The [Ongoing] Case of the Vanishing Honeybees

Raise your hand if you get nervous and/or try to move away whenever a bee is buzzing around you.

Me too, I’ll admit, if only because of a couple painful stings throughout my whole life. Which were likely from wasps or hornets, not bees. But working with Sandra Markle on The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery, a new Millbrook Press title for Fall 2013, renewed my appreciation for and fascination with the humble honeybee.

Did you know that honeybees are crucial to the production of one third of our food? One third! The range of plants they pollinate is that wide. And it’s a lot of the good stuff! Apples, raspberries, watermelon, almonds, cucumbers… They’re also important for the dairy industry, since honeybees pollinate alfalfa hay used in animal feed. Plant pollination is really just a result of bees trying to feed themselves on nectar and pollen, but it’s essential for humans too. In fact, it’s common practice for commercial beekeepers to truck their bee colonies around the country so massive numbers of bees can pollinate regional crops such as almonds and citrus fruits at different times of year—otherwise, local bees couldn’t pollinate enough of a crop to meet demands.

So it’s a scary fact that honeybees have been disappearing in large numbers since 2006. Beekeepers have been losing around 30 percent of their colonies each year. Scientists named this phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, and they have been scrambling in recent years to determine the causes and the solutions. Are honeybees dying because we’ve replaced areas of bee-pollinated crops with housing developments and crops such as corn, which don’t produce nectar? Is the modern practice of traveling colonies too taxing on the bees? Are varroa mites or a fungus to blame? What about pesticides that end up on plants the bees visit?

The questions around CCD—and the answers that scientists have discovered thus far—are complex, to be sure. But in The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees, aimed at upper-elementary students, Sandra Markle clearly breaks down the potential culprits and lays out possible solutions. She also gives readers helpful background about the honeybee life cycle, roles within the colony, and why honeybees are so crucial to our food system.

One of the many scientists that Sandra Markle interviewed while researching the book was Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota, right here in the Twin Cities. Dr. Spivak and her team have been breeding a type of bee called hygienic bees, which fight back when varroa motes and some diseases attack the hive. She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2010 for her work, and this summer she gave a TED Talk that’s a great summary of CCD and how everyone can do their part to help stop it before it’s too late. Check it out:

Convinced it’s time to take action? Then get your hands on The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery, and share it with all the young readers you know so they can be part of the solution!

Here are some of the good things reviewers are saying about Markle’s The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: 
The Guardian: