Bee Skeptical – Rumors, Spin, and a dash of Truth by Mark Lauterbach – May 15, 2011

Bee Skeptical – Rumors, Spin, and a dash of Truth by Mark Lauterbach – May 15, 2011

Brown House Corners ON – My name is Mark Lauterbach and five years ago my wife and I became the third-generation owners of Levac Apiaires – an agri-business that produces and packs local honey.  Since we took over from my in-laws, we have been experiencing mysteriously high winter mortality in our bee stocks.  This crisis has now reached epic proportions all over the globe and the cause is yet unclear.  Even the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has weighed into the discussion  LINK.

I’m hoping to post a series of thoughts on the crisis that threatens major portions our food supply by cleaving the speculation from what is so far determined as scientific fact.


In 2006, when we took over, Levac Apiaries ran about 550 colonies.  Today we have fewer than 50 left.  To get a feel for what that’s like I have taken two pictures at a yard I recently unwrapped this spring.  The before picture shows how many colonies were wrapped alive last fall, and the after shows how many colonies are still alive this spring (the dead have been loaded on the truck for further inspection).  It is my hope that these pictures demonstrate how this issue is not merely an intellectual curiosity but instead a horrifying reality affecting not only my ability to provide for our family, but also to benefit the acres of local vegetables this particular yard has pollinated for about a decade.

So what’s going on here?  There are many theories but none have been conclusively able to explain what we beekeepers are experiencing.  Let’s get an obvious possibility out of the way: maybe I’m a terrible beekeeper.  I certainly don’t feel like a successful one but even a poor beekeeper would have to put significant effort into mortally wounding his colonies to experience these kinds of losses year after year.  Traditionally, even bad/lazy/foolish beekeeping practices have not led to losses of half or more colonies year after year.  Bees are amazing creatures and do just fine on their own, thank you very much.  At least that was so in the past.  So while I admit I’m no elite entomologist, I no longer beelieve what I’m experiencing is directly a result of my normal (if poor) beekeeping management practices.

The next most common explaination we come accross is that celular telephones and their transmition towers are to blame.  Recently some well-meaning friends and supporters of our brand have assisted in spreading an article around Facebook that declares

“It’s Official – Cell Phones are Killing Bees”.

While my wife and I address this myth at least a dozen times a year, I find this article particularily troubling and here’s why:

1.) The title and wording of the article is deliberately sensationalized.  But absolute terms like “official” and “kill” might attract attention but do little to tell the truth. The article does nothing to back up its claims. I personally find it counterproductive to proclaim such things without evidence and unfortunately takes away any trust in the publication regardless of how much truth it may contain.

2.) This article was written by Lori Zimmer who describes herself as “a freelance writer, curator, art consultant and the creator of Art Nerd New York- part travel guide, part art history, created for the art obsessed, featuring art sites in NYC beyond the obvious and ordinary.” I don’t see any science degree mentioned here.  In fact, the article certainly holds true to the artistic spirit by adding splashes of color to add vibrancy to a picture of the foggy twilight.

3.) The article is a further exageration of an article originally posted on the Daily Mail website which has the more beelievable title of


“Why a mobile phone ring may make bees buzz off: Insects infuriated by handset signals”.


It’s difficult to see how Ms. Zimmer can take an article that states things like

“..British bee experts say there is still no evidence that mobile phones posed a risk.”  and come up with  “..It’s Confirmed…”.

Oh wait, that’s exactly what artists are good at – spinning reality into a more admirable state.

4.) The original paper released by Doctor Favre can bee found here.   LINK

As you can see, his study does not boast any such conclusion as suggested in the article.  His study has not yet been peer reviewed, either.  I applaud Dr. Favre and the countless other scientists that are working diligently to determine the true cause of our honeybee crisis.  I’m certain he will, as a scientist, continue down the slow and arduous path of the scientific method and I am anxiously awaiting confirmation of several possible causes now beeing intesively explored.  But the connection between his paper and the article floating around Facebook could only bee contrived by an artist as seems to bee the case.


As of this moment, we don’t know why our bees are dying.   I truly beelieve that the only hope to reversing the global decline is to understand what exactly is and is nothappening to the bees.  Only then can we hope to aquire the necessary insight to formulate a solution.

Until then, I’m going to bee skeptical.


In conclusion, I’d like to point out that we are not completely unable to help our polinating friends.  If you have a garden, consider planting bee-friendly flowers.    CLICK THIS LINK

Try to minimize cosmetic use of herbicides and pesticides.  Try your hand at hobby beekeeping by placing a colony or two in your back yard (the rewards are simply delicious!).  But most of all, support your local beekeeper.  And if you don’t know your local beekeeper, consider Levac Apiaries who, after 65 years in business, have always packed only local honey.

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