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A Third of the Nation's Honeybee Colonies Died Last Year (usatoday.com) 135

A third of the honeybees in the United States were lost over the last year, part of a decade-long die-off experts said may threaten our food supply. USA Today reports: The annual survey of roughly 5,000 beekeepers showed the 33% dip from April 2016 to April 2017. The decrease is small compared to the survey's previous 10 years, when the decrease hovered at roughly 40%. From 2012 to 2013, nearly half of the nation's colonies died. The death of a colony doesn't necessarily mean a loss of bees, explains vanEngelsdorp, a project director at the Bee Informed Partnership. A beekeeper can salvage a dead colony, but doing so comes at labor and productivity costs. That causes beekeepers to charge farmers more for pollinating crops and creates a scarcity of bees available for pollination. It's a trend that threatens beekeepers trying to make a living and could lead to a drop-off in fruits and nuts reliant on pollination, vanEngelsdor said. So what's killing the honeybees? Parasites, diseases, poor nutrition, and pesticides among many others. The chief killer is the varroa mite, a "lethal parasite," which researchers said spreads among colonies.
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A Third of the Nation's Honeybee Colonies Died Last Year

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  • Impacts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Friday May 26, 2017 @11:45PM (#54495935)

    There are two things I'm really curious about with this.

    1) What are the real impacts of the die-offs? ie are is the total stock of bees going into decline or are beekeepers needed to put in overtime in order to breed replacement stock.

    2) What's the cause of the decline in the decline? It looks like the loss has been slowly levelling off over the past few years, 30-40% is pretty drastic, is this evidence that they've evolving some kind of resistance to whatever is happening?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      1). There are studies on the impact of CCD on agriculture. If nothing else, the costs of colony rentals have gone up. That impacts you at the grocery store.

      2). The actual cause of CCD is still undetermined. It might be a calm before the storm, or it might be something else.

      • by Demena ( 966987 )
        It is reasonably certain (from France) that the use of new insecticides persist and weaken the hive enough to make varroa resistance hard.
        • Re: Impacts (Score:4, Insightful)

          by walterbyrd ( 182728 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @10:27AM (#54497381)

          My understanding is: the same pesticides (neonics) are used in Australia, but bees in Australia are fine.

          Maybe it's pesticides and the parasites together that are proving too much for the bees?

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Or maybe it's just varroa... Australia doesn't have widespread varroa mites, yet. They have had a few confirmed cases, but they aren't everywhere, yet. There isn't a place in the USA that doesn't have varroa. Our hives have them here in Louisiana. I just did a mite count two days ago. But let's not let that stop us from blaming the evil pesticides...Let me get my pitchfork.

            • There's reason to believe it's new amateur beekeepers who don't follow best practices, either out of correctable ignorance or deliberate avoidance of the "unnatural". Their hives are susceptible to mites and other problems, which can then spread to the hives of more responsible beekeepers, professional or amateur.

              The last credible info I'd seen on bee colony numbers shows them to be recovering nicely.

              And of course, the people in the business of providing replacement bees are working like mad to find and

          • by Demena ( 966987 )
            You appear to be misinformed
      • 1). There are studies on the impact of CCD on agriculture. If nothing else, the costs of colony rentals have gone up. That impacts you at the grocery store.

        2). The actual cause of CCD is still undetermined. It might be a calm before the storm, or it might be something else.

        Could we coin a bee related term such as CMOS, just to make it more confusing?

    • Re:Impacts (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @12:35AM (#54496023) Homepage

      There is no threat to honeybees (which in the US aren't even native). Queens can be bred in bulk (there are tricks to make a hive produce lots of queens), and starting a new hive only takes a queen and a handful of workers. Beekeepers can order them by mail.

      These dieoffs are not about fundamental threats, but economics. It means more labour and cost to beekeepers, which they have to pass on.

      The Slashdot summary presents a pretty accurate description of the reasons for the dieoffs - they appear to be multifactor, but varroa is what you find most commonly in afflicted colonies.Note that annual dieoffs are normal among honeybee colonies - 15-20% over winter is pretty typical, although it depends on location.

