Sadly, it seems as though every time another report comes out on the state of the honey bee, it is just more bad news. A new survey released by the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) is offering more of the same. According to the group’s latest survey, U.S. beekeepers are estimated to have lost roughly 40 percent of their honey bee colonies over this past winter.
Record Honey Bee Losses
The numbers this year are devastating, more so than usual. Big losses over the winter are nothing new to the industry, but this winter was the worst loss since the BIP started conducting the survey (now in its 13th year).
In all, roughly 4,700 beekeepers from around the United States took part in the survey. This represents about 320,000 hives as well as about 12 percent of all managed honey producers in the country. Reasons for the loss were various, most of them troublesome. In addition to poor beekeeping, which can be addressed, other reasons for the loss were decreased crop diversity and loss of habitat, issues which are far more challenging to overcome.
Of course, there is also the dreaded varroa mite. These mites are absolutely deadly to bees, as they latch onto their bodies and suck the “body fat” tissue from the bee, eventually killing it and weakening the overall colony.
A local beekeeper in Maryland has a trick he uses to help fight this battle. He puts bees in a mason jar with some powdered sugar, then shakes it gently. The mites grab a hold of the sugar and fall off the honey bee. This would obviously be a challenge for beekeepers with significant colonies, but for small beekeepers, it may give them a fighting chance.
Nathalie Steinhauer, who is the Science Coordinator for BIP, stated, “Beekeepers are trying their best to keep [mites] in check, but it’s really an arms race. That’s concerning because we know arms races don’t usually end well.” Over the winter, Steinhauer stated above all else, the mites are the number one concern to the health of any colony.
Mr. vanEngelsdorp, who co-authored the report for BIP with Steinhauer, stated, “We’re not worried about honeybees going extinct. What we’re worried about is commercial beekeepers going extinct. The question is, how long can they do that and stay economically viable?” The “that” was a reference to beekeepers splitting their healthy hives to replace numbers, a very costly procedure.