Part One: What’s happening to our bees?

| 10/22/2008

SPECIAL SERIES: Bee crisis – OOIDA member credited with discovery
Editor’s note: Staff Writer Clarissa Kell-Holland searches for answers from OOIDA member David Hackenberg of Lewisburg, PA, who is credited with discovering colony collapse disorder or CCD, a mystery that is decimating bee hives worldwide.

Submitted Photo

OOIDA member David Hackenberg of Lewisburg, PA, is credited with discovering colony collapse disorder, which is decimating bee hives worldwide.

Honeybees are in serious danger worldwide, and few know more about it than an OOIDA member and beekeeper from Pennsylvania.

David Hackenberg said his lifelong fascination with bees began with one hive as part of a Future Farmers of America project during his freshman year in high school in 1962. By the time he graduated, he had a few hundred hives.

Now – 46 years later – Hackenberg of Lewisburg, PA, has a migratory operation that consists of more than 3,000 honeybee hives, which he trucks all over the country to pollinate the nation’s fruit and vegetable crops.

However, his name is most widely known in the United States and internationally as being the person credited with discovering the mysterious disappearance of millions of honeybees. Colony collapse disorder – or CCD –is decimating bee hives worldwide.

Hackenberg told Land Line Magazine in July that he’s dedicated the past year and a half of his life to trying to unravel the mystery of why the world’s bees are “crashing.”

“I was the one that stirred things up, so I guess I am the one that’s ‘accused’ of, for better or for worse, of discovering this whole mess,” he said. “We (beekeepers) knew we were having problems with our bees starting back in 2004, but nobody could get a handle on what was going on.”

In the fall of 2006, Hackenberg and his son, Davey, who helps run the family operation, headed down to Florida to check on 400 of their bee hives that they had trucked down there a few weeks earlier.

When he opened the first hive, Hackenberg said there was just silence, no buzzing sound. The queen and all of the adult bees were simply gone – having abandoned their newly hatched brood, which he said they typically don’t do. He opened the next box and then the next one. The results were the same: The adult bees had simply disappeared.

In his 46 years in the business, Hackenberg said that was the first time he had experienced having bees just vanish. He even got down on his hands and knees and looked to see if there were any dead bees on the floor, but found nothing.

After getting over the initial shock, Hackenberg said he started going through all the possible scenarios of what he could have done wrong.

“Beekeeping is a lot like trucking,” Hackenberg said. “When something goes wrong with your truck, you immediately think, ‘What did I do wrong? It’s the same with bees. When most of your bees die off for no good reason, you blame yourself first.”

Puzzled, Hackenberg picked up the phone and started making calls to other beekeepers and scientists at Pennsylvania State University to find out if they were experiencing similar problems.

Many beekeepers he talked to didn’t speak up initially.

“When this first started happening and hives of bees were just disappearing, some were blaming themselves that maybe they didn’t have their management under control or something like that,” he said.

So what was causing such chaos in the hives? Read Part Two of “Bee crisis” on this Web site on Thursday, Oct. 23.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer