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Earth Science

More Than 40% of US Honeybee Colonies Died In a 12-Month Period Ending In April 220

walterbyrd writes: The Agriculture Department released its annual honeybee survey Wednesday and it doesn't look good. More than 40% of U.S. honeybee colonies died in a 12-month period ending in April. While the precise cause of the honeybee crisis is unknown, scientists generally blame a combination of factors, including poor diets and stress. Some bees die from infestations of the Varroa mite, a bloodsucking parasite that weakens bees and introduces diseases to the hive. Environmental groups also point to a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would stop approving new outdoor uses for those types of chemicals until more studies on bee health are conducted.
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More Than 40% of US Honeybee Colonies Died In a 12-Month Period Ending In April

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  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:16AM (#49688139)

    Same problem in Europe.

    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:36AM (#49688259)

      My parents have a small bee farm. They lost their colonies... Because it was too cold of a winter this year, and they froze.
      Global climate change, as created a lot of atypical, and more extreme weather conditions. I doubt there is a single issue, but a wide set of issues. I know it is complex and hard to put in a headline, so you vilify someone. But reality is there are not so many villains but the actions of many people. Often a combination of good intentions.

      • Just curious... You're parents don't regulate temperature in any way?

      • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <matt@mattevans.org> on Thursday May 14, 2015 @12:24PM (#49690113) Homepage Journal

        Someone else covered this but is buried.

        Bee colonies do not freeze in the winter. They starve.

        We've been keeping bees in North Dakota, which is colder than wherever you are, for 7 years. All 3 of our colonies survived last winter. One is strong enough that we've split it this spring to try and prevent a swarm.

        The way that bees operate in winter is amazing. The bees form a sphere, with the queen near its center. They vibrate their wings and bodies to create heat. The bees on the outside of the sphere obviously lose heat the fastest. The bees on the inside stay the warmest. The sphere of vibrating bees constantly turns itself inside out, over and over, so that the cooler outer edge bees return to the warm core and replenish their warmth, while the warm bees from the core circulate out towards the edges after they've recuperated.

        This consumes lots of energy (and food).

        As the cluster of bees does this, it moves upwards in the hive, consuming stored honey.

        When they get to the top of the hive, they stop migrating. If they run out of honey, they die.

        We use 2 deep supers and 1 medium honey super to over-winter our bees.

        • What's a super?

        • If they run out of honey, they die.

          ... unless you feed them. My mom is a beekeeper, and we always had a few hives while I was growing up. We would periodically put a feeder jar of sugar water in the hive opening starting in January or February. The bees prefer honey, so they will leave the sugar water alone until they are low on honey. Once they start aggressively eating the sugar water, we knew they were out of honey, and would switch to daily feedings. We also packed straw around the hives for insulation.

          • by bmajik ( 96670 )

            Totally agree. We put feeders on the hives in late winter / early spring for the same reasons. It's especially important here since blooming can be so variable.

            my point was - bees don't freeze in winter, they starve.

      • All you're saying is your parents are bad at beekeeping, sorry. It's called "anecdotal" evidence for a reason - it is solely your own. The reality is most people aren't as bad at beekeeping.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Same problem in Europe.

      Complete bullshit! The EU banned the pesticides US farmer use, and lo-and-behold, bee colonies stopped dying.

      Blame the farmers if you want, but ask why they're happy to kill and destroy the ecosystem first. They're being fucked over by the massive supermarket suppliers.

      • by pastafazou ( 648001 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @09:16AM (#49688555)
        Complete bullshit is right! How is it that some regions that use neonics are not suffering any bee colony deaths at all? Australia is one of the heaviest users of neonics, yet their bee colonies are quite healthy. Canada's prairies also use neonics, yet their bees are doing absolutely fine. Neonics were in use for 15 years before these bee colony deaths began to appear. Certainly not very much correlation at all between usage of neonics and bee deaths. It's quite likely that the real culprit is the varroa mite, and the bee viruses it carries. The mite has become a serious problem in both the US and Europe, and the spread of the mite correlates much better with the spread of CCD.
        • Australia uses the neonics differently, as I recall. Something about the way they spread the pesticide makes it less likely to interfere with bees.

