Honey bee disappearing disease

The possible relation between electomagnetic fields and the Honey bee disappearing disease was investigated in this Science Shop project.

Among the suspected causes in the lost honey bee colonies mantra, radio frequent Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) often are mentioned but they seldom pertain as a subject of study. However, it is known that bees can detect electromagnetic fields and respond to these fields. Effects of EMF on bees can thus not be ruled out, and many people are concerned about possible effects on bees as well as other organisms including man.

An experiment was conducted in 2011 in which twenty honeybee colonies were subjected to the radio frequent radiation of a nearby antenna, shielded (control) by placing in a Faraday cage, or exposed by placing in a comparable cage with plastic instead of metal netting. Field strengths inside and around the cages were registered and analysed.

The research shows that individual bees from the exposed and the control group:

had comparable developmental success from egg to larva to adult bee

  • had comparable orientation skills
  • had comparable flight performance in their adult stage
  • had comparable morphometric and physiological parameters at emergence
  • had comparable longevity

And at the colony level, the exposed and non-exposed colonies:

  • had comparable development (production of brood and young bees)
  • differed in winter survival, in the sense that more non-exposed than exposed colonies survived. This parameter however was statistically not testable, since the colonies were all statistically nested in a same cage.

These results make EMF into a non-probable negative factor for both individual honey bees as for honey bee colonies. Among the factors that almost certainly contribute to the loss of colonies are the parasite Varroa destructor, lack of food (too few flowers, hence too little pollen and nectar) and dwindling bee keeper skills. Factors that might contribute to the loss of colonies are environmental pollution (a.o. pesticides and medication used by bee keepers), several parasites and diseases in honey bee, and probably climate change. It is important that research is conducted into these factors.

The difference in winter survival urges for additional research.