Carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns is a traditional fake scare for Halloween. In the future, the real scare may be what happens to the pumpkins themselves. If an eerie malady demolishing the nation's honeybees takes hold in Illinois, there may be a lot fewer jack-o'-lanterns glowing in the night.
Carving pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns is a traditional fake scare for Halloween.
In the future, the real scare may be what happens to the pumpkins themselves. If an eerie malady demolishing the nation's honeybees takes hold in Illinois, there may be a lot fewer jack-o'-lanterns glowing in the night.
"If the bees are all gone, there are no pumpkins for harvest," said Kurt Christ of Christ Orchards near Elmwood, who plants four to five acres in pumpkins each year.
Carl Uhlman has raised pumpkins near Morton for at least 30 years, and has 40 acres of them still in the field this year. He said he was fortunate and had enough wild bees to handle the crop without renting hives. That isn't always the case.
"Basically, that's how pumpkins pollinate," Uhlman said.
"To my knowledge, pumpkins are only pollinated by bees," said Steve Chard, apiary inspection supervisor of the Illinois Department of Agriculture Bureau of Land and Water Resources.
This is more than a holiday decorating problem in a state that ranks first in the nation for pumpkin production - and central Illinois produces most of that total. The problem is colony collapse disorder, or CCD, the latest in a long line of ailments affecting the nation's bees. There have been no confirmed cases in Illinois, but it is tricky to prove, and CCD has been cited in several bordering states.
"It's just one more thing beekeepers need to be prepared to deal with," said Janet Hart, co-owner of Hart's Honey in Brimfield and secretary of the Heart of Illinois Beekeepers Association. "It used to be you could just put a hive out in your backyard. Now you need more knowledge."
Varroa mites and viruses have been huge problems in the past, but the looming threat of CCD is spooky enough for a Halloween story. In early 2007, more than a quarter of the nation's bee colonies simply disappeared. To this day, no one knows why.
"There's still no clear-cut identification of the cause or causes," said Gene Robinson, entomologist and director of the bee research facility at the University of Illinois in Champaign. He said there were similar 20 to 50 percent bee losses in 2007 and 2008. "It is very serious."
One suspected cause is pesticides. The Natural Resources Defense Council has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for refusing to disclose records about that possibility.
"The federal government has been painfully slow to deal with this issue," said NRDC spokesman Josh Mogerman. "Until this issue has been solved, we need to look closely at the pesticides and fungicides that we are all using to be sure that they are not contributing to the problem."
He points out it could be a year-round catastrophe. Bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of U.S. crops.
"Anything you take a bite of - fruit, vegetable, anything - bees probably pollinated it," said Heart of Illinois Beekeepers Association treasurer Mike Moens of Eureka. "It's getting down to where people have to save the honeybees."
Terry Bibo can be reached at email@example.com or (309) 686-3189.