          That said, it's an insecticide. It's meant to kill insects, and they're generally pretty indiscriminate. It's also fairly likely that even if it's a sub-lethal dose for bees, it's a lethal dose for different beneficial insects.

          I think there are multiple causes--varroa mites have been around for decades without causing such widespread colony collapse. We've got a changing climate and agricultural monocultures, as well as stress from neonics (which it turns out honeybees may prefer over non-treated nectar).

          Looking for single causes is usually hopeless. But we can control our use of pesticides, so it's one of the things on the chopping block. One way or another, we have to bring this problem under control.

          • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @11:52AM (#49689799)

            In Australia and western Canada, neonic-coated seads are typically placed in the ground via a gravity-fed metering system (box drill), or via an air drill that blows the seed into the ground behind shanks that open the soil. So dust particles laden with neonics get buried in the soil where bees won't be exposed directly to them. In the midwest US and eastern Canada, where the crops are predominantly things like soybeans or corn, they use vacuum planters which suck the seeds from storage one at time and drop them into the ground. Unfortunately the vacuum planters blow a lot of dust from the seeds into the air. So neonic-laden particles get blown everywhere and we know they affect bees and any other insect. So it could very well be that widespread use of vacuum planters is a part of the problem. Unfortunately air drills don't work very well for row crops that do best with rows of singulated seeds.

            The Alberta Bee Keepers Commission refuses to back any attempt to completely ban neonic use in Canada as it would decimate their industry. Fewer crops means fewer bees are required by farmers.

            The reason neonics are used is that when the plant is young, the neonics are taken up through the plant and make the plant toxic to pests that would eat the little leaves, killing the plant. On one of my dry bean fields last year was seeded without neonic seed treatment, and we did see some yield reduction from pests eating the plants at an early stage, including from works eating the shoots underground. If there's a chance neonics can be used safely, then for sure they are a huge benefit.

            There is the other issue of neonics present in the pollen, leading to bees getting a bit of a buzz. It's not clear to me how much neonic there is in the flower at that late stage of the plant's growth, or what the consequences of that are. Bees around here are heavily used to pollinate hybrid canola, all of which was treated with neonics. So it's really hard to say what the consequences are.

            It's true we can control the use of pesticides, and we should and do. This doesn't have to mean an outright ban. A complete ban would mean the return to more toxic insecticides being sprayed at more regular intervals on a crop, which none of us wants.

        • by Xest ( 935314 )

          Your argument doesn't really make sense, as the same arguments you've used against neonicotinoids applies to varoa mites.

          You claim that neonicotinoids can't be to blame because there are no large scale bee deaths in places where neonicotinoids are used. Well guess what? there are places in developing countries where neonicotinoids aren't used for cost reasons, the varroa mite still exists, and that also don't have the problem.

          Similarly, you claim that neonicotinoids can't be to blame because they were used

        • Citation needed on your claim that honeybees are doing fine in the Canadian prairies.
    • Same problem in Europe.

      Europe also has a ban on Neonic pesticides... Too bad that's not likely to silence the anti-pesticide fud over here.

      • by Xest ( 935314 )

        To be fair, the European neonicotinoid ban is a bit half-arsed.

        They banned things like Imidacloprid, yet Thiacloprid and Acetamiprid which are both also neonicotinoids have not been banned.

        Conspiracy theorists in gardening communities (yes, they get everywhere) have this idea that the ban has nothing to do with the bees and has been carried out as a result of subversive lobbying by companies like Bayer whose patents on things like Imidacloprid are near their end can prevent generic brands entering the marke

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thank you Monsanto, DuPont, etc etc...

