Honeybee Deaths Are Down, But the Beepocalypse Continues

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A new survey found that nearly a quarter of honeybee colonies died over the winter—and that's an improvement over last year.

How bad are things for the honeybee? Almost a quarter of U.S. honeybee colonies died over the past winter, according to new numbers released this morning—and that represents an improvement. The Bee Informed Partnership—a network of academics and beekeepers—along with the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture surveyed 7,183 beekeepers from around the country over the past year. Those beekeepers are responsible for about a fifth of the managed colonies in the U.S., and after a year in which nearly a third of honeybee colonies died, this past winter was a reprieve of sorts. The loss rate of 23.2% was significantly lower than the 29.6% average loss beekeepers have been experiencing since the partnership began the annual survey in 2006.

Yet even if honeybees had it comparatively easy this past winter, the numbers were still much worse than the 10-15% loss rate that beekeepers used to think of as normal—before honeybee colonies started dying off or simply disappearing thanks to colony collapse disorder, which began occurring with troubling frequency around the middle of the last decade. And there’s also the strange fact that 20% of honeybee colonies died during the spring and summer period last year, even though bees usually thrive in the warm weather. There’s no explanation for that anomaly—the survey began tracking summer losses only this year—which has researchers puzzled. “The combination of winter and summer losses was around 30%,” says Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland and one of the leaders of the bee partnership survey. “That is still troubling.”

Just as troubling: we still don’t know exactly why the honeybee has been struggling in recent years. Actually, it’s not just the honeybee—native wild bees have been dying off in even larger numbers. It’s gotten so bad that yesterday the Xerces Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the U.S. government to list one wild bee species—the rusty patched bumble bee, which is now gone from 87% of its native habitat—as endangered. Bees of all sorts provide invaluable service to farmers; the honeybee alone adds $15 billion in value to crops each year by pollinating everything from apples to zucchini. But as I wrote in a cover story for TIME last year, it’s as if there’s something about the world today—the world human beings have made—that has become toxic to one of our oldest domesticated species. “Too many bees are dying,” says Lisa Archer, the food and technology program director at the non-profit Friends of the Earth. “This is not sustainable over the long term.”

Many experts put much of the blame down to infestations of theVarroa destructor mite. Varroa are microscopic vampire bugs that burrow into the brood cells and attach themselves to baby bees, sucking out the bees’ hemolymph—their blood—with a sharp, two-pronged tongue. The varroa directly weaken the bees they infest, but the bugs can also introduce bacteria and other viruses, which in turn makes the bees that much more vulnerable to any other kind of shock.Varroa infested hives often need to be replaced every one to two years, while clean hives survive for as many as five years. Back in 1987, when varroa first arrived in the U.S., beekeepers managed more than 3 million colonies. Now they’re struggling to maintain about 2.5 million, and the bad economics are driving some beekeepers away from the profession altogether, partly because the struggle seems like such a losing one. The chemical miticides that beekeepers use on the varroa can be dangerous to their own bees—and then it’s only a matter of time before the mites adapt, and the miticide becomes useless. “Varroa destructor is a modern honeybee plague,” said Jeff Pettis, the bee research leader at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at a Congressional hearing on pollinator loss last month. “What beekeepers truly need are long-term solutions to varroa mites.”

Written By: Bryan Walsh
continue to source article at time.com

29 COMMENTS

  1. The article said -
    “But it’s expensive and dispiriting to keep replacing dead honeybees year after year, as researchers scramble to figure out just what’s killing them”…

    That sounds so arrogant……Its well known and often denied (by pesticide companies) that Pesticides are killing them….and the reduction of their once varied habitat and plants that have been reduced down to human favoured plants and then the mites that attack them probably have something to do with humans indirectly too…..so Human actions are mostly responsible for killing the bees…..

    • In reply to #1 by Light Wave:

      That sounds so arrogant……Its well known and often denied (by pesticide companies) that Pesticides are killing them….