      Bees are amazing creatures, and many of their problems have been brought on by humans. There are many bee species around the world, and many have long had their own specific parasites, which they're adapted to. As people have moved around the world, they've taken honeybees with. As a consequence, they've spread all of these local parasites and diseases around the world, into European honeybees that have no natural resistance to them. Ironically some were accidentally spread by programmes trying to breed resistance to other pests and diseases, bringing in bee stocks from around the world (a big example being the Buckfast Bee). Also, attempts to optimize bees for docility and honey production ended up reducing honeybee genetic diversity; for example, the European dark (formerly the most common in northern Europe) was considered an inferior breed, and was reduced to just a handful of colonies. But it appears that the European dark has some natural resistance to varroa, as well as being better at defending its hives from wasps (they're also much better adapted to cold climate areas).

      It's interesting the means different bee species use to defend against the pests and predators that they evolved to in their natural range. One of my favorites is how Japanese honeybees fight off the nightmarish Japanese giant hornet (don't look it up if you have any fear of being stung by a huge insect). It's far too well armoured for honeybees to hurt it, so instead what they do is swarm it and beat their wings like crazy, creating heat. Because their maximum survivable body temperature happens to be just a couple degrees hotter than the hornet's maximum temperature, so they basically cook it to death ;)

      • Also worth mentioning that it's a pain for crops that blossom early in the season (like almonds). Harder to get bees delivered to your farm.
      • Re:Impacts (Score:4, Informative)

        by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @03:15AM (#54496387)

        There is no threat to honeybees (which in the US aren't even native). Queens can be bred in bulk (there are tricks to make a hive produce lots of queens), and starting a new hive only takes a queen and a handful of workers. Beekeepers can order them by mail.

        Not quite true - farming practices and the beekeeping practices that are common in the US, are major threats. Pestices are not all that discerning - if they kill harmful insects, then they probably also kill the beneficial ones, and systemic pesticides like the neo-nicotinoids are absorbed into the crop plants and secreted in the nectar. Non-systemic pesticides are less likely to find their way into bees. But possibly the worst threat comes from the fact that beekeepers rely on a narrow monoculture, created by exactly the practices you described, plus of course the way in which American beekeepers in particular transport their hives from all over the US to California, where they can then exchange diseases.

        • Re:Impacts (Score:5, Informative)

          by BCGlorfindel ( 256775 ) <klassenk@bran[ ]u.ca ['don' in gap]> on Saturday May 27, 2017 @09:26AM (#54497123) Journal

          There is no threat to honeybees (which in the US aren't even native). Queens can be bred in bulk (there are tricks to make a hive produce lots of queens), and starting a new hive only takes a queen and a handful of workers. Beekeepers can order them by mail.

          Not quite true - farming practices and the beekeeping practices that are common in the US, are major threats. Pestices are not all that discerning - if they kill harmful insects, then they probably also kill the beneficial ones, and systemic pesticides like the neo-nicotinoids are absorbed into the crop plants and secreted in the nectar. Non-systemic pesticides are less likely to find their way into bees. But possibly the worst threat comes from the fact that beekeepers rely on a narrow monoculture, created by exactly the practices you described, plus of course the way in which American beekeepers in particular transport their hives from all over the US to California, where they can then exchange diseases.

          Nice how you entirely ignored the largest threat the GP stated, as did the article and summary. The varroa mite is the primary cause of death in hives right now, outside the natural die off rate. Ironically, all the calls from the anti-pesticide crowd to protect the bees with tougher regulations on chemical usage is contributing to the problem. The only effective treatments right now for hives from the varroa mites are all... chemicals. Restricting chemicals bee farmers are allowed to use to control the mites, and mites developing resistances to what is used are a big problem and if beekeepers could receive a magic solution from the sky a method to better control mites is hands down what they would ask for. But go ahead and make arm chair proclamations about how entire industries are doing everything wrong and you've got 3 simple steps that would solve it all that somehow has eluded them entirely despite the enormous financial incentives to them in improving their methods.

          • Care to point out which chemicals bee keepers are not allowed to use to kill mites? (*facepalm*)

            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Yeah. I can. Oxalic acid, the most effective chemical for treating for the varroa was just allowed in the US a few months ago.
              So, it wasn't available to me last year when my beehive was almost lost to what was most certainly a virus caused directly or indirectly by varroa.

