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Plight of the Bumblebee

Bombus franklini, a North American bumblebee, was last seen on August 9, 2006. Professor Emeritus Robbin Thorp, an entomologist at UC Davis, was doing survey work on Mt. Ashland in Oregon when he saw a single worker on a flower, Sulphur eriogonum, near the Pacific Crest Trail. He had last seen the bee in 2003, roughly in the same area, where it had once been very common. “August ninth,” Thorp says. “I’ve got that indelibly emblazoned in my mind.”

Thorp had been keeping tabs on the species since the late 1960s. In 1998, the US Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management supported an intensive monitoring project to determine whether the bee should be listed as an endangered species, in part because of its narrow endemism. The total range of B. franklini is only 190 miles north to south, from southern Oregon to northern California, and 70 miles east to west between the Coast and Sierra-Cascade Ranges.

Are Commercial Greenhouses to Blame for the Disappearance of Native Pollinators?

When Thorp began to monitor the bee, populations were robust, and he even estimated their range to be slightly further to the north and southwest than previously believed. The study was, in part, an attempt to find out why franklini’s range is so restricted and other western bumblebees, such as its close relative Bombus occidentalis, are not. Thorp was investigating that question when something else occurred: Populations of both bees began to decline precipitously. “All of a sudden the bees disappeared out from under me,” he says.

Bees, and particularly the European honeybee, Apis mellifera, have come to symbolize a deepening ecological crisis in North America. Colony Collapse Disorder, first reported in 2006, has been described as “an insect version of AIDS,” ravaging honeybee colonies throughout North America. It has become a cause célèbre of sorts, embraced by Häagen-Dazs, which features the bee on some of its pints of ice cream and asks consumers to imagine a world without pears, raspberries, and strawberries. In fact, the US has become so dependent on honeybees for agricultural purposes that in 2005, for the first time in 85 years, the US allowed for the importation of honeybees to meet pollination demands. Although millions of dollars have been invested in an effort to pinpoint the cause, the honeybee lobby and some environmental organizations say it’s not enough, and argue that if dairy cows were disappearing, the response would be slightly more engaged.

The decline of bumblebees has received far less attention, though in the public imagination their plight has often been conflated with that of the honeybee. Not only do bumblebees pollinate about 15 percent of our food crops (valued at $3 billion), they also occupy a critical role as native pollinators. Plant pollinator interactions can be so specific and thus the loss of even one species carries with it potentially severe ecological consequences. As E. O. Wilson writes, “If the last pollinator species adapted to a plant is erased … the plant will soon follow.” There are close to 50 bumblebee species in the United States and Canada that have evolved with various plants and flowers over the course of millions of years; our knowledge of those species, however, is incredibly weak.

In recent years, there has been much loose talk about the overall decline of pollinators, and the causes are manifold: habitat loss, pesticides, the spread of disease, and, without fail, global warming. The tendency to make sweeping claims about the demise of all pollinators has led to a lack of specificity when it comes to why particular species have declined, or in the case of B. franklini, disappeared. One of the only news stories to highlight the plight of bumblebees, published in The Washington Post last August, noted that “the causes of bumblebee decline are not scientifically defined and might be a combination of factors.”

A crucial factor, according to Thorp and other scientists, was the rise of the commercial bumblebee rearing industry in the early 1990s, largely for greenhouse tomato pollination. Captive bees, they say, played a key role in spreading disease, which has led to the decline of several North American species, all of which belong to the same subgenus. If their theory proves to be correct, the rapid growth of the greenhouse tomato industry over the last two decades may have inadvertently wiped out a number of important native pollinators.

poster, with drawings of bees; words, Wanted for Pollination of Crops and Wildflowers ... if you have seen Bombus occidentalis please contact

Around the same time that Thorp noticed a decline in B. franklini, John Ascher, a research scientist in the division of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History, was having trouble finding samples of Bombus occidentalis, a common western bumblebee, for his personal collection in California. When Ascher went to graduate school in Ithaca, New York, he was able to find samples of Bombus affinis, B. terricola, and B. ashtoni without difficulty. (BB. affinis, terricola, franklini, and occidentalis belong to the same subgenus. B. ashtoni is a social parasite that specializes on members of this group). But in 2001, the bees began to disappear. B. terricola became rare, Ascher says, and BB. affinis and ashtoni nonexistent. The declines that Ascher, Thorp, and others observed were not site specific. A recent study carried out by Sheila Colla and Laurence Packer at York University in Toronto compared surveys of B. affinis – the species most closely related to B. franklini – from 1971-73 and 2004-06 both in Ontario and throughout its native range (18 sites in Canada and 35 in the US). From 2004 to 2006, they found only one individual of B. affinis, foraging on a woodland sunflower in Ontario’s Pinery Provincial Park. None were found in the US.