      Would you please cite a source in a respected, peer reviewed journal. A very recent journal publication claimed to “prove” the neonics are the cause of CCD, but this was immediately and thoroughly debunked and eviscerated by knowledgeable, respected bee researchers.

      • In reply to #10 by gritnix:

        In reply to #1 by Light Wave:

        That sounds so arrogant……Its well known and often denied (by pesticide companies) that Pesticides are killing them….

        Would you please cite a source in a respected, peer reviewed journal. A very recent journal publication claimed to “prove” the neonics are the c…

        Let me start by stating again that I’m generally interested in the general ‘world’ of bees….which is much bigger than any back yard hive or extremely defensive bee keepers……
        Ha….I don’t feel the need to justify my general concern for bees with a citation from a journal…….I don’t read peer reviewed sources on Bee Keeping that’s your job….but you said you are ‘no’ more of a professional than me – you may know ‘your’ bees but you don’t claim to know everything there is to know about Australian bees or Scottish bees or bees of the world…Do you ?….and if I ‘respected’ the source of an article ….you may not respect that source…so your question is nonsense and subjective – because you don’t like my stance of defending bees…..how much more proof do you need that bees are dying in large numbers…you think its mites……other people don’t think its mites……no one Yet knows a clear answer do they ? Or these articles wouldn’t keep coming out…..you bee keepers are quite defensive just as 78 rpm…was in a previous article…
        I certainly don’t believe the outcome of the ‘study’ done by pesticide companies….results may be extremely bent…..

  2. Not that the main point of this is to be disregarded, but I could do without the “science reporter” lingo,

    “Varroa are microscopic vampire bugs….” (VAMPIRES! OOH, I’M SCARED!). Plus there are 2 total inaccuracies: 1. Varroa are mites, which by zoological definition are not bugs, and 2. They are not microscopic. They are quite visible to the unaided eye. You could look it up.

  3. Despite the ruinously high levels of losses of recent years, beekeepers have managed to keep the number of colonies in the U.S. stable

    As long as that holds, higher rates of colony death means bee evolution is accelerating. Maybe they will evolve tolerance to whatever is killing them and bounce back.

  4. It was a good run for a non-indigenous species.

    The near extinction and continued genetic compromise of monarch butterflies (brought to you by Monsanto) is probably a bigger deal… y’know… like with pollination and stuff.

    I do agree though, honey is hella good.

  5. This article also said that pesticide companies like Bayer inject pesticides directly into the seeds of future plants……so they don’t even have to be visibly seen spraying plants with toxic chemicals….That is a scary thought…..the implications are quite different to spraying the surface of the plant I would think…..and more likely to get pesticides into the food chain somehow ?

    • In reply to #7 by Light Wave:

      Systemic pesticides are nothing new, and this is done almost exclusively in row crops like field corn. I keep bees (not commercially) so I know a bit about them. Bees rarely work corn. When analyzed though, the pollen and nectar in plants that come from treated seeds show extremely low levels of pesticide. Believe it or not, the nectar/pollen from a treated seed is more bee-safe than if the spray came from a tractor or a plane and drenched the bees.

    • In reply to #7 by Light Wave:

      This article also said that pesticide companies like Bayer inject pesticides directly into the seeds of future plants……so they don’t even have to be visibly seen spraying plants with toxic chemicals….That is a scary thought…..the implications are quite different to spraying the surface of the plant I would think…..and more likely to get pesticides into the food chain somehow ?

      They certainly don’t inject the seeds, but there are some insecticide seed treatments (including neonics) that can protect very young seedlings against insect herbivores. I doubt that insecticide from seed treatments would even be detectable in the adult plant.

      If you want to look for the worst motives by the agrochemical industry, then you will always find them, but remember that “spraying the surface of the plant” actually means spraying the field, and (whilst there is a lot of effort being put into low drift spraying nozzles) this will inevitably mean much less targeted application. Seed treatment is a very effective way of minimising exposure to non-target insects.

