Not so Sweet: Nearly Half of U.S. Honeybee Colonies Disappeared Last Year

honeybee colonyNearly half of all honeybee colonies were lost in the last year in the U.S., according to a recent survey released by the Bee Informed Partnership. The record number of losses correlates to the spread of colony collapse disorder, the mysterious condition plaguing colonies around the globe where honeybees abandon their hives for unknown reasons. But not all of the losses are related to CCD; many of the bees in the survey died for unknown reasons.

According to the survey, 44 percent of U.S. honeybee colonies disappeared last year—the second highest loss in the last decade.

Colony collapse disorder has been linked to exposure to pesticides, diseases, parasites, and other environmental triggers, but the exact sources of the stress to the colonies is still unclear—and still a major threat to the U.S. food supply despite recent efforts to protect bee populations. Bee pollination is responsible for about one-third of all food grown in the U.S.

The survey, which looked at more than 5,700 beekeepers who manage nearly 400,000 honeybee colonies in the U.S., also noted that seasons didn’t seem to play a particular role in the loss of honeybee colonies. Losses in warmer seasons were just as high as in the winter, “an alarming finding, considering summer is the time of year when bees should be at their healthiest,” reports the Washington Post.

In related research published last month in the journal Apidologie, two of the biggest factors for honeybee colonies were identified as Nosema, a disease-causing fungus, and a parasite called the Varroa mite, which can infect the bees with a number of viruses. The research found Varroa mites to be more widespread than previous estimates.

“Especially in the fall, over 50 percent of the colonies sampled had levels higher than we think [will] damage colonies,” Dennis VanEngelsdorp, the survey’s project director and an entomologist at the University of Maryland told the Post.

“When those colonies die, they spread their mites to all the neighborhood bees.”

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Honeybee image via Shutterstock

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.