“It would be like if you went out one day and there were no cardinals, or there were no mockingbirds anymore,” Ascher says. “It’s that obvious to bee people.”

In 1997, just months before he began his monitoring project, Thorp attended a symposium of the Entomological Society of America during which he learned that an outbreak of Nosema bombi – a fungus that lives in the bees’ intestinal tract – had wiped out commercial populations of B. occidentalis in North America. Breeders couldn’t get rid of the disease and were suffering a shortage of colonies. In an e-mail to a bombus list-serv in 1998, Adrian Van Doorn, then head of the pollination department at Koppert Biological Systems, a commercial breeder, noted that they had been rearing B. occidentalis for several years with few problems, but that in 1997 the rearing stock had “become infected with N. bombi.” There was no treatment for the disease, and the breeders were unable to eradicate it. A competing company, Biobest, suffered similar losses, and both companies would eventually phase out production of B. occidentalis altogether. Today they produce only one bee for distribution in all of North America: Bombus impatiens, an eastern bumblebee whose range extends from Maine to southern Florida. After observing sharp declines of B. franklini and B. occidentalis, Thorp began to wonder if there was a possible connection to the disease outbreak that had swept through the commercial facilities.

Thorp knew that the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) had allowed Biobest to ship queens of both B. occidentalis and impatiens to Belgium, where they were reared in facilities that likely housed the European bee Bombus terrestris, the preferred species of commercial breeders. The colonies were then shipped back to North America and distributed for use in greenhouse and possibly open field pollination in the US. This went on from 1992 to 1994 until APHIS, under pressure from scientists, conservation groups, and even some industry representatives, terminated the practice.

Thorp argues that while the bees were in European facilities that housed B. terrestris, they acquired an exotic strain of N. bombi. When the colonies were shipped back to the US and distributed, the commercial bees, which can easily escape from greenhouses if they aren’t equipped with insect screens (and few were at the time), were able to infect related wild populations. The disease spread from there, carried by impatiens on the East Coast and B. occidentalis on the West.

“Basically, these two species in the West were declining while other bee species were thriving very well in the same areas,” Thorp says. “It was not obvious habitat alteration or pesticides or global warming or other things that could potentially, and have on record, gotten rid of local bumblebee populations in various areas and are threats to bumblebees. This seemed to be very unique and very specific. And then it turned out that people in the East began noticing that two other very closely related species, which were at one time quite common, had also disappeared.”

close-up photo of a bee on a flowerJames BuckleyBombus terrestris may be introducing nonnative parasites to
Japan and Chile.

The evidence to support Thorp’s hypothesis is circumstantial. A sudden and dramatic decline of several species belonging to the same subgenus points to the introduction of an exotic disease. The timing coincides with the outbreak of N. bombi within commercial rearing facilities, and there is an established point of entry via the importation of colonies from European rearing facilities during the early years of the industry. The big question is whether a European strain of N. bombi ever entered the country and whether scientists will ever be able to figure that out.

Both Koppert and Biobest strongly dispute Thorp’s hypothesis and argue that the pathogen entered their facilities from wild bees collected for the purpose of replenishing genetic stock. In the early 1990s, Koppert helped to establish a joint venture, Bees West Inc., which had a rearing facility near Watsonville, California. Tom Kueneman, the founder of Bees West and one of those who opposed the trans-Atlantic shipment of bumblebees, says the company used only three collection sites within about 50 miles of Watsonville, and that there was only one small commercial greenhouse nearby; otherwise, the nearest facilities were at least 150 miles from the company’s headquarters. Kueneman adds that Koppert and Bees West had close to 99 percent of the market share west of the Rockies and that Biobest had a very small presence there. “It’s really a non-story if you want to look at scientific facts,” he says.

Kueneman and Rene Ruiter, Koppert’s general manager, argue that the very wet El Niño years and high humidity of the mid-1990s led to a higher prevalence of N. bombi among native populations of B. occidentalis. When those bees were collected and housed at high density, the disease spread quickly and wiped out the commercial stock.

“Back in the ‘90s, we collected B. occidentalis in California … and it had a lot of nosema,” Ruiter says. “That was the reason why we discontinued B. occidentalis. The bee itself contained nosema and we were unable to stamp it out.”

But at the time, there were few regulations governing what was then a young industry, and no one was keeping a close eye on where the bees were being shipped once they entered the US, if they were housed in facilities with insect screens, and if colonies were properly disposed of after use.

Indeed, the commercial bumblebee industry has grown so rapidly in the last two decades that it is hard to remember what life was like before cherry and grape tomatoes were available in supermarkets year round. Although certain species were exported from England to New Zealand in the 1870s and 1880s for red clover pollination, and attempts to rear bumblebees were made in the early 1900s, their use on a commercial scale is relatively new.

