-Dazs has given $100,000 to the newly revitalized Harry Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the Department of Entomology, University of California to assist in the investigation of the bee population decline.

The funds will benefit sustainable pollination research, target colony collapse disorder, and support a postdoctoral researcher, said Walter Leal, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.

"Honey bees are in trouble," Leal said. "One-third of our nation's food supply depends on bee pollination, but bees are vanishing in massive numbers. This gift will help us to rebuild and revitalize our honey bee program."

Around 40 percent of Haagen-Dazs brand ice cream flavors are linked to fruits and nuts pollinated by bees.

Haagen-Dazs brand manager Josh Gellert said that without honeybees, it would be "tough to source and produce" ice cream. "We hope to take steps toward finding ways to increase the honey bee population and educate consumers on how they can take part in helping save the honey bees."

In 2007 an estimated 800,000 of the 2.4 million hives in the US were wiped out by disease.

A British beekeeper gave the following tips to members of the general public eager to help save bee colonies.
1. Buy locally produced honey. By doing so you are helping to support the pollination and plant life in the area in which you live.

2. Allow weeds to grow in your garden. Well-manicured lawns are wastelands for bees.

3. Buy locally produced food. Small producers plant a variety of things which present bees with food.

4. Do not buy foreign honey. It may be contaminated, and the contamination could spread to local bees who are accomplished honey thieves.

5. Do not spray flowering plants with pesticides.

6. If you find a swarm of bees in your garden or on your property, immediately call in a bee expert. These honeybees are survivors and there is a desperate need for their genetics.



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