          • Nice how you entirely ignored the largest threat the GP stated, as did the article and summary. The varroa mite is the primary cause of death in hives right now

            Glad you liked it. I didn't ignore it, I just didn't choose to pick that one out, because I think it is obvious that varroa wouldn't have been a problem, if people didn't ship the bloody things around the globe. I don't know if people in general know this, but it has for decades been common practice to buy queens and have them sent in a small packet by mail - I doubt there is a specialist vet at either end of the transaction, checking out the health of each of those queens, so that is just one, very efficie

      • It's far too well armoured for honeybees to hurt it, so instead what they do is swarm it and beat their wings like crazy, creating heat. Because their maximum survivable body temperature happens to be just a couple degrees hotter than the hornet's maximum temperature, so they basically cook it to death ;)

        Nature is pretty fucking metal sometimes.

      • Nice essay. Yet, I might beg to differ about the "no threat" perspective.

        There is a real threat if beekeepers stop their interventions.
        While honeybees are not indigenous to North America, they have since become an integral part of the economy.
        As long as beekeepers work to proliferate the species, there may be a reduced threat.
        Yet, if we did nothing to support honeybees, it is very probable they would die off virtually completely.
        Note that China is so short on honeybees that they are manually pollinati
        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          The "no threat" aspect is that the annual colony death rate would have to reach 99% everywhere on Earth in order to exceed the rate in which queens can be bred; anywhere on Earth that queens can be bred with an annual colony loss rate 98% or less, they can have excess to export, in bulk. And even then you could work around it by doing queen breeding in highly controlled environments. Because of this, it's essentially impossible to wipe out honeybees. Going from 15-20% annual loss rates to 30-40% just isn't

    • Re:Impacts (Score:4, Informative)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @12:57AM (#54496079)

      2) What's the cause of the decline in the decline?

      Most likely restrictions and better education on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides [wikipedia.org].

      30-40% is pretty drastic

      Is it? What is a "normal" amount of die off? TFA gives no context for these numbers. A quick google search indicates that the natural lifetime of a queen bee is about 5 years. So that would mean a 20% die off under natural conditions.

      • Re:Impacts (Score:5, Interesting)

        by serbanp ( 139486 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @01:59AM (#54496245)

        When the queen gets old, the workers simply produce a new one (or several, it all depends on what are the larvae fed with) and kills the old. The hive goes on. BTW, the life span of a worker bee is several months, therefore over the queen's life span multiple generations of regular bees have died - this is normal.

        Colony collapse happens when a large majority of workers die off relatively quickly, straining the food supply to the point that the queen dies or there are not enough workers to tend the larvae.

        The recent trend of collapse is caused by a perfect storm of more potent insecticides used in agriculture, running out of chemical options to contain the Varroa mites, and regulatory decisions to reduce the number and amount of chemical treatments the bee keeper is allowed to administer.

      • That is a queen ... not a hive.

        When the queen gets old it breeds new queens to take over the hive. Actually it breeds queens all the time, but those leave the hive and form new hives.

        So a die off of 20% or more of the bee population/hives is a dramatic change.

        • by TRRosen ( 720617 )

          NO a die off of 20% is entirely normal. Actually its just below normal. Bees die off in the winter always have always will. Many high die off years are attributed to cold snaps dipping farther south than normal.Lots of variables cause die offs to fluctuate between 10% and 30%.

          • I don't know what is normal and what not.
            Point is: if a queen dies, the hive does not necessarily die.
            Cold winters are no problem for European bees. I was of the impression in USA they mainly had European bees.
            A friend of mine is a bee keeper for a living, none of his hives ever died, but he uses some fancy tricks like having about 1 wasp nest per 10 hives and in total about 2 hornet nests.
            His observation is, having both kinds of predators around, makes the bees less lazy, more agile and more vigilant.

      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

        Normal die-off is around 20%. And a queen's *productive* lifespan is about 3 years, degrades in her 4th year and becomes a liability in her 5th year, since hives with old queens get mean and difficult to handle.

    • More importantly, what do we lose (other than a culinary choice) if hunny (Winnie the Pooh spelling here) disappears from our grocery shelves? And by then, if it's that important, wouldn't we have figured out how to artificially make honey - w/o depriving bees of their food?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    From my own experience with the garden variety however:

    Bumble Bee diversity is up. Including both smaller and larger varieties than in the past.
    Wasp diversity is up. Smaller varieties than in the past.
    The little sand flies are just as common as before.
    Honey bees have declined, but there are at least three new varieties apparent compared to in the past.