Dr. R. De Jonghe first used B. terrestris for tomato pollination in the mid-1980s and launched Biobest in 1987. “Within a few years in the Low Countries,” writes Hayo H. W. Velthuis in a brief history of the domestication of the bumblebee, “there was hardly a tomato grower left that still used pollination through artificial vibration.” (Artificial vibration refers to the costly practice of hand pollinating tomatoes, the industry norm before the use of bumblebees.) Koppert soon followed suit and began to rear bees for crop pollination on a commercial scale.

Since then, the greenhouse tomato industry has continued to expand – it represents roughly 17 percent of US fresh tomato supply – and with it the use of commercially reared bumblebees. “You can’t grow them on that scale without the bees,” says Martin Weijters, head grower at Houweling Nurseries, a large greenhouse facility in California. Mexico has far outpaced the US and Canada in greenhouse tomato production in recent years, and the use of bumblebees for blueberry and cranberry pollination has become increasingly popular.

In the early 1990s, few had heard of the commercial bumblebee industry and it remains unclear precisely how many colonies were imported from Europe and where they were sent. At the time, there were greenhouse facilities in British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, and California. Biobest’s general manager, Richard Ward, who was not with the company at the time, says they probably imported no more than a few thousand colonies and that most if not all were B. impatiens. Ruiter says that since Koppert never sent queens to Europe, it would have been virtually impossible for an exotic strain of Nosema bombi to enter their rearing facilities.

“It would be like if you went out one day and there were no cardinals or mockingbirds anymore. It’s that obvious to bee people.”

Thorp argues, however, that the fact that Koppert never sent queens to Europe misses the point. They could have collected bees carrying a nonnative strain of N. bombi when they were replenishing their breeding stock. “If the disease organisms had gotten out into the field, they could easily have picked it up in their collections for replenishing their genetic stock,” he says.

Although there is a trail of evidence establishing the shipment of queens to Europe and colonies back to North America, there is little documentation of the path the bees took once they returned. In a 2004 article, Robert V. Flanders, former USDA senior entomologist, said that the imported bees were distributed “throughout the United States with courtesy permits issued by APHIS.”

According to Flanders, the bees were to be received by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture – the company distributing the bees, Beneficial Resources Inc., now defunct, was based in Pennsylvania – where they would be checked for parasites and pathogens. They were also to be accompanied by a zoosanitary certificate from the host country ensuring that the production facilities had been inspected and that the bees were free of pathogens.

Karl Valley, chief of the division of entomology at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at the time (and currently chief of the division of plant protection), says that the inspection involved removing a single bee from each package, placing it in alcohol, and examining the exterior portions of the body for mites. They did not look for pathogens or other diseases specific to bumblebees. He doesn’t recall how many shipments they received, where the bees were sent after they were examined, or if records from that period still exist.

Additional specimens were also sent to the Bee Laboratory in Beltsville, MD. According to a permit issued in 1992 and obtained by Dr. Thorp through a Freedom Of Information Act request, some of the bees were quarantined at the Maryland facility. “When cleared,” the document states, “Dr. Shumanuki [sic] will release the bees to you and notify this office.”

Dr. Hachiro Shimanuki was the research leader at the Beltsville Lab at the time and now lives in Florida. He recalls having examined only one sample of bumblebees from Europe over a three-year period and says that the company provided the sample.

“We certainly couldn’t tell you whether it was a one percent sample or a one-thousandth of a percent sample,” he told me. “It was just something that they sent to us as being typical of the kind of shipment they would like to make.”

“There was really no request to look for any particular disease,” Shimanuki adds. “As I recall, I think all it was was: Would the importation endanger our honeybees? That was really the question I guess that we tried to resolve in some way. That was our concern. But other than that, we didn’t know what to look for.”

There’s another note on the permit record. It states that Dr. De Jonghe, a veterinarian and founder of Biobest, is the largest producer of bumblebees in the world and that the bees are “certified to be free of pathogens.”

Leamington, Ontario (the “Tomato Capital of Canada”) until recently had the highest concentration of commercial greenhouses in all of North America. (That honor now goes to Mexico, where Koppert has had a rearing facility since 2004 and produces B. impatiens, a bee that is not native to Mexico or the West Coast, for crop pollination.) The number of bumblebees needed for greenhouse pollination can reach into the tens of thousands. Houweling Nurseries in southern California, with 124 acres under glass, introduces roughly 20 hives with between 50 and 70 bees twice a week. That comes close to 30,000 bees a year.

