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About 10 years ago, the news was packed with reports about something called colony collapse disorder — a mysterious phenomenon that involved the disappearance of enormous numbers of bees. Then, the news stopped talking about it. So what gives? Are bees safe now?

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About 10 years ago, the news was packed with reports about something called colony collapse disorder — a mysterious phenomenon that involved the disappearance of enormous numbers of bees. This disorder, also called CCD, had both scientists and economists worried.

After all, without bees, the agricultural industry would be in serious trouble. In a single year, honeybees pollinate more than 12 billion dollars of crops in the United States alone. Then, the news stopped talking about it.

And these days, we don’t hear as much about CCD. So what gives? Are bees safe now?

Well, sort of. And also, not really. The answer is complicated.

Even though it’s often mischaracterized,. CCD doesn’t just refer to the death of a hive. Instead, it’s a specific phenomenon where the majority of worker bees mysteriously disappear, leaving behind the queen, the young, and food reserves.

When it strikes, there aren’t many dead bees in or near the hive. The workers are just gone, which is one reason it’s been so difficult to figure out what causes it. CCD was first identified as a major problem around the winter of 2006, and in 2008, it accounted for about 60% of all hives lost, which equaled hundreds of thousands of colonies.

Luckily, cases have declined since then. In 2013, CCD accounted for only 31% of hive losses, and only about 20% in the first quarter of 2018. But it’s not like we found some way to cure it.

Even today, scientists still don’t know exactly what causes colony collapse disorder. Although factors like disease, pesticide exposure, and poor nutrition all seem to contribute to it, none of these factors seem to have changed dramatically before or during the peak of the epidemic. So CCD just seems to have declined.

Which is great in some ways, but is also kind of a problem. Because if we don’t know what caused or stopped it, we’re not exactly prepared for another huge outbreak. Also, even though cases of CCD have been decreasing, it’s not like the bees are thriving.

From April 2017 to April 2018, it’s estimated that 40% of honey bee colonies in the U. S. were lost. And while some of this loss is normal, the reality is, these insects still face a lot of threats.

For example, varroa mites weaken them, shortening their life spans and reducing the chances that worker bees will make it back to the hive after foraging. The mites also help spread various bee viruses, which can kill larvae, caused deformed wings, and paralyze and kill adult bees. Bees also still suffer from pesticide exposure and lack of foraging habitat.

The good news is, unlike with colony collapse disorder, we do know ways to solve these problems, and researchers and policy-makers across the world are working on it. Scientists are trying to develop treatments for viruses and mites, the European Union has expanded bans on certain pesticides, and people are working to re-establish bee habitats by planting wildflowers. Without bees, food production would fall dramatically, so it’s in our best interests to do everything we can to protect them.

And maybe someday, we’ll find a way to get rid of colony collapse disorder for good, too. Thanks for asking, and thanks to our awesome patrons on Patreon for helping us make this episode! You’re the bee’s knees, and we couldn’t do it without you.

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