Jean Vasicek seems to know almost everything about bees.

She knows the terrifying sound that the beating of thousands of tiny wings can make, and she knows that her bees get cranky when the citrus trees aren't in bloom. And she knows that honey bees like hers are facing serious problems on a national scale.

Since acquiring her first hive from her brother about 10 years ago, Vasicek has accumulated more than 100 hives throughout the Orlando area, and has become the official beekeeper for Winter Park Honey.

But the situation has changed since she first started, and for Vasicek, it's been for the worse. "Back then you could take care of bees and hardly touch them," she said. "Now it has gotten very hard to keep bees alive."

Lately, honey bees have been the victims of a host of fungal, parasitic and bacterial illnesses as well as a mysterious new disease that could be the new plague for farmers. Called Colony Collapse Disorder, the rapidly spreading illness has attracted the attention of scientists such as Dr. Jamie Ellis, a researcher and assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida.

Ellis said that Colony Collapse Disorder, which began to cause alarm in 2006, has been attacking and destroying entire bee colonies. Though not yet fully understood, the effects have become painfully obvious to apiaries. Suddenly worker bees die off and disappear, and the colony dies with them.

"The issue with Colony Collapse Disorder is that we don't know what causes it," Ellis said. "There are probably 10 or 15 leading hypotheses, and the current strongest hypothesis is that it's really a combination of factors."

According to Ellis, bees from an infected colony exhibit a unique variety of symptoms, including those often associated with bacterial, fungal or parasitic diseases, and this has led researchers to believe that CCD is likely to be the effect of a combination of these diseases than a new disease.

In an effort to keep their bees alive, beekeepers have had to use different chemical treatments for each symptom that their bees exhibit. Gut fungus is combated with fungicides, bacterial infections with antibiotics and mite infections, a particularly dangerous problem, with pesticides, Ellis said.

Vasicek's beekeeping strategy is a bit different, and potentially more risky, relying on natural preventative measures instead of chemicals.

"Everybody tells me that it won't work; that all my bees are going to die, but so far I haven't seen that," Vasicek said. "So far I have fairly strong hives."

All of this buzz about unhealthy bees has caused concern not only among local beekeepers, such as Vasicek, but also among those whose crops are dependent on bees for pollination.

"It's a concern for the entire horticultural industry of the state," said Dr. Tom Spreen, professor and former department chair of the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida.

A honey bee die-off would mean lower agricultural and nursery yields throughout Florida, a problem that, according to Spreen, could cause serious damage to Florida's multibillion dollar horticultural industry.

Entomologist Ellis said that honey bees play a huge role in producing most of the crops we need for food, including the fruits, vegetables and grains that we eat, and the grasses that are fed to livestock.

Some estimates say honey bees are responsible for one-third of the world's food supply, and therefore, Ellis predicts that if they continue losing bees at the current rates, there will be an immediate effect on U.S. food supply and prices.

Vasicek knows that honey bee diseases are rather grim news, but she says that many people do not fully understand the significance of bees and what a decline in honey bees could mean.

"People don't realize the benefit that the local beekeeper has, and they don't have a clue how important the bees are," she said.

Vasicek hopes that researchers will be able to develop treatments for diseases such as CCD but, in the meantime, she continues to dedicate herself to doing everything she can to keep her bees happy, healthy and ready to pollinate.