Chennai, November 24, 2011: Nowadays any news that mention 'colony collapse disorder in honey bees' attracts media attention. This is because of the increasing awareness of the importance of honey bees and other pollinators for agricultural production.
Electromagnetic radiation from mobile pones and transmission towers are reported to cause honey bee colony collapse in researches in Kerala and in Punjab. Researchers of the Madurai Kamaraj University, Tamil Nadu have now come up with the suggestion that disposed paper cups outside fruit-juice and coffee shops are contributing to the honey bee colony collapse.
At the outset, it may be stated that there are no serious reports, by beekeepers or bee researchers, of colony collapse disorder in India either of the European bees or of the Oriental honey bees. Even the 10-member Expert Panel constituted by the Government of India's Ministry of Environment and Forests, to go into the issue of the effect of radiations from communication towers on wildlife, including birds and bees in the country (see news dated October 27, 2011 in this site), did not include any bee scientist. The Report of the Expert Panel too got wide media coverage.
The news about disposed paper cups causing honey bee decline (see the report in the Times of India dated November 23, 2011) is based on the research communication* by a team of researchers from the Madurai Kamaraj University in the latest issue of the journal Current Science. The team studied the foraging of honey bees on the sweet residues in discarded paper cups in waste bins outside juice and coffee shops in rural and urban areas. A considerable population of honey bees that visited the disposed cups, according to the researchers, fell into the liquid in the cups and were unable to fly, and ended in death. These cups thus acted as 'death traps' for the honey bees. The photographs presented in the paper do not show clearly the species of bees, but the visible colour pattern on the abdomen and the size indicate the bees to be the dwarf bee, Apis florea, that are common in the region. The bees are not reared for honey production, though they too are important pollinators. Neither A. cerana nor A. mellifera bees are seen in any of the three photographs given.
Honey bees do forage on any source that provides sugar. Bees of the three indigenous honey bee species visiting sweetmeats in shops is a common sight in town and city markets in India. Apparently the juice, coffee or tea residues in paper cups are not attractive to bigger honey bee species. If they visited the paper cups, they could fly out with ease and do not drown in the small quantities of liquid.
* Reference cited: Chandrasekaran, S., Arun Nagendran, N., Krishnankutty, N., Pandiaraja, D., Saravanan, S., Kamaladhasan, N. and Kamalakannan, B. 2011. Disposed paper cups and declining bees. Current Science 101 (10): 1262.