    • by Tx ( 96709 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:34AM (#49688243) Journal

      It's not proven that any particular pesticide or agro-chemical is to blame. The fact that urban bees are thiving [treehugger.com] in cities such as Paris and London, despite all the pollution in those environments, is inteesting. One mooted possibile reason is that cities have lots of different species of plants in their gardens and parks, blooming at differing times, so that there is always nectar available from some of them. In the countryside by contrast, with modern, vast, single-crop farms, it may be that there is only one species of plant in the bees environment, and once that crop finishes blooming, in sometimes a pretty small window of time, there is no more nectar. So it could be farming practices and lack of rural biodiversity that are to blame, at least in significant part.

      • Indeed. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:45AM (#49688311)

        The fact that urban bees are thiving [treehugger.com] in cities such as Paris and London, despite all the pollution in those environments, is inteesting.

        Where the carpet bombing of these pesticides is not done.

        Interesting indeed.

      • Right - not a specific ag-related agent - but the industry trend to make anything but monoculture effectively illegal.

      • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @09:14AM (#49688529)

        In Alberta, where there are more commercial bee keeping operations than anywhere in Canada, of honey and other types, and where neonic use is higher than in many other places. Bees are simply are not having the problems seen elsewhere. The bee keepers association here in Alberta is strongly opposed to an outright neonic ban because it would severely hurt their pollination and honey business. Without neonics there would be a lot less Canola and other crops to pollinate.

        Now, this isn't to say that neonics aren't a big part of the problem of bees dying elsewhere. It could have to do with how the neonics are being used. In Alberta they are used when treating the seeds with fungicide, and typically they are placed in the ground with a gravity-fed drill, or an air drill that blows them into the ground. So all the neonic residue gets placed under the soil. In other places, they use vacuum planters (corn, soybeans) which blows neonic-laden dust into the air. So it could be this that contributes to the problem.

      • > It's not proven that any particular pesticide or agro-chemical is to blame.

        The evidence is pretty damning. Neonics do not directly kill, they affect the nervous system so the insects can take care of themselves. Many bees leave the hive, and cannot find the way back. That is exactly the way neonics would work.

        > The fact that urban bees are thiving

        Because they are pollinating crops that are contaminated with neonics.

      • "Unknown" and "not proven" is the rat I smelled. Smells just like "doubt is our product".

        Yes, bee colonies are dying, and it's a TOTAL MYSTERY! Well, I rather think research in certain areas is being blocked and buried, otherwise it would be a lot less of a mystery. There is ample reason to distrust industry. They have a long track record of turning to propaganda to improve their bottom line. Big Tobacco started it. Big Oil saw how effective it was and jumped in to confuse the public about Climate C

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NotDrWho ( 3543773 )

      You forgot big oil, global warming, the War on Terror, the Koch Brothers, and all the other lefty bogeymen. May as well get them too while you're talking out of your ass.

      • by BlackPignouf ( 1017012 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @09:33AM (#49688679)

        While "innocent until proven guilty" is typically the right approach, "huge assholes until proven otherwise" has always been extremely accurate for Monsanto.

        • While "innocent until proven guilty" is typically the right approach, "huge assholes until proven otherwise" has always been extremely accurate for Monsanto.

          False. The "until proven otherwise" would imply that this has happened at any point, which would be untrue. They (Monsanto) are just huge assholes all the time.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Thank you Monsanto, DuPont, etc etc...

      You are right to thank them. Over the years they have helped to dramatically increase crop yields to keep the price of food down. The left is constantly yammering on about the plight of the poor out of one side of their mouth and then demonizing the people who make food affordable out of the other. Monsanto has probably done more to help the poor than all the give away programs combined.

    • by cjjjer ( 530715 )
      Thank you western civilization for wanting cheap quick food.

      Fixed it for you
  • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:19AM (#49688155)

    While the precise cause of the honeybee crisis is unknown, scientists generally blame a combination of factors, including poor diets and stress. Some bees die from infestations of the Varroa mite, a bloodsucking parasite that weakens bees and introduces diseases to the hive. Environmental groups also point to a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.

