Why Bees Are Dying – Bees & Beekeeping Information

When we talk about why bees are dying, many people tune out. They may think fewer bees do not impact the average person, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Our friend the bee seems to be just about everywhere and plays a huge role in each of our lives.

Bees are not just out there making honey and happily pollinating the beautiful flowers that many enjoy sharing with loved ones. Bees are on a real mission, to pollinate and support a significant part of the human food chain. Researchers point to the fact that bees touch about one in every three bites of food eaten.

Imagine suddenly having one third less food. That gap is significant, and that is not the only thing impacted, as we explore why bees are dying. Even getting up in the morning could be far more complicated without bees, since that morning cup of coffee is brought to the sleepy humans by the bees that pollinate the coffee plant.

Bees dying is a natural part of life until it goes beyond the average life cycle. The current rate of hive loss and bees disappearing, is far worse than it should be to maintain the needed levels of pollinators. The last decade has been very hard on the bee population.

The death of full hives hit hard between April 2015 and April 2016 when beekeepers in the United States faced a devastating crisis. During that time, researchers estimate these beekeepers lost about 44% of their bees. A similar crisis hit places like the UK at the same time on a smaller scale. They lost about 17% of their bees that year.

Stopping the death of bees is tied directly to figuring out the underlying cause. Here, there does not seem to be one red flag that is an easy fix. Multiple factors answer the question of why bees are dying.

honey bee dying worker bee

Why Bees Are Dying

dying

Before coating the wood, you must use a solvent to thin the Tung oil.  Using your choice of solvent, pour equal parts together with the oil and combine in a large container. The process of thinning the oil makes applying multiple layers that much easier and results in a more durable finish. By applying the oil in thin, multiple layers, your project will have a much glossier appearance. Smaller projects usually require a 1/4 gallon of Tung oil and will cover an area of up to 100 square feet. However, if you're working on a surface intended for food preparation, thinning the oil is not advisable.  It can absorb solvents into meats and vegetables making them harmful to consume.

teenager spraying plants in garden

Pesticides

pesticides

Using pesticides goes well beyond spraying a hive or even spraying to kill the bees directly. This is not happening mostly. The exposure comes from the indirect exposure the bees have as they come into contact with seeds treated within the agriculture industry.

Recent surveys of the hives in both Canada and the United States found up to 80% of colonies have at least one synthetic pesticide inside. These pesticides often come from a coating on the outside of seeds the bees depend on for pollen.

To understand the impact of pesticides, look at just one type, the neonicotinoids. This class of chemical includes Thiacloprid, Dinotefuran, Acetamiprid, Imidacloprid, Nitenpyram, Clothianidin, and Thiamethoxam. While they do not kill the bees outright, the chemicals cause horrible side effects in bees that can turn deadly. This includes frying the bee's short-term memory, and throwing off their natural navigation system. The bees die off as they cannot find their way back home at some point.

The EPA back in 2016 released stern warnings about the impact of this class of insecticides on bees. They linked the direct contact with sprayed crops and the fact that these crops draw pollinators like bees for the pollen. While it is correct to say these chemicals do not outright kill the bees upon exposure, they have a substantial impact on their survival. Bees depend on being able to travel back and forth to the hive to live.

macro shot photography of black and yellow bees

Vanishing Habitats

habitats

Bees need nature to survive and thrive. While beekeepers can give them home via a hive, they can not replace their need to flourish in green spaces. These workers need weeds and flowers for pollen.

As rural areas that at one time welcomed bees go urban, they leave the bees with less and less space to search out food. Bees are not the only species impacted by a shrinking rural footprint, but they suffer significantly tied to both the loss of land and a reduced variety of plants.

The move from rural areas to urban human-focused lands has not done away with plants or habitat altogether. Many regions leave green spaces within their communities to foster wildlife like the bees, but they control them. Instead of supporting fields of wildflowers and countless types of plants that give bees a variety of food sources, they manicure these spaces with only certain kinds of flowers.

Flowers added to parks, yards and other outdoor spaces are not often chosen for their variety, but instead how visually pleasing they are or even if they are easy to care for from a landowner's perspective. Limiting the plant variety is not good for the bees.

Disease

Disease

As bees watch habitat vanish and come into contact with pesticides, it compromises their immune systems. This makes them susceptible to a wide range of attacks.

Many times the bees get sick via infections from parasites. The varroa destructor is an example of a parasite that can have a considerable impact on a hive. This mite attacks bees by sucking out their blood. In that process, it also gives the bees a virus that deforms their wings.

This mite arrived in the United States in 1987 entirely by accident. They were able to hitch a ride via Asiatic bees. Beekeepers can find success in getting rid of the mites with miticides, but this is not 100% effective. Bees have strong immune systems. This is the best way to fight off these mites.

flowers blue summer petals

Climate Change

Change

Bees need their rest, and this happens as they hibernate. The warming of their environment changes the growing season for many plants they depend on for pollen.

Even as the growing seasons change, the bees naturally hibernate. Sadly the shift in growing times can mean the bees miss out on essential crops as they slumber away during mild winter months. The natural clock is telling the bees to wake up for spring, but the flowers are not getting the same message.

A milder winter can support new flower growth and sadly this can leave the bees awakening to flowers that have already bloomed and died. The warmer temperatures have not impacted the natural need for the bees to hibernate. They miss out on essential pollen sources as the flower and other plants adjust to changes in the climate.

Poor Diet

diet

Even as many beekeepers and hobbyists try to supplement the bee diet with things like sugar or corn syrup, this does little to get the bee a quality diet. When the variety of plants and flowers the bees find pollen in shrinks, their diet suddenly becomes nothing short of junk food.

Sugar and junk food do the same thing to bees they do to humans. It fills their bellies in the short term but does little for their long-term health. Imagine trying to live a healthy life on a diet of just junk food.

Bees need plants with pollen to live healthily. This means they depend on both natural areas and green spaces in urban areas that are filled with the right mix of a variety of flowers. Gardeners can play a significant role in supporting the local bees by planting flowers in more traditional growing schedules that line up with the time's that bees are not hibernating.

An Improved Bee Future

bee future

While the last decade has been a struggle for bees worldwide, it does not seem to be something that is too far gone by any means. There is evidence that supports a rebuilding period for beehives and even a time of growth.

It is staggering to think about why bees are dying over the last decade has cost the United States over $2 billion. The good news, in this case, is that there have been positive growths recently as far as bee populations go.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a rise in the number of commercial beehives in 2017. There were 3 percent more colonies in 2017 than the year before, putting the number right around 2.89 million.

The number of hives lost in 2017 was also down from the daunting statics from the April 2015 to April 2016. There is hope in fighting to save the bees. Focusing on ending the use of harmful pesticides, careful urban planning for green spaces and even planting more flowers can support a healthy bee future.

Pesticides not only directly impact the bee health, but can also make them more prone to things like a disease. They seem to be the key in more way than one to stopping the death of bees. Regulations within agriculture tied to harmful pesticides can correct the danger to the bees.

Green spaces, gardens and even window boxes with plants that support bee health can also be a step in the right direction. Beyond flowers, herbs are another plant someone can raise that will help solve why bees are dying.

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