More bad news for honeybees: US beekeepers lost nearly half their colonies in the past year

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If there’s any animal that can’t seem to catch a break, it’s the honeybee. Thanks to what scientists believe is a combination of disease, parasites, pesticides and other environmental stressors, honeybee colonies have experienced significant losses over the past decade or so — a phenomenon that’s troubling to say the least, given the insect’s immense importance when it comes to pollinating food crops and other plants. But despiterecent efforts to increase protections for the honeybee, new surveys suggest that the insect is still suffering — perhaps now more than ever.

A survey released this week by the Bee Informed Partnership, a collaborative organization of honeybee researchers around the country, revealed that beekeepers in the United States lost 44 percent of their colonies in the past year — the second highest annual loss reported in the past 10 years. Colony “losses” refer to colonies whose bees died from any number of possible reasons, such as disease. They do not necessarily refer to hives stricken by colony collapse disorder, which is a well-publicized but very specific phenomenon that occurs when a colony’s worker bees suddenly and mysteriously abandon the nest.

Notably, the survey indicated that bee losses during the summer were just as high as bee losses during the winter — an alarming finding, considering summer is the time of year when bees should be at their healthiest.

“The summer is boom time for bees — lots of forage,” said Dennis VanEngelsdorp, the survey’s project director and an entomologist at the University of Maryland. “We usually think of this as a very good time for bees. When we first started this [survey] 10 years ago, we didn’t even monitor summer losses because we didn’t think this would be significant.”  

Altogether, the study surveyed more than 5,700 beekeepers managing nearly 400,000 honeybee colonies across the country. The findings indicated that about 28 percent of managed colonies were lost during both the 2015 summer and the 2015-2016 winter. Because beekeepers tend to add, remove or restore colonies throughout the year, these numbers come out to about a 44 percent loss of all colonies managed between April 2015 and March 2016.