    Because environmental groups, of course, are just a bunch of nutjobs and couldn't possibly include scientists...

    Get ready for the "humanity will survive because reason xyz" posts, possibly something about pollinating crops with low-paying jobs or even freakin' drones or something.

    [Robbie comes back from school in a bad mood]
    Robbie: [to the Grapdelites] Thanks for everything. I got an F. [throws his notebook close to the Grapdelites]
    Grapdelite 2: Oh, careful!
    Robbie: Oh, sorry. I didn't see you.
    Grapdelite 1: He seems distressed.
    Grapdelite 2: I hope it's nothing we done.
    Robbie: "Why dinosaurs ruled the Earth?" And I wrote a whole essay about what you guys said about how we're too wise to eat all the grapes. Look what the teacher wrote. [shows the Grapdelites his paper]
    Grapdelite 1: "There'll always be more grapes. That's what 'more' means."

    • If the grapledites were so smart, they would have chosen a better example. Grapes are meant to be eaten; it's part of the reproductive cycle of the grape vine.
      Not the momma!
  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:29AM (#49688211)

    Over a 200 year period, 100% of the humans on the planet die ... of course, more are born to replace them so the population actually grows ... making that number that looked super duper scary ... pretty much normal.

    So ... 40% in and of itself doesn't mean anything to me if Bees only live 2-3 years anyway.

    How many new colonies were formed and how was the total population effected in the end.

    The title and summary give no indication that something is wrong, only the indication that someone wants a sensationalist headline.

    Facts please ... you know, news for nerds.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well, Mr Basic Reading Comprehension Failure, without even needing to read the article, the summary actually says colonies not bees.

      • Unless honey bee colonies are immortal, I'm pretty sure there is still a normal range that would be relevant.

        • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:59AM (#49688441)

          The normal lifespan of a bee colony is measured in decades or in rare cases even centuries.

          • Yeah, that still doesn't tell us anything. A certain percentage of them would still die off every year.

            • by JazzLad ( 935151 )
              Let's see, I'm no mathematician (in fact I had to Google how to even spell it), but 40% every year seems like it couldn't sustain decades ... Someone better at math correct me if I am wrong, but to have a 'normal lifespan' of even 1 decade means no more than 10% loss every year (on average).

              Sometimes it's better to not double-down when you're wrong. :)
              • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @11:12AM (#49689409) Homepage Journal
                Son of a former beekeeper speaking here.

                In summer, a typical worker bee lives for about 6 weeks. 8 weeks, maybe 10, if she has one of the rare posts of guardians at the bee colony's entry, or is one of the even fewer bees that feed the queen. Bees literally work themselves to death. The replenishment rate is, during summer, 100%; this is taken care of by the queen. A typical bee colony has between 10,000 and 40,000 bees in high summer, then goes into winter with about 1,000 bees, clumped around the queen to keep her warm, and comes out of winter with 400 to 600 bees. We are talking about apis mellifera carnica here, the so-called Italian bee, which is the variety most commonly used by beekeepers.

                An entire colony dying in spring or early summer is, normally, an extremely rare event, and indicates either an epidemy, or severe poisoning. Varroa mites are a known cause, but are a largely contained phenomenon now, at least in professional bee-keeping circles. What remains, is ... poisoning. Neonicotinoids or something else.

            • Of course that tells us something. GP posted that the normal lifespan of a bee colony is measured in decades or in rare cases even centuries. That's a vague timespan of course, but that's maybe roughly on par with a human lifespan (30 to >100). Even if we assume the low end of that is 30 years, if 40% of them died within a 12 month period that's a massive indicator of some of sort of problem. A 30 year lifespan (again, LOW end guesstimate based on GP comments) means that on average, 3% of colonies sh
          • Citation needed? I would be interested to read your sources about this, as I have never encountered this claim before.

