Bees Stand a Chancebee colony collapse

Compared to the previous year, the number of honeybees in the U.S. increased in 2017.  They are critical to agricultural production.  Deaths of the insects, which had been attributed to a rather mysterious malady affecting hives in Europe and North America decreased, according to a honeybee health survey that was released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As of April 1, 2017, commercial honeybee colonies in the U.S. increased 3 percent up to 2.89 million compared with the previous year, as reported by the Agriculture Department.  A number of hives have had been lost due to Colony Collapse Disorder, which was a phenomenon involving disappearing bees that had caused concern among scientists and farmers for a decade, during the first year of the quarter was 84,430, down 27 percent compared to the previous year.  In April to June, year-over-year losses decreased by the same percentage, which was the most recent data included in the survey.

However, over two-fifths of beekeepers stated that their hives were being harmed by mites, and with pesticides as well as other factors stressing bees still, the overall increase is mainly due to losses being constantly replenished, according to the study.

According to Tim May, vice-president of the Atlanta-based American Beekeeping Federation and beekeeper from Harvard, Illinois, new hives are created by breaking the stronger hives up.  He said they communicate with farmers so that pesticides aren’t sprayed at times when their hives are vulnerable, keep bees well-fed and check for mites.  He says he’s not sure what else can be done.

You Got To Fight…For Your Right…

Environmental groups have become alarmed about the 90 percent decline that has occurred over the last two decades within the pollinator population, from Monarch butterflies to wild bees.  Some have pointed to neonicotinoids, a certain class of pesticides as being a potential cause.  Bayer AG, as well as other manufacturers, have rejected this link.

The USDA study found that beekeepers owning five hives or colonies at least, reported the highest losses coming from the varroa mites, which is a parasite that only lives in beehives and sucks insect blood to survive.  The USDA reports that the scourge has been present since 1987 in the U.S. and reported in 42 percent of all commercial hives from April through June of this year.  That is a 53 percent decrease from the same time period from the previous year.

Among other factors, it was reported by beekeepers that during this year’s second quarter pesticides had 13 percent of the colonies, 12 percent by pests other than varroa and mites and 4.3 percent by diseases. Some of the other reasons lists in 6.6 percent of the hives included insufficient forage, starvation and bad weather.

Colony Collapse

Although not a major cause of loss, scientists have been perplexed by Colony Collapse for over a decade since bees first started to appear to spontaneously flee their hives and not return to the U.S.

According to May Berenbaum, who is a National Medal of Science winner and head of the University of Illinois entomology department, the syndrome has decreased as a concern as beekeepers have started working on improving hive conditions.

During an interview, she stated it had been more or less a blip in beekeeping history.  However, she also added it was quite staggering that half of the bees in America have mites.   Diagnosable physiological problems, recognizable parasites, and diseases have vastly overshadowed Colony Collapse Disorder.

In the survey, colony collapse was attributed as the cause of a hive loss if varroa or other types of mites had been eliminated as being the cause; not many dead bees were inside of the hive, which is a sign they might have fled; food reserves and a queen bee both appeared to be normal pre-collapse, and after fleeing foods reserves were not touched.

According to May, the losses vary widely depending on where the hives are located and also might be affected by pesticides being improperly sprayed by farmers. He said it was very tricky to be able to separate out factors that were behind the bee deaths.  It could be pesticides but maybe not.  It is a distinct possibility when everything else is eliminated.

Neonicotinoids are currently being reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There will eventually be a notion to ban those chemicals in fields that are designated for pollinating crops.

Last month there was a couple of scientific studies published in Science magazines that linked neonicotinoids with shorter lifespans and poor reproduction in Canadian and European bees. This research was partly funded by Syngenta AG and Bayer CropScience, the makers of thiamethoxam, clothianidin, and imidacloprid.