Honeybees are dying, and scientists still don’t know why
Beekeepers are seeing unusually high numbers of their bees die this year, prompting concerns about the health of crops that depend on the insects, and about the future of the beekeeping industry in America itself.
Widespread deaths among bees, known as Colony Collapse Disorder, were first reported about a decade ago, but the problem has not diminished and may have been especially bad recently.
Beekeepers across the United States lost roughly 40 percent of their colonies from April 2014 to April 2015, according to an annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership and Apiary Inspectors of America, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That’s the second highest percentage loss since researchers began counting summer and winter season losses five years ago.
The group found that large numbers of bees are dying during the summer months, when conditions should be more favorable. One in 4 colonies is now dying during summer, which was unheard of several years ago, according to the results.
The total number of bee colonies in the United States declined from 6 million during the 1940s to 2.5 million about 10 years ago, but it has remained relatively stable since then. The most recent numbers place the total estimate at 2.74 million.
Beekeepers expect to lose a small number of colonies every year, especially in winter months when food supplies are scarce. Beekeepers can replace those losses by splitting a healthy colony of bees in half and buying a new queen to start a new colony.
“We are not worried bees are going to go extinct. What we are worried about is that the commercial beekeeper won’t be able to stay in business. Losing this number of colonies every year is very financially hard, and it is difficult to replace these guys, because these are the last migratory farmers in America.” -Dennis vanEngelsdorp, researcher, University of Maryland
But the costs of maintaining colonies have mushroomed.
Farmers who lose 40 percent of their colonies have to split nearly every remaining colony just to maintain their total number.
Each new queen bee costs about $20, sometimes more. Beekeepers suffer productivity losses while they’re splitting colonies. And weaker, smaller colonies do not command the same prices among the farmers who pay keepers for pollination services.
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