      • In reply to #16 by HDV:

        In reply to #7 by Light Wave:

        The Actual Article that this is linked to is Time magazine…..the article said…..

        “Just as troubling: we still don’t know exactly why the honeybee has been struggling in recent years. Actually, it’s not just the honeybee—native wild bees have been dying off in even larger number”.

        it also said…..my brackets……

        “Then there are what are known as neonicotinoid pesticides, which are ( injected directly into the seed of a future plant.) That means traces of the insecticide may always be part of the plant tissue—not at all the case when pesticides are sprayed on crops and can disspiate. A growing but still controversial body of research has implicated neonicotinoid in the death of honeybees,

        HDV You said…….”They certainly don’t inject the seeds”…….Now Will you take that back…

        • In reply to #17 by Light Wave:

          In reply to #16 by HDV:

          In reply to #7 by Light Wave:
          The Actual Article that this is linked to is Time magazine…..the article said…..
          …They certainly don’t inject the seeds”…….Now Will you take that back…

          Certainly not. I work in crop protection. As a breeder rather than a chemist, but I run farm scale trials every year, and am pretty confident that I know a bit more about agrochemical technology than a journalist!

          • In reply to #18 by HDV:

            In reply to #17 by Light Wave:

            In reply to #16 by HDV:

            In reply to #7 by Light Wave:
            The Actual Article that this is linked to is Time magazine…..the article said…..
            …They certainly don’t inject the seeds”…….Now Will you take that back…

            Certainly not. I work in crop protection.

            No kidding…I thought you sounded like a defensive insider…
            what company ?
            the time magazine article stated – that some pesticide companies inject pesticides directly into the seeds of future plants…….which you categorically denied saying ‘they’ certainly do not inject seeds directly……

            I’m very suspicious of anything you say now….
            Do you mean your pesticide company don’t do that….because the article clearly states that some do……..
            Power to the Bees

          • In reply to #22 by Light Wave:

            No kidding…I thought you sounded like a defensive insider… what company ? the time magazine article stated – that some pesticide companies inject pesticides directly into the seeds of future plants…….which you categorically denied saying ‘they’ certainly do not inject seeds directly……

            And like I said, that time article is wrong; no insecticide seed dressing involves “injecting” the seed. If you assume a drilling rate of 300seed/m2, then you can see that from a logistical point of view alone, it would be a non starter. In any case, that is very much a side issue. You seem to think that seed dressing is more environmentally damaging than spraying. I would suggest that that is a perverse viewpoint.

            To answer your other question: I don’t work for a company; I work in a government funded research institute. I mentioned that I work as a breeder (or in pre-breeding at least) for pest resistance partly to highlight that I do have a reasonable knowledge of the industry (and the science) and partly to show that I have no vested interest in the agrochemical industry. Indeed, if anything, tighter regulation of chemicals would increase the importance of my work.

            I also have a number of colleagues who are entomologists, and (as with most areas of science) their certainty about the cause of bee decline is inversely proportional to how much they know about it. Most of them were fairly sceptical about the case against neonics and the subsequent EU action. I think that even today, the standard of evidence has not progressed much compared to last year.

            It is a complex issue, with no quick answers, but you would do well to listen to opposing viewpoints rather than dismissing them out of hand.

          • In reply to #27 by HDV:

            In reply to #22 by Light Wave:

            If you insist the Time article is wrong…then that is also a concern especially if RDF is submitting it….I have no way of challenging your claim….
            My cynicism is for the right reasons….I am genuinely concerned……but I accept your point of view and ‘Gov’ experience, although I wasn’t challenging anything but your particular quote and what sounds like corporate propaganda to me….If I’m wrong then a lot of other people are wrong too….and incidentally I don’t mind being wrong….I do tend to defend defenceless creatures….I cant help that …

          • In reply to #28 by Light Wave:

            My cynicism is for the right reasons….I am genuinely concerned……

            That is obvious; more people should be, and I wouldn’t dream of criticising you for it.