    Having said that, bee QUANTITY was much lower for part of this year. However our main freeze came about later in the year (around march) than it usually would

    • Everyone with a garden or window box can help by growing plants that pollinators feed on. Plenty of low water ones like verbena, yarrow, valerian, salvia... and attractive flowers.

      The worst is astroturf which is a bio-graveyard for the sake of zero water usage, whereas there are many low-water choices.

  • Imagine That (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 27, 2017 @12:10AM (#54495981)

    You mean that genetically engineering the nation's major food crops to create their own pesticides is harmful to HELPFUL insects too? Pffft. Next you'll be telling us it's toxic to humans.

  • by Fly Swatter ( 30498 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @12:13AM (#54495989) Homepage

    No mention of their state of health. Only the ones enslaved by keepers.

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @12:38AM (#54496031) Homepage

      "Enslaved" is a pretty mean way to describe having their shelter provided by the beekeeper, along with routine inspections for (and treatments of) parasites that would kill them. Yes, the keeper will rob honey from the hive, but not enough to kill it during the winter - and may well supplement the hive for the winter. Keepers that offer pollination services also move their bees from one rich food source to the next.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 27, 2017 @12:58AM (#54496081)

        You need a 6-hour course on human privilege to truly begin to understand.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So we're not EXPLOITATIVE as a species, we're SYMBIOTIC! Just like how we breed cattle, sheep, pigs, chicken, goats, etc.

        Oh, maybe those are bad examples.

      • by Zemran ( 3101 )
        I am now imagining unionised bees. The Bee Workers Union...
      • The bees used in US factory farming have a terrible life. The hives start the year in the south eastern US where they are kept for the winter. They are sent on a loop across the US with stops in California for the almond pollination and Washington State for the apple pollination to end back up where they started. The hives are stacked up on the back of a tractor trailer and covered with a tarp when moved via the highway system. The bees arrive at an area and are fed a diet of one crop for a couple of we

    • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @12:45AM (#54496051)

      No mention of their state of health. Only the ones enslaved by keepers.

      Whenever I pull waterlogged bees from my pool, I put them on the bench and give them a drop of honey. They slurp it up while they dry off then they fly away. Don't know if it helps in the grand scheme of things, but, hey, I saved and fed some wild bees ...

      • If you see a bee sitting on the ground, it is probably just resting for a while.

        It will fly on after taking its little break.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Enslaved? Are you REALLY that stupid? Do you need a safe space?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        i can see him with a tiny whip and a bunch of bees tied to racks wearing tiny leather hoods.

    • Honey bees in North America are domestic by definition. Other species of bees are getting hit very hard by neonicotinoid pesticides, especially various bumble bee species.

      At least have the common courtesy to inform yourself, even minimally, before you open your ignorant yap about stuff like this.

    • From what I've read in recent years, feral European honeybee hives are almost all gone in North America. Almost in that now & then one is discovered.

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

      Technically, European honeybees are an invasive species in North America, so if you want to go all deep-green, you should be calling for their extermination in the wild. How many of our native bees have they replaced?

      And actually, wild colonies don't do terribly well and tend to be small; off-season starvation is a major problem. Beekeepers feed and water their bees (that's what the sugar-water stations around commercial hives are for).

    • Agreed. "Enslaved" shows a misconception about beekeeping.

      Having a pet is more closely related to "enslaving" anything.
      Bees are free to go. When a colony grows strong and big, usually as a result of the beneficial care of beekeepers, they will make another queen and half the colony will split with her. This is how the species propagates.
      (Of course, saavy beekeepers would provide a new home for that swarm, and the cycle continues.)

      On the other hand, if your dog does it's natural thing, like bark at a p
    • No mention of their state of health. Only the ones enslaved by keepers.

      Hey everybody! I found the vegan!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 27, 2017 @12:18AM (#54495995)

    you can buy 10lb bags of pesticide-free clover seed cheaply from amazon or elsewhere.
    blossoms with nice little white or purple flowers which bees just love-- you'll get hundreds of them buzzing around in a 5'x5' patch.
    the clover is self-propagating if you let it mature to drop it's own seed, and when it's dried out you can mulch it or feed it some critter.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you stop mowing your lawn, there will plenty of clover. Lawns allowed to grow to a height of about 4 or 5 inches are loaded with clover.