            The term "lifespan of a bee colony" is also somewhat interesting. Are you talking about one continuous genetic line of bees with successive daughter queens existing in the same location for decades or centuries?

            Bee swarms do, very frequently, take over unused, abandoned, or dead hives, though there's no reliable genetic relationship there.

    • by JSC ( 9187 ) <.moc.nexoc. .ta. .nhoj.> on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:49AM (#49688361)
      Reading the article reveals this... "In an annual survey released on Wednesday by the Bee Informed Partnership, a consortium of universities and research laboratories, about 5,000 beekeepers reported losing 42.1 percent of their colonies in the 12-month period that ended in April. That is well above the 34.2 percent loss reported for the same period in 2013 and 2014, and it is the second-highest loss recorded since year-round surveys began in 2010."
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:53AM (#49688391)

      I am a beekeeper. 30% of feral bee colonies do not survive naturally and is also the number I try to maintain to keep genetic diversity. With that said other beekeepers and myself do not report this as loss to the DOA and count this as the price of doing business. I am right in line with this number with 10% loss on top of what I dispatched.

      • I am a beekeeper. 30% of feral bee colonies do not survive naturally and is also the number I try to maintain to keep genetic diversity. With that said other beekeepers and myself do not report this as loss to the DOA and count this as the price of doing business. I am right in line with this number with 10% loss on top of what I dispatched.

        Very interesting. Good info for the readers here. Thanks.

      • So you're saying this is a propaganda piece by "big corn" who want to jack up the price of honey so more people switch to corn syrup? Diabolical!
    • According to the article the historical norm is more like 10% per year, most of which is in the winter and beekeepers are having trouble keeping enough bees to do their work.

    • Using your "human" analogy, human colonies survive for thousands of years. Damascus, Syria is over 6,000 years old. If human colonies started dying out, you'd notice.

      • Using your "human" analogy, human colonies survive for thousands of years. Damascus, Syria is over 6,000 years old. If human colonies started dying out, you'd notice.

        Like, for example, Damascus, Syria.

    • by dmt0 ( 1295725 )
      The title and the summary are meant to downplay the role the pesticides play in this - which were actually proven to kill the bees, and shift the attention to the other factors.
      • by RingDev ( 879105 )

        You have a point, if you spray a bee colony with neonicotinoids, the bees will die.

        But how many people in the world are spraying bee colonies with neonicotinoids?

        When you plant a neonicotinoid treated seed in a barren field, do you know where the bees are?

        I'll give you a hint: no where's near the barren field. There's nothing growing yet, there are no flowers, no pollen, nothing to eat. Those bees are still holed up keeping warm and waiting for plants to start budding.

        Are there idiots in the world that do s

  • It would seem that bee deaths due to pesticide interaction should be relatively steady or steadily increasing if pesticide use is also steady, and that the spikes in bee deaths would more likely be from the other factors mentioned in the article.
    • It would seem that bee deaths due to pesticide interaction should be relatively steady or steadily increasing if pesticide use is also steady

      You may want to read up on how a dose-response curve works. As the dose increases, the affected population increases following a sigmoid curve (i.e., the rate of change increases).

      • Are there seasonal spikes on that curve?
        • How can you have seasonal spikes in yearly figures?

          In an annual survey released on Wednesday by the Bee Informed Partnership, a consortium of universities and research laboratories, about 5,000 beekeepers reported losing 42.1 percent of their colonies in the 12-month period that ended in April.

          • How can you have seasonal spikes in yearly figures?

            Sorry, I should have said 'annual spike'. I would not expect such a curve to show a single annual spike, following a couple years of lower trending, as described in the article.

  • Simply saying "40% of the colonies died" doesn't mean anything if it's *normal* for 30%-50% of these colonies to die in the spring.

    • Simply saying "40% of the colonies died" doesn't mean anything if it's *normal* for 30%-50% of these colonies to die in the spring.

      Absolutely. Given that all living things eventually die, that headline means we have allowed 60 percent of bees to achieve immortality.