Although Houweling installed insect screens on all of its vent windows in 2000 (to keep other insects out, not to prevent bees from escaping), they are not required by law and, without them, worker bees can easily escape, forage for pollen in the wild, and then return to the greenhouse. (According to Kueneman, during the early years of the industry, less than half of all greenhouses were using insect screens.) Hives sent to the West Coast, far outside the native range of B. impatiens, must be equipped with queen excluders – a very narrow rectangular opening large enough only for workers to get out. When the growers are through with the hives, they are required by law to destroy them either by drowning the bees or freezing them overnight.

Michael Otterstatter has studied the interaction between wild bees and pathogens for more than two decades and, five years ago, with a team of scientists from the University of Toronto, decided to look at whether commercial bees had higher rates of disease and if those diseases were spilling into wild populations. Otterstatter conducted a straightforward study that compared the prevalence of four pathogens among bees foraging in close proximity to commercial greenhouses with bees foraging in areas where there were no greenhouses. They sampled from six sites in southwestern Ontario, including Leamington, and found that bees near commercial greenhouses had a much higher rate of disease than those collected elsewhere. In fact, the presence of Crithidia bombi, a gut pathogen that lives within the intestinal tract of bumblebees (like Nosema bombi) and can spread between bees at flowers, was found only in bees foraging near greenhouses.

“It actually turns out to be present in almost 90 percent of the [commercial] colonies we looked at,” Otterstatter says. “Nearly all of them. And the other place that you find this pathogen is in populations of bees right around greenhouses, within a few kilometers….It really looked like a disease that you only find around greenhouses.”

Otterstatter’s research team also found that the prevalence of N. bombi was three times higher at the Leamington site than elsewhere and that the infections tended to be more intense. Otterstatter notes that every study of commercially reared bees conducted in North America, Europe, and elsewhere has revealed very high levels of parasitic organisms, many of which are rare or entirely absent from most wild populations.

The commercial bumblebee industry is relatively young. As greenhouse production has expanded, so has the need for pollinators.

Koppert’s Ruiter points out that his company’s bees were not used in Otterstatter’s study and says that the unusually high rate of disease is not a reflection of the industry at large. “It’s appalling that something like that happens,” he says. “I’m embarrassed for my industry. On the other hand, when I called him about his study, he was forthright in admitting that he didn’t use our material, which is a good sign for us that we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing, which is keeping things disease free.”

According to Ruiter, Koppert’s bees are inspected every two weeks by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and annually by Michigan State University. Ward, of Biobest, says that their facility is inspected on a regular basis without warning and that every shipment of bees made to the US or Mexico must have a health certificate signed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

The rise of the commercial bumblebee industry reveals the limits of APHIS’s regulatory authority. Prior to 1997, when Koppert’s bees were infected with N. bombi, there was a gentleman’s agreement that B. occidentalis would be used only in the western United States and B. impatiens in the east, roughly within their natural ranges. In 1994, when the importation of bees from Europe was discontinued, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy spelled out the agency’s policy in a letter addressing concerns raised by Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA). “Risk assessments conducted by APHIS officials indicate that this type of movement could result in the introduction of bumblebee pests and diseases into new areas, such as eastern species of parasitic nematodes into Western States,” he wrote. Therefore APHIS would not be issuing permits for the movement of eastern species west of the 100th meridian and vice versa.

But now that B. occidentalis has been removed from the market, B. impatiens is shipped freely to western states. When I asked Wayne Wehling, senior entomologist at the USDA, if APHIS still agreed with its earlier risk assessments he said, “Well, yes. That’s the simple answer.

“Certainly we have been all over the board with that,” he acknowledged. “And I think we’ve been all over the board largely because of the lack of clarity in the regulatory authority as to what our capacities really are.”

Although the same concerns apply today, there are few restrictions (other than the use of queen excluders) on the interstate shipment of B. impatiens in the US. The largest greenhouse tomato-producing states – Arizona, Texas, and Colorado – are all states in which the bee is not native, and while the companies are happy to abide by the law, they do not share the concern about the shipment of bees outside of their native ranges.

For conservationists and many scientists, the movement of an eastern species to the West is reckless. If a queen did somehow escape and the bee became naturalized, it could compete with local species for floral resources, and close relatives of B. impatiens would be susceptible to nonnative diseases. “The diseases that are in B. impatiens could be virulent in things out here. We just don’t know and I don’t think we want to risk trying,” Thorp says.

