Bee problems. They've been in the news a lot - and with good reason. Pollinating many of our major food crops without bees would be difficult to impossible.
Colony Collapse Disorder is the culprit, and all kinds of causes have been pointed to. Diet? Pesticides?
Researchers in Australia have, however, discovered what really happens when a hive "collapses." The hive resorts to child labor.
Worker bees take 14 days to fully mature. When a colony collapses, workers start going out before the critical 14 day point.
That means they don't fly as far, collect less food, and are more likely to be caught by predators. It also means they aren't doing the normal childhood chores of cleaning the hive and caring for eggs and larvae. As the young workers die, even younger bees go out, until suddenly...you don't have a colony.
So, why does a hive engage in self destructive behavior?
Any kind of stress. There is no one cause of CCD. Some hives may collapse because of pesticides. Or fungal infections. Or lack of nutrition. Or weather.
In other words, we aren't dealing with a "disorder" or a "disease." We're dealing with a "syndrome" - a set of symptoms that can come from multiple causes.
And it's happened before. In 1903 in Utah, 2000 hives collapsed, apparently after a hard winter.
What can we do?
Beekeepers may be able to monitor a hive's health by tracking when young bees start to forage. (Yes, we have radio trackers we can put on bees now).
And, of course, we can all do stuff that helps bees, such as planting flowers they like in our gardens and not using insecticides unless we have to.