Scientists baffled by strange illness killing colonies of honeybees

Scientists across the United States are baffled by a strange illness which appears to kill honeybees by the thousands.

The mystery illness is affecting bee colonies across the country with reports of it's impact from 22 states and some commercial beekeepers have lost more than 50 percent of their bees.

The illness called "Colony Collapse Disorder" could create problems for others too as fruit growers and other farmers rely on bees to pollinate their crops.

Researchers from the Agriculture Department, universities and the industry are analyzing clues and one expert says the bees appear to have alarmingly high levels of foreign fungi, bacteria and other organisms as well as weakened immune systems.

The bee population has been affected in recent years from parasitic mites, which have destroyed hives and devastated wild honeybee populations but beekeepers are saying this illness is the worse so far and the situation is serious.

A colony can have roughly 20,000 bees in the winter, and up to 60,000 in the summer.

Apart from being producers of honey, commercial bee colonies are important to agriculture as pollinators, along with some birds, bats and other insects.

According to a recent report by the National Research Council in order to bear fruit, three-quarters of all flowering plants, including most food crops and some that provide fiber, drugs and fuel, rely on pollinators for fertilization.

So far the researchers have discovered some abnormalities in the behaviour of the bees in affected colonies but no definite clues as to what has stricken them.

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