    • by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Saturday May 27, 2017 @02:45AM (#54496327)
      Do you want bees?
      Cause that's how you get bees.
  • Lovely (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 )
    and we just put a bunch of anti-science nut jobs who want to dismantle the only source of organized response to crisis in power. Yeah, yeah, I know. Nobody likes partisanship around here. But come one. I think it's pretty clear these guys aren't worried about themselves or us...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Note: this isn't meant to incite the comical "African or European?" Monty Python reference, although it would be relevant. :-)

    Worth pondering: could expansion of the African honeybee [wikipedia.org] (i.e. "African killer bee") help this situation at all?

    The majority of honeybees in the United States are still the European (Italian?) species, but as known, the African honeybee have been making their way into the United States for 30 years (and recently managed to reach Silicon Valley, for example). "Killer bees", despite b

    • At http://articles.extension.org/pages/73118/africanized-bees:-better-understanding-better-prepared [extension.org] I read the following sentence about Africanized (crossbred with African) bees

      Moretto et al (1991) found grooming behavior of African bees in Brazil to be eight times more efficient at removing Varroa than Italian bees and 31 percent of infested African honey bee workers removed Varroa by their own or another bee’s grooming action (Moretto 1997).

      Considering that the mites are less problem, and that these bees are more difficult for commercial apiaries to use, I reckon that the die-offs due to mites reported by beekeepers are about European bees.

  • There are about 1000 here in Vermont alone.

    The 5000 that took the survey... do they say how much experience they've had and whether that affected the outcome? Did they treat for mites or other diseases?

    Most likely the majority of those who took the survey are new beekeepers who are all agog at themselves and, like anyone truly into a new hobby are sticking thier fingers into everything bee-related because "Oh, the bees!" I would bet 50 lbs of honey (I'm a beekeeper) that the majority of those who took the s

    • by Imrik ( 148191 )

      If anything it is far more likely that the survey overrepresented experienced beekeepers as it is harder to keep track of those new to it. Also, this is an annual survey, so many of the participants are probably from previous years.

      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

        Professional beekeepers are too damn busy to waste time on surveys. And if the survey has any brains, it'll ask "How long" and "how many hives" precisely to sort for experience.

        Hint: the pros move their hives on medium-sized trucks.

  • Wasn't there a link of bees dying in big numbers due to the over use of insecticides that are based on neonicotinoids? And why the EPA hasn't considered severely restricting or banning their use?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Banning the use of those incecticides would be damaging to Monsanto, Big Gov's favorite little pet who is slowly being groomed for literally owning the production of crops and grains in the U.S.

    • by TRRosen ( 720617 )

      No there has been no evidence of this. There are certain pesticides if applied at certain times that can cause some issues. Basically you don't apply while the crop is the bees main food source. apply before or after flowering. The fact is neonicotinoids are used almost exclusively in many areas that have no bee die off issues at all. The truth is the pesticides used before (organophosphates(same as nerve gas)) did much more damage.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      The EPA has been taken over by anti-science, Christian dolts. The Earth only exists because the Creator gave it to them for a good fucking, and they intend to get on with the job. Don't count on the EPA doing anything sensible until Agent Orange is out of the White House.

  • Neonicotinoids are the problem:
    https://actions.sumofus.org/a/... [sumofus.org]
    https://phys.org/news/2016-04-... [phys.org]
    http://www.motherjones.com/tom... [motherjones.com]

  • Bees could survive one, or the other, but not both?

  • Neonicotinoids (Monsanto's Roundup) are a major cause of bees death. But Mr Trump will not do anything about that. Nor, as it seems, will the EU.

    • The EU forbade usage of Neonicotinoids for many usages during times where bees are most active. It got sued for that by Bayer Dr plus all.
      In a few weeks the usage will most likely be completely forbidden. Or reduced to inside greenhouses and very rare emergency cases.

    • Glyphosate (Roundup) is not a neonic. It is not even an insecticide.

      https://geneticliteracyproject... [geneticlit...roject.org]

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        They're mixing up their "spooked by anything related to chemistry" talking points ;)

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