      • by Rande ( 255599 )

        I blame the immortal queens going around decapitating the other immortal queens.
        "There can bee only one."

        • by gmhowell ( 26755 )

          I blame the immortal queens going around decapitating the other immortal queens.
          "There can bee only one."

          "Here we are, born to be kings, we're the princes of the universe!"

      • colony != individual. If you're having trouble with the word colony, replace it with the word "city" in your mind.

      • Bee colonies. Individual bees don't really matter, apart from the queen. That 40% of bee colonies are dying off when it used to be about 10% is troubling.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Thursday May 14, 2015 @08:52AM (#49688381) Homepage Journal

    Slashdot must be getting kickbacks from the NYT because all the story links go to their paywall now. But a nerd would go right to the source [usda.gov] because the NYT is a fat fucking waste of time any more. They're the next CNN or Faux News, they just sensationalize other people's news. Too bad this ain't News for Nerds any more.

  • Seems the obvious answer is to genetically modify some bees to be extra hardy, and toxin resistant. The possible side effects might include increased intelligence, gargantuan size, and a taste for human flesh, but we have to save the bees somehow.

    I for one welcome our new super bee overlords!

    • They are trying to create bees that are more resistant to the neonics, and mites. I don't know about the super size and all.

    • by Bardez ( 915334 )
      Maybe we can Africanize them in the process. It sounds like a great idea!
  • by Trax3001BBS ( 2368736 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @10:23AM (#49689043) Homepage Journal

    Post to Submission that originally linked to paywall

    2009
    Scientists Isolate and Treat Parasite Causing Decline in Honey Bee Population
    http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org]

    2010
    Mystery of the Dying Bees Solved
      "As it turns out, the fungus N. ceranae that was thought to be killing off bee colonies had a partner in crime — a DNA-based virus that worked in tandem with N. ceranae to compromise nutrition uptake" Note: (N. ceranae = Parasite)
      http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org]

      2012
      Studies Link Pesticides To Bee Colony Collapse Disorder
      http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org]

    2015
    It's the pesticides!

  • I guess apiary-minded sheikhs better plan their visits to blonde entomologists with care...
  • Honest question, I really don't know. Are we still trucking hives all around the country? IMHO that should have been one of the first things to stop when this crisis started. It seems like the opportunity for pathogens to spread multiplies when you truck colonies 500 miles.

    I can see this being a vicious circle: Not enough local bees. Truck some in. Trucked-in bees whack local population. Hey, things are worse. Now let's truck in MORE bees...

  • This might sound silly but why not give the bees a vacation from making honey for humans? They keep making it we keep taking it no wonder they are stresses and maybe overworked..slave bees so to speak. Same for the fish i can live with out eating honey and fish for say 2 years.
  • by angst_ridden_hipster ( 23104 ) on Thursday May 14, 2015 @02:56PM (#49691941) Homepage Journal

    We've seen strange swarm behavior here in Southern California the past two years. Anecdotes follow:

    Last year, we had a swarm that probably lost its Queen (or didn't have one to begin with). They maintained a big ball in the tree for nearly four months, gradually all dying off. They made no honeycomb, just a few weird strands of propolis. In the past, when swarms failed to form a new hive, they didn't continue to go and harvest pollen and function like a hive, but all died off much more rapidly.

    This year, we had a swarm ball up in a tree mid-afternoon. They hadn't found a hive by the next morning. By the next evening, they were all falling to the ground and writhing as if poisoned or something. By the second day, there were just heaps of dead bees all around the garden.

    I don't claim to be any expert (although my Dad kept several hives when I was a kid). Still, I haven't seen this before. I don't know the cause of either phenomenon.

  • I just watched some PBS show that led to some conclusion that they did identify what was causing the populations to die.

    TFA says otherwise.

    And I just lost a colony two months ago--it was weird and I sent some in for analysis. Just a pile of bees at the base of my fruit tree...just looked sad.

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