Globally, the issues and potential problems are perhaps even more pressing. B. terrestris has been introduced to Japan and Chile, where it is not native, and has become naturalized. Two parasites previously unknown in Japan, including N. bombi, have entered the country along with the commercial bumblebees. There are reports that B. terrestris has migrated from Chile into Argentina and that the bee may have been spotted in Uruguay as well. It is only in the last few years that the importation of B. terrestris into Mexico has been stopped. According to Wehling, the bee has already established itself in areas surrounding greenhouse production in the state of Michoacan, west of Mexico City.

close-up photo of a bee on a flowerTony WillsThe bee battle echoes the controversy over salmon

In Canada, a laissez-faire approach rules. The greenhouse industry in southwestern British Columbia relies heavily on commercial bumblebees and, although queen excluders must be present on all hives shipped west of the 100th meridian, most greenhouses do not have screens covering the vents, so worker bees would have no trouble escaping. Given the urgency of a memo from Agriculture Canada’s Central Plant Health Laboratory to APHIS in 1993, this is even more surprising:

“We really must get together to discuss a plan of action,” it reads. “It appears that attempts to limit the movement of Bombus is not working. Bombus impatiens is being moved into California. Perhaps there is a need to review the whole policy of Bombus importations into North America before all hell breaks loose.”

The battle over the bees echoes other controversies that have erupted around domestication of previously wild species. One example cited frequently in the literature on bumblebees is the spread of sea lice among farmed salmon in the Pacific Northwest, which led to the decimation of wild populations. Many fishermen, conservationists, and activists warned early on that the proliferation of disease among farmed, nonnative Atlantic salmon could spread to wild fish. They were largely ignored and told that no evidence had been found to prove such a hypothesis and that in fact the pathogens had migrated from wild salmon to farm stock.

Large fish die-offs were observed as early as 1989. In 2001, an outbreak of sea lice in Broughton, British Columbia led to one of the most dramatic declines of wild salmon ever seen. In a single generation, local pink salmon runs fell from 3.6 million spawners to 147,000.

Bumblebees, of course, are not salmon, but some of the same principles apply. “Feedlot farming attempts to break immutable laws of nature by overcrowding animals, lowering their genetic diversity and putting them where they do not belong,” wrote Alexandra Morton in an essay on salmon farming published in 2004. The titles of many such essays and books are becoming all too familiar: “Silent Spring of the Sea,” Fruitless Fall, etc. In the case of bumblebees, there is a wealth of evidence pointing to the risks associated with the importation of nonnative species and of pathogen spillover. Yet, according to Otterstatter, Thorp, and others, the regulations in place are hardly adequate to ensure that risks are minimized. Discontinuing the shipment of bees beyond their native ranges and requiring all greenhouses to install insect screens would be a start, they say.

“Bumblebees are marvelous pollinators and I really wouldn’t want to see the industry come to a halt,” Thorp says. “But I would like to see a lot more protection of the potential environmental risk.”

Adam Federman is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal. He is the recipient of a Polk Grant for Investigative Reporting, a Middlebury Fellowship in Environmental Journalism, and a Russia Fulbright Fellowship. You can find more of his work at


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I don’t know where John Harding got the idea that honey bees have existed for 100-200 million years. The earliest fossils of a species of Apis (the honey bee genus) date from the Oligocene epoch of the Tertiary Period, perhaps 30 million years ago.

By Thomas Culliney on Fri, April 10, 2015 at 5:24 am

Unless my hypothesis is used Bumblebees will falter still further. Nature cannot be forced.

You cannot mass produce bumblebees to order for greenhouse tunnel farming.

Bumblebees require the same element that honeybees do which is EMF(electromagnetic field) to survive.

An updated version of my hypothesis can be obtained direct;
This I have used for many years with no death rate to my colonies.

By John Harding on Wed, June 19, 2013 at 4:43 am

Everyone must defend native polinators rigths!!!

By Maestro Pascal on Tue, June 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm

My name is John Harding and I have found the answer and solution to stop honeybees dying.

It is nothing to do with any man-made product.

Honeybees were dying before the Varroa mite or any pesticides, mobile phones, G M crops or whatever you care to mention was manufactured.

Below, in two parts are the reasons why.

First part is an extract from my book.

The second is from a proof copy leaflet that was presented by myself to all delegates of the International Bee Research Association (IBRA) Conference held in the UK on the 29th January 2011.

Please enjoy reading and realise honeybees have been dying for centuries.

Kind regards


First part;

I am sure you are aware of the plight of the Honeybee worldwide. Beekeepers need an answer. Initially Apiarist worldwide was putting the blame for the Honeybee demise on the doorstep of the Chemical and Mobile Phone Industries.

Honeybees are dying out at an alarming rate with no one knowing why. Pesticides, CCD, GM crops, Climate change, Mobiles, Global warming or perhaps someone or something to blame would be acceptable to everyone.
There are many possibilities being put forward but as yet, no answers. The parasitic mite called Varroa is not helping matters with its contribution.

However there are two common denominators why Honeybees are dying worldwide. A short explanation first.

