Dave Hackenberg makes a living moving honeybees. Up and down the East Coast and often coast to coast, Hackenberg trucks his beehives from field to field to pollinate crops as diverse as Florida melons, Pennsylvania apples, Maine blueberries and California almonds.
As he has done for the past 42 years, in the fall of 2006 Hackenberg migrated with his family and his bees from their central Pennsylvania summer home to their winter locale in central Florida. The insects had just finished their pollination duties on blooming Pennsylvanian pumpkin fields and were now to catch the last of the Floridian Spanish needle nectar flow. When Hackenberg checked on his pollinators, the colonies were "boiling over" with bees, as he put it. But when he came back a month later, he was horrified. Many of the remaining colonies had lost large numbers of workers, and only the young workers and the queen remained and seemed healthy. More than half of the 3,000 hives were completely devoid of bees. But no dead bees were in sight. "It was like a ghost town," Hackenberg said when he called us seeking an explanation for the mysterious disappearance.