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What happened to the honeybees this summer?

It's time we talked about the birds and bees. Well, mostly about bees. There used to be bees honeying up to honeysuckles and apple trees and petunias. Once upon a time, if you were a serious gardener, you'd get stung every summer. Because you'd p...

1939638+Bee on flowerPates.jpg
Mikkel Pates/Agweek

It's time we talked about the birds and bees. Well, mostly about bees.

There used to be bees honeying up to honeysuckles and apple trees and petunias. Once upon a time, if you were a serious gardener, you’d get stung every summer. Because you’d put your hand somewhere you shouldn’t. Somewhere a bee wanted to be.

Have you seen any honeybees this summer? Have you seen those little hummers dusting the pollen off your gladiolus? Have you seen them winging it across your pumpkin patch, looking for a juicy blossom? Nope, me neither.

We really need to find out what happened to those little guys. Or, actually, little girls. The guys are big drones, and let the ladies do all the work. It is bugging me, wondering what happened to those bees. In fact, I get hives just thinking about it.

In a Nov. 16, 2009, article, "Scientific American" reported on colony collapse disorder. That’s when bees leave their hive and never return. No more honey. No more beeswax. No more bees. Vanished, without a trace.

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Beekeepers began noticing as early as 2004 that bees were disappearing. And by 2008, the USDA scientists formed a multi-agency task force to study the mystery. Yeah, that’s how serious it is. The scientists got called in. Their report was inconclusive. They suggested pesticides, bee viruses or bad management of commercial hives. But they really had no answers. Now that is frightening, when scientists throw up their hands in dismay.

By 2013, Richard Branson weighed in on the subject, using his virgin.com website. No, he is not a scientist, he is merely a billionaire. But Sir Richard does know about flying airplanes, so maybe that qualifies him to talk about flying insects, too. Anyway, he says the UK’s Bumblebee Conservation Trust has been monitoring bee numbers, and English scientists report two native species have recently gone extinct. They, too, think pesticides, changing habitats, and loss of native wildflowers may have affected the bees. But in Britain, as well as the U.S., the bees are being a mystery.

"National Geographic" tackled the honeybee mystery next. Their May 10, 2013, article, "The Plight of the Honeybee," quantified the mysterious disappearances. In 2006, beekeepers across the country reported losing from 33 percent to 90 percent of their bees. The bees just vanished, leaving their queens behind in the hives. By 2013 the disappearances had slowed, but the 2012-13 winter stats still showed a 45 percent average bee loss.

Man, that sounds like the plot for a bad B-rated movie. A bee-minus movie.

"National Geographic," like the USDA guys, concluded it was a number of factors that converged upon the bees. A perfect bee storm. But where did the bees go?

Now, I’ve been giving this matter some serious thought. And the first thing I thought about was alien abductions of bees. Maybe there were some short, hairy, six-legged aliens visiting rural North Dakota one spring morning. Those aliens were off on a spring break road trip, visiting all the cool places. Like rural North Dakota.

So they sent a manned drone down to check out our turf. And they saw a bunch of bees, swarming a sunflower field. The aliens thought the bees were earth people. Because, hey, the bees were short, hairy, and had six legs - just like the aliens.

The drones in their drone flyer figured that sunflower field, with all those busy little girl bees, was a singles club. And what do guys do in a singles club? They pick up ladies.

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The alien dudes were so smitten with our honeybees, word got around quickly in Alien Land that there were fine ladies to be found on Earth. More and more alien drones visited, and more and more of our little girl bees were abducted.

Wait, you’re asking, "Why did the queen bees get left behind?" Let’s face it. Those queen bees were really nasty and bossy and sour tempered. They spent all their time sitting in their hives and telling everyone else what to do. And because they sat around all the time, they were really out of shape. They were so out of shape they probably could not even fly any more.

You’ve heard the old saying, "You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar," right? But you haven’t heard the aliens’ twist on that saying. "You can catch more honeys that fly when you leave the vinegar in the can." You can bee-lieve me on that one.

Editor's note: Hope is a regular columnist for the Dickinson (N.D.) Press.

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