Flight Of The Honeybee


From their buzz to their stingers, bees often inspire fear.

CBS News correspondent John Blackstone put on a beekeeper's hood in order to get close to the bees Louise Rossberg keeps.

What we should be afraid of, Rossberg said, is that bees are disappearing.

"I worry every time I take a lid off, because you never know what you might find inside your hive," she said.

Her yard is littered with dead and empty hives. The bees in more than 700 of her 800 hives have perished. Beekeepers in 35 states have been hit by the die-off.

"This is an agricultural emergency. Yes, it is," she said.

Discovering what's killing the bees is a top priority. A national task force analyzing hive samples since February is looking at theories ranging from immune system disorders to global warming to pesticides.

"At this point I would say it is still a mystery," said Jeff Pettis, a research leader at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "We have a lot of leads and a lot of ideas but nothing concrete at this point."

The die-off is focusing attention on the vital importance of bees. To bear fruit, most flowering plants need pollen moved from blossom to blossom. Nothing does that job as effectively as a bee. Pollination by bees produces 30 percent of our food.

Shop for fruits and vegetables and most of what you see comes from the bees. Pears and apples, avocadoes, melons and most berries. Without the bees we would have almost none of this.

Every nut in almond-grower Bob West's orchard has been visited by a bee. West needs tens of thousands of bees brought in by commercial beekeepers to pollinate his orchard.

"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure it out," West said. "Without the bees, there's no almonds."

While honeybees raised by beekeepers are by far the most important pollinators, they aren't the only ones. Wild bees, like the bumblebee, have a role too. But wild pollinators have been in decline for years.

"I don't like to say that we have a pollination crisis, but I think the writing is definitely on the wall," said wild bee researcher Claire Kremen of the University of California, Berkeley.

Kremen is searching for ways to avoid that pollination crisis. She's is studying a patch of farmland planted with a rich variety of things wild bees love. Actually, in restoration ecology, they call it the field of dreams hypothesis, she says. If you build it, will they come?

The early signs are they will come.

"Yeah, it's buzzing out here," she said.

An indication, perhaps, that its time for us to start giving back to a creature that gives us so much.