Chemical companies are investing millions worldwide in Universities, Scientists, Professors, Doctors, Institutes, Beekeeping Organisations and whoever, so they just might find a chemical or bacterial answer for the parasitic mite called Varroa that is sweeping the continents devastating Honeybees. Mobile Phone Companies are in denial not wanting the blame.

Chemical companies need an answer whether it is one or the other so they may recoup their investment and profit from beekeepers worldwide in selling their product.

Was Albert Einstein right in his alleged statement? “If Honeybees die out then mankind will follow 4 years later” the chances are that it won’t be 4 years due to other foods such as rice being available but it will happen eventually as honeybees do pollinate 35% of what we eat.

Once Honeybees are gone, Honeybees are gone for good!

I am a beekeeper of 30 years` experience, keeping up to 300 beehives, until 6 years ago. I have invented beekeeping equipment in that time that I am proud to say, does bare my name, “The Harding Queen Rearing System using Two Queens” and “The Harding Mini Nucleus Complete System” (as seen on the internet website for BIBBA). These are an inclusion of this book, Chapter Three & Five.

During my life’s work things happen and you wonder at nature, how perfect is the Honeybee micro-world, why would you want to change it and yet mankind unknowingly has changed the Honeybees perfect 200 million year existence to what mankind wants.

My beekeeping puzzle is based on observation and logic over the past 30 years with each piece complimenting the next, eventually creating a picture and discovering;

“The answer and solution to the Holy Grail of beekeeping”.

I have always thought there was a natural way to treat the parasitic mite Varroa. After 18 years without treatment of any chemicals or sugar in my hives I have found the answer and it is a “World Exclusive!“

It didn’t start with the Varroa mite 20 years ago, what the Varroa mite did was escalate the problem to what beekeepers had done worldwide, but it did bring it to the attention of the media and mainstream public in the last few years causing an over re-action due to Albert Einstein’s alleged quote.

Honeybees started dying out when man found honey, tens of thousands of years ago when man wanted to domesticate Honeybees to harvest honey, putting them into logs, boxes, skeps eventually beehives but taking them away from their natural source of survival and requirements, which keeps their delicate micro-environment alive.

The first common denominator for the demise of Honeybees is……… Mankind! Well, Beekeepers now and in the past!

So what is the second common denominator?

“I have found a natural phenomenon, the bees need it to survive to complete their micro-existent world, and is free. I am the first person in the world to combine Honeybees with this phenomenon, so you can imagine how the chemical companies are going to react after spending millions around the globe. I have approached Universities and Beekeeping Organisations here, in the UK, and abroad with my hypothesis but due to the infiltration of funding from chemical companies or others, University Scientist, Professors or Scholars are unable to take my hypothesis due to inevitably losing their precious funding or being biased to a chemical or bacterial answer”.

Yes! It is topical, political and controversial! One single person taking on the might of a billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry and the Hierarchy of the Beekeeping World with every beekeeper past and present being the reason for their demise and the answer being a natural phenomenon which is free.

CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) in the USA is also down to Mankind for the demise of their Honeybees having the same problems as us but with one extra reason that is only in the USA.

Whatever you think after you have read my book, I will not be popular with any beekeeper, scientist, professor or anyone looking for a chemical or bacterial answer, but may, just may, stop Honeybees dying out worldwide.

That will be pleasing in itself. I am just a passionate beekeeper that has found an answer and solution. This book is a small part of the invisible world of the mysterious Honeybee that is disappearing too quickly.

“Albert Einstein did not say that famous quote about mankind dying out. It was a misquote from Albert “N” Stein an American beekeeper of the same era as Albert Einstein. However with accent, dialect and poor communication at that time it was misunderstood”.
Second part;

“An HOLISTIC Way in Saving The Honeybee”
Available from
Books Illustrated (Lower High St Stourbridge)
Northern Bee Books UK

For discussion at the International Bee Research Association (IBRA) Conference
held at the University Of Worcester on the 29th January 2011.
Varroa-still a problem in the 21st century?

My name is John Harding, I have kept, researched, experimented, observed and used logic and common sense in trying to keep as much to nature as possible while keeping Honeybees. During the last 30 years I have invented bee equipment that does bare my name. I have not used sugar or chemicals for the past 18 years, due to the first approved licensed treatments killing a percentage of my queens.

I hoped that one day I would find a natural remedy for the parasitic mite Varroa.

This, I have now done.


We know that Honeybees have been on this planet for 100 to 200 million years depending which book you read, so bees have evolved with planet earth. This has brought with it changing climates, polarity change, a change in continents with moving earth plates and a change in flora. In all that time dealing with disease, mites, intruders and any other alien insect or animal, even man.


During this time, their home has been in hollow trees, caves or covered protected position so they may get away from draughts, rain or severe weather to build their amazing honeycomb nest that is kept to an accurate temperature +_ 1 degree to raise the numbers required for survival both in summer and winter.


