U.S. loses nearly a third of its honey bees this season

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Nearly a third of managed honeybee colonies in America died out or disappeared over the winter, an annual survey found on Wednesday. The decline—which was far worse than the winter before—threatens the survival of some bee colonies.

The heavy losses of pollinators also threatens the country’s food supply, researchers said. The US Department of Agriculture has estimated that honeybees contribute some $20bn to the economy every year.

Bee keepers lost 31% of their colonies in late 2012 and through the early months of this year—about double what they might expect through natural causes, survey found. The survey offered the latest evidence of a mysterious disorder that has been destroying bee colonies for seven years. The strange phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder came to light in 2006, when the first reports came in of bees abandoning their hives and disappearing.

In a report last week, the federal government blamed a combination of factors for the rapid decline of honeybees, including a parasitic mite, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition and genetics, as well as the effects of pesticides. But scientists and campaign groups have singled out the use of a widely used class of pesticides, which scramble the honeybees’ sense of navigation.

The European Union has imposed a two-year ban on such pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, to study their effects on bee populations. However, the US authorities say there is no clear evidence pointing to pesticides as the main culprit for honeybees’ decline.

The annual honeybee survey, which is a joint effort by beekeepers, academic researchers and scientists at the US Department of Agriculture, noted that bee keepers reported devastating losses over the winter months. More than two-thirds of bee keepers reported bigger losses than would allow them to remain in operation. The bee keepers who were affected by the disorder typically lost about 45% of their colonies, the survey found.

The honeybee shortage is already threatening agricultural production. Earlier this year, farmers in California reported that they nearly missed pollinating their almond crop, because of an absence of bees.

Nearly 6,300 commercial bee keepers, managing close to a quarter of colonies in the country, participated in the survey.

Honey bee (Apis mellifera) collecting pollen. Photo by: Jon Sullivan.

This article was written by Suzanne Goldenberg for The Guardian UK and re-posted on Focusing on Wildlife.

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Jane Woodstrover

me too – it's massively important

Susan Lee

The big corporations peddling the pesticides AND pesticide-and-herbicide-imbued GMO stuff are the ones who want to downplay the roles of their destructive products. So the chemical companies are beginning to reap what’s been sown…which is death for all for the sake of their own brief monetary wealth. The rest of us have to stand fast and stop not just the chemicals but also the GMO’s with their inherent poisons as well.

Dewey Robinson
Dewey Robinson

I notice a lack of honey bees in my little box gardens here in Summerville, SC. Most of the bees I see are either wasps or bumble bees, and some hornets on my vegetables. Worries me about the sourwood honey from Asheville, NC. I love it!

Charles Paxton

I hope that bee populations will recover.

Jill Tardivel

When they're gone, they're gone.

Bruce Wilson
Bruce Wilson

We as a world need to break our addiction to all of the chemicals being pushed by the big chemical companies and get back to safer, natural ways of farming. Not only bees but also many aerial insectivores and grassland birds are showing alarming population declines.

Malcolm Wilson

Very serious problem this is.. it won't be just the starving 3rd world anymore, it'll be the World.

Doris Charles

Very sad at the decline of bees in the USA, and maybe flowers could suffer too with pollinators mite a mysterious disorder, I was hoping there would be a ban on the pestidies which the EU have done to study their effects on the bee population, please continue reading.

Doris Charles

Very sad at the decline of bees in the USA, and maybe flowers could suffer too with pollinators mite a mysterious disorder, I was hoping there would be a ban on the pestidies which the EU have done to study their effects on the bee population, please continue reading.