Hope for America’s Dying Honeybees: What’s Killing Them and How to Help

Over the past decade, the United States has experienced a dreadful decline in bee population, especially when it comes to the precious honeybees. However, there’s a glimmer of hope as of last year. The bee colonies seem to have sustained a reduced loss in 2016, which gave scientists courage for the future.

In fact, according to the annual nationwide survey of the Bee Informed Partnership, U.S. beekeepers have lost only 33 percent of their colonies in 2016. We say only, because it’s a significant drop in loses compared to the previous year; in 2015, over 40 percent of the bee colonies vanished.

No 1 Enemy of Honeybees

When beekeepers check the health of a bee colony, they also look for the possibility of mites in the hives. In particular, keepers are concerned about the varroa mite, a small red parasite (about as big as a deer tick). Why are these mites so dangerous, you ask? These insects apparently threaten the pollinating capabilities of honeybees. In spite of the wide range of factors contributing to the declining population of bees in the U.S., researchers consider these mites as the No 1 enemy of bee colonies.

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What happens is the varroa mite bites into the honeybee larvae, which affects the entire colony hierarchy. The pupa, worker bees, and adult drones – they all end up transmitting the viruses. Soon, the entire honeybee colony has perished, but not before it infects any other colonies around.

The Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association conducted a Winter Loss Survey this year. It involved 831 beekeepers, revealing that just 2,593 colonies of the 5,443 colonies marked as safe in November 2016, thrived through April of this year. Unfortunately, this is the equivalent to 52 percent colony loss.

The participating beekeepers stated that more than a quarter of the destroyed colonies were due to mites. By comparison, 62 percent of them disappeared due to unknown causes. However, even in this category, many bee hives may have suffered from risks linked to these parasites. According to Steve Repasky, a beekeeper with 30 years of experience in the field, mites played one of the most important roles. There is nationwide agreement that varroa mites kill the most honeybees.

Why Is the Verroa Mite So Dangerous

Repasky also explained that beekeepers didn’t have that much trouble with the pollinating insects before the mites arrived. Apparently, these parasites transmit around 25 diseases and viruses among the colonies. It was three decades ago when bee colony loss started becoming a nationwide problem. Coincidentally or not, it was also the moment when the varroa mite first appeared in the U.S.

The years following this milestone went from bad to worse. The parasite – along with other factors, including abuse of pesticides, viruses, habitat loss, and nutritional deficiencies – caused a severe decline of wild bee colonies within the country. So why should we care? Because this huge problem could have deadly economic repercussions on the food supply.

In April 2016, Apidologie published a report of bee colony parasites and diseases. According to their assessment, varroa mites had experienced an uncommon increase. The study also found that small-scale beekeepers (defined as tending to fewer than 50 colonies) are the ones most affected by the parasites.

RELATED: [The Bee Population Decline: 10 Facts and Dangers]

Fortunately, the number of colonies appears to make a comeback. The latest survey showed U.S bee colonies only saw a 30 percent drop in 2016. On the other hand, in spite of the good news, the varroa mite remains a central concern for beekeepers around the nation.

Saving the Bees from the Varroa Mite

Several initiatives are already underway to prevent more massive loss of bee colonies. According to Dwight Wells, President of West Central Ohio Beekeepers Association, beekeepers in Ohio are currently collaborating with researchers to improve the critical number of the chewing bees (also known as Purdue anklebiters). Related studies and experiments hope to create virus-resistant bees that won’t die due to these disease-carrying mites.

Of course, we can rely on environmental groups to promote bee-rescuing initiatives, but we can also get in the game ourselves. It’s great that bee colonies are already experiencing lower losses, but 33 percent is still too high to deem acceptable. So what can you and I do?

How to Help Bee Colonies

  • Avoid Using Pesticides

Neonicotinoids pesticides and synthetic fungicides have been proven to contribute to colony collapse in honeybees. Your primary reason for using chemicals may not be to kill bees but to grow plants and crops. However, most pesticides have very shady limits between invasive insects and valuable ones. Furthermore, some common chemicals also increase the bees’ vulnerability to deadly viruses.

  • Exert Your Green Thumb

Plants are vital for bees! Therefore, even if you tend to just one plant box by your window, you’re already helping the pollinators with various snacks for the day. Better yet, get involved in a community initiative to create a green space in the neighborhood. Do you live in the an urban area? Rooftop pollinator gardens work wonders, allowing the bees to pollinate and the residents to relax. According to experts, you should focus on single-petal flowering plants; these are the most accessible to bees. If you possess a black thumb however, don’t worry. You can just make sure you keep dandelions alive. It’s a weed super rich in pollen and nectar, so bees love it!

  • Water for Bees

You may not know, but bees work hard at pollinating throughout the day, and that leaves them thirsty. So they need water to rehydrate. If you’re not keen on planting and maintaining a garden, you can simply leave out a shallow basin of water for bees to stop by for a drink. Make sure to insert pebbles or anything for the bees to stand on. But change the water frequently, so mosquitoes don’t take over your home.

  • Donate

Last but not least, donations are more than welcome! Look for green organizations that support bee conservation or think of sponsoring an entire hive of bees. No better way to help the bees, as well as promote an organization’s goals!

Header Image: IDN Times

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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