Furry bumblebee feasting on yellow center of pale lavender flower, hanging upside down
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Rapid Recap: 2019 Status on Bees

You might have thought that all the reviews of 2019 were over by now. Not so fast! One more coming…right here…I have researched the 2019 status of bees with scientific findings that you may not yet have heard about.

Bees and Mites—Sharks and Jets

The biggest news is that a research team from the University of Guelph tested for a possible link between the red varroa mite—cited by both Bayer and Syngenta as the major contributor to bee population decline—and the use of neonics pesticides. These are widely used in seed coatings throughout the U. S.

Naturally, it’s in the agrochem industry’s best interest to point to the mite as the major problem. They have latched onto this in their marketing, and it behooves the rest of us to be wise about their message.

Orange sunset in background creates a silhouette of a flower, a blurry bee flies toward the flower

But that gesture begs the question: Why is the varroa mite suddenly so abundant?

The University of Guelph study is the first to prove a definite link between very low exposure to neonics, and the honeybees’ grooming behavior. After low-dose exposure, the bees’ grooming intensity dropped by 1.4 times overall. This drop in grooming, when the hive is also exposed to the mites, is just enough to allow the mites to overtake the hive.

Oddly, medium-level doses showed no changes in grooming behavior. It is a combination of the low-dose and mite exposure that causes the change in bee behavior.

Please…No White Hats and Black Hats

What is critical about this finding is that the agrochem industry wants to create a distinction between laboratory testing—in which bees are exposed directly to neonics—and actual field experience, in which they point out that bees are only exposed indirectly to very low doses.

They are supporting their farmer customers who are adamant that they cannot achieve the yields necessary to feed us all without those seed coatings.

The University of Guelph study tested that theory and proved that low-dose exposure is actually more harmful to bees than medium-to-high doses.

Several industry papers have reported on the study. You can read the articles here, if you like:

https://www.producer.com/2019/05neonics-hinder-bees-grooming-ability-study/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190422112818.html

For the heck of it, this guy is worth following:

http://scientificbeekeeping.com/colony-health/

So How Are Bee Colonies Doing?

NPR’s The Salt reported in June 2019 that “bee colony death continues to rise. According to the Bee Informed Partnership’s latest survey, released this week, U.S. beekeepers lost nearly 40% of their honeybee colonies last winter—the greatest reported winter hive loss since the partnership started its surveys 13 years ago.”

The report largely refers to itinerant commercial beekeepers. Wild insects alone cannot be relied on to pollinate the large commercial fields of flowering crops, so commercial beekeepers travel the country, setting up hives wherever needed.

“We’re not worried about honeybees going extinct. What we’re worried about is commercial beekeepers going extinct,” says vanEngelsdorp, founder of the Bee Informed Partnership. Commercial beekeepers are “so migratory that it’s difficult to track how many live in each state, and all that moving around is expensive.

Beekeeper in white protective gear holding a tray from the white wooden hive; also holding a yellow brush; agains deep green shrubs

They have to monitor thousands of hives for disease and pests. Starting new hives when some of the inventory dies has become an expense that many may not be able to support. To have the food supply that we are used to, we need those itinerant beekeepers. Large-scale crop production will suffer without them.”

The agrochem giants try to focus consumer awareness on the varroa mites as the main culprit, but now we have indisputable evidence that the use of neonics plays a part in the bees’ inability to fight off the hive invader.

According to Maryann Frazier, a retired senior extension associate for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, “There’s been no significant effort to correct what’s causing the decline.”

Read the full article here, if you like:

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/06/19/733761393/more-bad-buzz-for-bees-record-numbers-of-honey-bee-colonies-died-last-winter

Even More Threats to Bees

On December 24, The New York Times reported news of the Asian giant hornet invasion, which has just made an appearance in the Pacific Northwest.

In both Washington State and British Columbia, pest alerts have been issued.

The prehistoric-like hornets can be almost two inches long with a wingspan of 3 inches. They are a honeybee’s worst nightmare. The state alert warns: “Though they are typically not interested in humans, pets, or large animals, they can inflict a nasty sting if threatened or their nest is disturbed.”

They feed on insects, including honeybees, and can wipe out an entire hive—as if the poor critters didn’t have enough to worry about.

Read the full article here, if you like:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/24/us/asian-giant-hornet.html

The bottom line: Keep planting pollinators in your gardens, folks!

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