            What worries me is the sort of situation you had last year when a, very successful, campaign was launched against an entire class of insecticides based on some relatively preliminary results. We don’t really have a choice about whether we do agriculture, and if we are doing agriculture (even organic) then we have to use insecticides. It seemed to me at the time that we didn’t really know any more about the likely consequences of the alternative chemical classes on bees and I still think that is the case.

            You are of the opinion that the agrochemical companies are largely unconcerned about the effect of their chemistry on bees. Whilst this may be true in the general sense, they are also acutely aware of the power of public opinion when their chemistry is implicated in environmental damage (the neonic example rightly or wrongly is very much fresh in their mind). I was at a conference last month where one of the industry representatives was talking about nothing else but technological solutions to minimise environmental exposure to their products. You can call this shallow self-interest if you want (I won’t argue with you), but if pesticides really are the problem, then you have to accept that the big agrochemical companies will be part of the solution.

  6. Another intriguing hypothesis is that the mites themselves are evolving. As things go now, the mites kill off the colony (the colony being the host, not the individual workers, which correspond to cells in the body), and being obligate parasites and unable to live more than a very short time away from their host, they die too, since they have no mechanism for anything like dormancy. Successful species of parasites keep the host alive–they don’t kill it. It is thought that mites may begin to evolve that are less pathogenic, just as bees may simultaneously evolve more resistance to the mites’ damage. It has already been noted that in some colonies, workers are seen chewing off the mites on their sister workers–a trait not seen before in honey bees, who generally do not exhibit mutual grooming.

  7. I am just like gritnix, Comments 9 and 10, That is, * I keep bees (not commercially) so I know a bit about them.* Could everybody please go back and read those comments again, because they are exactly what I would write. Thank you, gritnix.

  8. People are ‘free’ to feel concern over bees of the world …why do certain ‘bee keepers’ repeatedly hijack the concerns of people who talk about bees dying with their bee keeping defensive stances…..I would never consult a guy who kept pet tigers…..if I wanted to know more about tigers or why they were dying…until the actual cause is known …no one should be slammed for suggesting the obvious….which was originally reported by scientists….the bee keepers are overly defensive about why bees are dying

    and to be honest I don’t really give a shit about the bee keepers opinions which are skewed in their own favour of course….but I am concerned about the bees……

    • In reply to #13 by Light Wave:

      .I would never consult a guy who kept pet tigers…..if I wanted to know more about tigers or why they were dying.

      Really? I would. Well not pet tigers because anyone who keeps Tigers for a pet is a jerk who is more into their own ego than caring about the well being of some magnificent animals but the same doesn’t apply to bee keepers. Bee keepers have a very real financial interest in the question, for that reason alone I would be interested to know what they think. A financial interest is a good incentive to get people to see beyond the bullshit to what the real issues are. Also, while I’ve never known any bee keepers from what I know about them — they remind me of people with small farms or who breed other animals — besides a financial interest many of them seem to have a real emotional attachment to the bees and I can understand why, I’m more of a bird and dog person but if I was into insects, bees are insects I hope, whatever, if I was into smaller creatures bees would be at the top of the list, they are very cool and interesting both from a scientific stance (bee dance, issues of altruism and kin selection) and just from a “look at that isn’t that cool” sense.

      So I can’t understand why you wouldn’t listen to bee keepers, unless it’s because they are saying something you disagree with.

      I have no idea what is killing the bees. So the following is total conjecture I’ll admit up front, but my hunch is that it’s ultimately not going to be one single thing like the mites, but rather it’s going to be a collection of a lot of small changes, all of which can rather be directly attributed to the way humans have been fucking up the planet. I think that is one things we don’t appreciate about climate change, the world has been in a fairly stable state the last few millions of years, now that we are radically changing it the effects are highly unpredictable and my guess is we will see more of these mysterious species dying off in the future.