Thousands of years ago man found honey. Due to the Honeybees perilous home positions being high in a cave or high up in a tree, man decided to re-home the Honeybee into logs, boxes, skeps and then beehives so as to make it easier to harvest honey. A form of domestication.

Has Man made a difference?

No, except for realising a unique space (Langstroth) that Honeybees respect meaning we as beekeepers can inspect our colonies with frames rather than killing off the bees that were in a skep over a sulphur pit. This observation only happened 150 years ago. Queen excluders were also invented.

Are there any other major discoveries?

Yes, Eddie Woods (a BBC sound engineer) discovered 60 years ago inside the Honeybee nest that vibration levels was measured between 190hertz and 250hertz during normal conditions however when swarming this vibration went up to 300hertz.

Was any scientific work carried out at the time or later? No! If it had we could be further along the path of understanding the Honeybee better. Beekeeping today is much the same as it was in the beginning except of course the Langstroth frame space and Queen excluder.

Have Beekeeping books changed?

No, not really except for the amount of knowledge that we have now gained about the mysterious Honeybee, it always seems to be repetition but more in depth, more of a scientific language.

Can we still learn from the Honeybee?



Using observation and logic and asking “What do Honeybees really want?”.

They did not ask to be put into a box or beehive.

However, while in our care, we, as beekeepers, should give them and treat them as if they were in a wild state of nature.

We know they want and use vibration.(Woods)

We know they will respect a unique space.(Langstroth)

We know they use electromagnetic north/south in honeycomb building and in flight.

We know with a strong colony, disease and varroa can be kept to a minimum.

We also know with a colony of strength our rewards of honey is greater.

So! What do Honeybees really want?

Vibration, how is it generated? At the moment by the Honeybees themselves to ward off predators, for communication and to keep their micro existent climate to a perfect temperature for brood rearing, but is that sufficient? Unfortunately NO!

Can it be found elsewhere? YES! Planet Earth (NASA)

Planet earth has evolved, so trees, animals, plants, fish, birds and insects has evolved with it and so too, Honeybees, evolving with the planet. Which is why Honeybees not only need a high vibration of 250hertz to sustain their microenvironment but actively look for it by swarming.

How could man know this? You cannot see, feel, touch or sense it.

Planet earth vibrates constantly at 7.83hertz (NASA) unless disturbed.

Honeybees vibrate at between 190htz and 250htz (Woods)

Honeybees are placed by man in a beehive where man wants it, if this is on 7.83htz the bees have to work 31.9 times greater just to stand still. I have reason to believe this weakens their immune system and defence mechanism becoming an easy target for any alien predators like Varroa. Now, not being able to cope, over-stressed, disorder with eventual collapse, dying or disappearance is inevitable.

Does planet earth vibrate at this higher level of 250htz?

Yes, transmitted upwards through underground rivers.

These rivers are everywhere around the planet, like i.e.; blood vessels in our own body. Remember it has taken 4 billion years to get to where we are today. Everything has evolved together to be where it is and why it is there for a reason. The climate, planet earth and logic has dictated that.

Where does the higher earth vibration come from and how?

Planet earths normal vibration of 7.83htz gets interrupted by hollow chambers of running water/fluid creating friction allowing oscillation to resonate to become an Electromagnetic Wave Vibration which will increase it up to and above 250htz.
Sound familiar?
The rivers/lines of fluid are normally very close to each other varying in depth and only being up to 4 feet wide, like a cobweb, zig zagging their way across the planet at depths of 200 feet or 300 feet creating vibration and rising upwards to the surface and skywards, creating an electromagnetic curtain that reaches to approximately 30,000 feet. (Birds use this curtain to migrate thousands of miles).

I.e. There are 8 rivers/lines in my 3 bed detached house and 80 foot garden, so they are not miles apart.

What is the connection of Honeybee vibration 250hertz and Earth vibration 250hertz?

We know that Honeybees maintain this vibration within their nests (Woods) It is just too much of a coincidence, using logic, that bees are drawn to it when they swarm. They have evolved together over millions of years. Honeybees, Wasps, Bumble bees, Ants, Cats and much more are all being attracted to and found above earths higher vibration.
The honeybees need this higher vibration so they work 31.9 times less. Then are able to deal with any unwelcome intruders, like the Varroa mite.
All organism are attracted to or repelled from these lines.

Are Honeybees drawn to Planet Earth higher vibration?

