You know bees are having a rough time when a survey finds that professional beekeepers lost 33.2 per cent of their colonies this year and that statistic is considered a significant improvement over the previous decade.
It's no secret that bees have been having a really rough time. Just yesterday, the rusty-patched bumble became the first bee in the continental United States officially listed under the Endangered Species Act. But that's the tip of the iceberg for our buzzy little friends, who unlike their arsehole cousins — wasps — only want to pollinate plants with their fuzzy little bodies. Sadly, the best bees, honey bees (Apis mellifera L.), are dealing with yet another threat to their existence, while wasps just sit back and watch the world burn.
Bee populations around the world have been in decline for years due to a number of reasons that make it extremely difficult to fix the problem. Urban development, insecticides, fungicides, illness, climate change and many other factors have been determined to be responsible for the decline in bee populations.
This week, the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership and the Apiary Inspectors of America published their annual survey of 4,963 beekeepers in the United States and it seems that we still have a problem. But it was a slightly better year for our vital pollinating friends.
The loss of a third of the nation's honey bee colonies between April 2016 and March 2017 represented the second lowest rate of colony loss in the last seven years. On average, over the last decade, about 40 per cent of colonies were lost each year. "It's good news in that the numbers are down, but it's certainly not a good picture," survey director Dennis vanEngelsdorp, told CBS News. "It's gone from horrible to bad."
Infographic: Bee Informed
The US government has an official goal of getting the winter bee colony losses down to 15 per cent annually. This year's winter losses of 21 per cent were the lowest since the survey began in 2006.
It's possible that we're getting better at addressing the problems that are facing bee populations. VanEnglesdorp, a University of Maryland entomologist, believes that a new product for fighting the mite Varroa destructor is one of the primary reasons for the more encouraging numbers this year. The mites have been a key factor in what's commonly referred to as "colony collapse disorder"
because they carry the deformed wing virus.
A dead colony can potentially be revived by beekeepers, but it requires extra labour and a loss of productivity. The costs incurred by beekeepers fighting colony death is often passed on to US farmers who rely on the bees to pollinate $US15 ($20) billion worth of crops per year.
It's a difficult problem because nearby bee colonies that aren't healthy threaten the ones that are. "To keep healthy bees, you need a good environment and you need your neighbours to keep healthy bees," Nathalie Steinhauer, the data collection lead on the survey, told USA Today. "Honeybee health is a community matter."
And unfortunately, every time some sort of progress seems to be made in stopping one issue afflicting the bees, another threat is discovered.