Have cell phones made bees buzz off?

CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder, is a situation in which colonies of bees disappear. From 2006 onward, the beneficial insects decreased dramatically in numbers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The trend continues today. Now, scientists believe they have located the source of the bees’ demise: cell phones.

When a team conducted research in Lausanne, Switzerland, they saw that a cell phone’s signal confused bees, and could in fact kill them, Inhabitat blogger Lori Zimmer reports. Over 83 additional experiments yielded similar results, she writes.

The experiment was led by researcher Daniel Favre, who studied the effect of a cell phone, which, in call-making mode, was placed near, inside, or beneath a beehive. The result was that bees sensed the signals the phones transmitted when they rang, and worker bees responded by “piping,” which is a sound bees make when they’re about to swarm. The phone signals rendered the bees lost and disoriented, as was observed when they began to fly erratically.

Dr. Favre said he believed that the confusion “triggered by mobile phone signals could have dramatic consequences in terms of colony losses,” according to the Environmental News Network.

In the last 30 years, the population of bees overall in the U.S. and UK has decreased by nearly half, said the report.

The impact this will have on the environment, particularly the pollination of crops that are important to people, is yet to be fully understood. Moreover, if mobile phones are responsible for the death of bees, it would seem logical for people to focus on what cell phones could do to human beings, as well.

The full effects of cell phones on any living organism are not yet fully known. Mobile phones use electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range, and, where people are concerned, part of the radio waves emitted by a cell phone handset are actually absorbed by the human head.

In late May, the World Health Organization issued a statement that contradicted a previous one which had assured people of the safety of cell phones. Now, the WHO has said that it found enough evidence to regard cell phone radiation exposure as potentially “carcinogenic to humans.”

Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told PBS, “The biggest problem we have is that we know most environmental factors take several decades of exposure before we really see the consequences. What microwave radiation does is similar to what happens to food in microwaves, essentially cooking the brain. So in addition to leading to a development of cancer and tumors, there could be a whole host of other effects like cognitive memory function, since the memory temporal lobes are where we hold our cell phones.”

Some studies, however, dispute the extent of damage or alteration to the brain, if any.

As for the bees, the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Assocation posted an article by entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois questioning the validity of Dr. Favre’s research. “It’s kind of alarming how readily the press picks up these stories of studies, ” Berenbaum wrote. She argued that there were “a few problems” with this study, remarking, “The cell phones were placed inside the hive, which of course does not replicate reality. Also, there’s no bee death – just piping.” And, she added, “there was no swarming. So it’s very hard,” she said, to see the presence of any “tenable connection.”

And here’s another take on the causes of the bee population decline.

Nevertheless, the Environmental News Network noted that even if cell phones are not the direct cause of CCD, “they certainly are not helping.”

Photo: Honey bees carrying pollen. Kadri Puna, on Wikipedia


Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page. As a writer, he has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have also appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the 2010 BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Illinois and frequently visits his home state of New Jersey. He likes cats, red wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he runs a heavy metal reaction channel on YouTube, draws and inks comic book style art, and is writing a fantasy novel.