YES! In various ways.
Yes, every time they swarm. Honeybees always settle above a 250htz line. This has been checked on every swarm collected, about 30, in the past 3 years.
Bait hives
All bait hives placed above a line attracted a swarm.
Abandoned hives
Whenever I was called out to inspect abandoned hives there was always one beehive above a line. This was the only hive with bees in and thriving. The others had died.
Self selection
Apiaries were left for 4 years to ascertain for self selection. After this time the only hives that survived were above a line, all the others had died out.
Varroa resistant strain
In my early days of queen rearing I too thought I had a resistant strain only to find out every one that showed these qualities was above a line. I could not understand why they were so poor when moved to a new site, having shown perfect qualities when in the original site.(This was before I knew about the lines). Any beekeeper that thinks he/she has a Varroa resistant strain. I can guarantee will always be above a line.
Feral Colonies
They have not been killed off by Varroa, it was an assumption, not scientific. Beekeepers are to blame due to putting hives in the wrong place where they die out with Varroa, so no swarms or feral colonies. Feral colonies are still out there surviving. Reduced in numbers, yes, but they are always found above a line.
Sheffield University
I was invited by Ricarda Kather to explain my hypothesis, while there I checked their apiary without any prior knowledge not knowing which was the best or worst beehive as all looked identical. These I believe were used for Varroa hygiene. I found the two best beehives that gave the best hygienic results. These were above a line.

Hygienic behaviour
My apiaries have not changed during my beekeeping so observations have been made pre-lines. During all these years Cleanliness, Hygiene and Grooming have always been noticed to be far better than others within the same apiary not realising at that time they were on a line. Honeybees can deal with Varroa when above a line.
Honey yield
When above a line the honey yield is always 2 or 3 times greater.
The colonies has tended to supersede rather than swarm. Clearly they are in the right place so why swarm?
This does beg the question “Is swarming induced by man?” being put in the wrong place by man. How long have they been trying to tell us?

Case studies
Case study 1 (within the same apiary)

Take 2 hives of similar size and queen (“A/B“), both infested with Varroa, place “A” above a line, place “B” away from the line.

Hive A; within 6 to 8 weeks this hive will have very little Varroa or none at all and thriving requiring supers.

Hive B; after 6 to 8 weeks will still be heavily ridden with Varroa and much weaker.

Next season reverse these same two hives (if B is still alive) You will observe B becomes Varroa free and A is infested with Varroa.
If you wish using 2 apiaries in the same year the above exchange can be done after 3 months.

“I have used this on countless occasions, with many hives, and the results always being the same”

Case study 2 (within the same apiary)

Take 2 hives of similar size and queen (“C/D”), both infested with Varroa, place “C” above a line, place “D” away from the line.

Hive C; within 6 to 8 weeks this hive will have very little or no Varroa (above as A).

Hive D will be as B, heavily ridden with Varroa.

After 3 months change over the queens from C and D, becoming CD and DC.
CD; You would imagine CD would improve D to be Varroa free, not so, it carries on being ridden with Varroa.

DC; Is still Varroa free.

Conclusion for both case studies….......It is not strain or queen quality but position to where and what the beehive is placed above, i.e.; an Electromagnetic Geopathic Stress Line that vibrates at 250hertz.
Is it the honeybees dealing with Varroa or Varroa not liking the higher vibration?
There will always be questions, especially to a way forward. (I have the answer for that to).
This is just one question answered to stop honeybees dying.
Thank you for reading my hypothesis which is in my book and available.
“An HOLISTIC Way in Saving The Honeybee”“


John Harding
Copyright John Harding 2009 07974121472 or 01384423557.

By John Harding on Mon, March 14, 2011 at 7:26 am

Cool bumble bee poster.

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By Peter on Fri, August 27, 2010 at 7:59 am

The honeybee situation is less clear.

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By Steve on Tue, December 15, 2009 at 1:50 pm

The bumble bee is amazing.  I have a huge flower garden and it’s amazing to watch them in action. 

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By Pete on Wed, November 18, 2009 at 4:51 am

After watching a TV documentary on bees, I would like to know why the U.S buys 90% of honey and royal jelly from China?
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By Thomas on Sat, October 31, 2009 at 7:30 am

I have been organically gardening for a long time in this area.  I have an organic gardening co-op that is suddenly growing.

I have had a drop in bees in general but the drop in bumble bees has been dramatic in just the last five years.  This year I saw only one.  The only commercial farming in this High Desert environment is for alfalfa, carrots and onions and we have no greenhouses in the area to speak of.  I would really like to get the bumblebee populations up.  Any suggestions?

By Robert Kerekes on Thu, September 17, 2009 at 7:59 am

The Xerces Society is working to document the status of the declining bumble bees mentioned in this artice. For more information, please visit:

To help search for these rare bumble bees, you can download pocket identification guides for the rusty-patched bumble bee (, the yellowbanded bumble bee ( and the western bumble bee (

By Sarina Jepsen on Tue, September 15, 2009 at 4:15 pm

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