Where Did All the Bees Go?

 Dave Hackenberg is not your average backyard beekeeper. He and his son run a business managing three thousand hives, moving them around the country in a tractor trailer to pollinate blueberries, almonds, and pumpkins from California to Maine. But one day several years ago, Dave opened a hive in Florida and was faced with a mystery: where were the bees?

What he found that day astonished him, as Loree Griffin Burns reports in “The Hive Detectives, Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe.”  Not only were the twenty million bees in his four hundred hives gone without a trace, but there was no sign of any other insects, either. Usually an abandoned hive is crawling with honey robbers, but not this time. “It was as if something was in the hives, something so awful that the bees who lived there were forced to leave, something so sinister that other insects refused to enter, even for free honey.”

Hackenberg immediately contacted everyone he could think of, and soon scientists launched an investigation into what quickly proved to be a nation-wide disaster. Colony Collapse Disorder, as the syndrome came to be known, was making many bees so sick that they could no longer fight off routine infections. They were flying away from their hives and dying in droves.

Burns introduces readers to a team of scientists from Penn State and elsewhere as they perform autopsies on bees, measure pesticide levels and analyze bee samples for pathogens. The multiple potential causes of CCD, from mites to pesticides to viruses, make the scientists’ work enormously challenging. There’s no perfect solution in sight even now, but scientists recently reported that they suspect a combination of a fungus and a virus as the cause of CCD. 
Extensive photos of bees, scientists and apiarists at work illustrate every page, and Burns has appended lists of books, movies and websites to lead young readers ten and up to more information.
Charles Micucci’s charmingly illustrated “The Life and Times of the Honeybee” covers much of the lore behind honeybees and how to keep them. From egg to bee to honey in the comb, the lives of honeybees are detailed with an eye for the odd fact. Did you know that the technique of calming bees by smoking their hives was used as early as 8000 B.C., when people hunted bees with torches? Or that honeybees were unknown in the New World until the first ones were brought to this country by the Pilgrims? 

Micucci also explains the bees’ famous “dance,” the method they use to communicate to other bees where pollen can be found, a phenomenon that won zoologist Karl von Frisch the Nobel Prize in 1973. Detailed diagrams and cartoony drawings illuminate each page.

Straying just a bit from our honeybee theme, take a look at storytime favorite “The Giant Jam Sandwich.” John Vernon Lord’s tall tale about the day that four million wasps flew into town, creating a nasty, buzzing nuisance, has remained in print for almost forty years. The villagers’ ingenious solution – trapping the wasps in an enormous jam sandwich – is detailed in illustrations that show the mountainous loaf of bread, the enormous oven and the spreading of the butter and strawberry jam with the help of a dump truck. Janet Burroway’s rhyming text is a joy to read aloud. 
First published in the Free Lance-Star on October 25, 2010.