      • In reply to #14 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #13 by Light Wave:

        .>
        Really? I would. Well not pet tigers because anyone who keeps Tigers for a pet is a jerk who is more into their own ego than caring about the well bein…

        No I wouldn’t –
        and I would also question the ‘so called’ – independent experts some of whom ‘could’ be paid decoys from the pesticide companies….
        while I have nothing against individuals……I’ve commented on these type of articles before and again I was jumped on by defensive bee keepers…..So I find myself having to defend myself against angry bee keepers ….Well Whatever…..Am I the enemy ?
        Bee Keepers have a vested interest in their bees in their hives….and somehow expect to be given priority on the reporting of bee health or decline….does their defensiveness not trouble you…..they keep domesticated bees so they know the habits of domestic bees ???…but are they as concerned over wild bees ?….I don’t think pesticide companies are particularly interested in wild bee health as they make pesticides that kill insects….which is what bees are and I don’t really want to hear about any studies done by pesticide companies….I just wouldn’t trust the results to be accurate….

        • In reply to #19 by Light Wave:

          Bee Keepers have a vested interest in their bees in their hives

          Which was the point I was trying to make. And in my experience people who have a financial stake in something will go out of their way to find out the actual information about that thing and not be influenced by political or other biases they might have.

          .they keep domesticated bees so they know the habits of domestic bees ???

          Uhm… yes.

          …but are they as concerned over wild bees ?.

          Probably not but I don’t see how that makes a big difference. Actually, that is an interesting question, does the problem effect domestic and wild bees equally? I haven’t heard one way or another.

          I don’t think pesticide companies are particularly interested in wild bee health as they make pesticides that kill insects….

          You won’t get an argument from me that the people who run Monsanto and similar corporations are amoral jerks. I completely agree they are. But that doesn’t mean that everything that goes wrong on the planet is necessarily their fault.

          I don’t really want to hear about any studies done by pesticide companies

          You pretty much lose any credibility when you say things like that. First of all, I wasn’t aware that all the various studies that people have presented as evidence to you were “done by pesticide companies”. Do you have some specific examples of studies you think are false because they were done by the pesticide companies? And even if I’m wrong about that and the studies are done by them; while I agree that makes them suspect it doesn’t necessarily mean they are invalid. You have to look at who did the research, what is their track record, what was the methodology for the study, etc. There are some famous cases of studies funded by corporations that ended up giving exactly the opposite results from what was desired because the corporations funded good scientists who went where the evidence took them.

          • In reply to #21 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #19 by Light Wave:

            Bee Keepers have a vested interest in their bees in their hives

            Which was the point I was trying to make. And in my experience people who have a financial stake in something will go out of their way to find out the actual information about that thing and not be influ..

            I loose credibility ? who’s counting ? I have method in my madness …
            That’s what scientists are for…real factual consensus of evidence…. not only insiders….

            Bee Keepers exploit bees in a certain way that doesn’t bode well with me…Many people don’t exploit bees or kill them with pesticides so I’d rather have more non biased overviews….If that’s okay with you ……..dog

    • In reply to #13 by Light Wave:

      I am concerned about the bees…

      You may like this article.

      OP > it’s as if there’s something wrong with the world.

      I definitely feel that when on nature walks within towns. Comes from years of close observations, then a sense of maudlin. Such as, encountering one bumble bee, aren’t there any others in the vicinity?

      Few songbirds, and fewer bees in the neighborhood thanks (in part) to the infernal racket / exhaust of producing so called perfect / manicured lawn. Old school – clover, wild violets, indigenous honeysuckle, …I wax nostalgic.

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  10. The industrial grade honeybees wiped out many species of bee and other pollinators when they were brought here from Europe. Colony-collapse in Europe, that might be a problem. In the America’s it might be a good thing. It’s colonialism failing.

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