Beekeepers Lost 40% Of Bees In 2014-15

Beekeepers Lost 40% Of Bees In 2014-15

Beekeepers across the U.S. lost more than 40% of their honey bee colonies from April 2014 to April 2015, according to the latest results of an annual nationwide survey led by University of Maryland professor Dennis vanEngelsdorp. While winter loss rates improved slightly compared to last year, summer losses — and consequently, total annual losses — were more severe.


Commercial beekeepers were hit particularly hard by the high rate of summer losses, which outstripped winter losses for the first time in five years, stoking concerns over the long-term trend of poor health in honey bee colonies.

The survey, which asks both commercial and small-scale beekeepers to track the health and survival rates of their honey bee colonies, is conducted each year by the Bee Informed Partnership in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America, with funding from USDA. Survey results for this year and all previous years are available on the Bee Informed website.

“We traditionally thought of winter losses as a more important indicator of health, because surviving the cold winter months is a crucial test for any bee colony,” said vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and project director for the Bee Informed Partnership. “But we now know that summer loss rates are significant, too. This is especially so for commercial beekeepers, who are now losing more colonies in the summertime compared to the winter. Years ago, this was unheard of.”

Beekeepers who responded to the survey lost a total of 42.1% of their colonies over the course of the year. Winter loss rates decreased from 23.7% last year to 23.1% this year, while summer loss rates increased from 19.8% to 27.4%.

Among backyard beekeepers (defined as those who manage fewer than 50 colonies), a clear culprit in losses is the varroa mite, a lethal parasite that can easily spread between colonies. Among commercial beekeepers, the causes of the majority of losses are not as clear.

“Backyard beekeepers were more prone to heavy mite infestations, but we believe that is because a majority of them are not taking appropriate steps to control mites,” vanEngelsdorp said. “Commercial keepers were particularly prone to summer losses. But they typically take more aggressive action against varroa mites, so there must be other factors at play.”

This is the ninth year of the winter loss survey, and the fifth year to include summer and annual losses in addition to winter loss data. More than 6,000 beekeepers from all 50 states responded to this year’s survey. All told, these beekeepers are responsible for nearly 15% of the nation’s estimated 2.74 million managed honey bee colonies.

The survey is part of a larger research effort to understand why honey bee colonies are in such poor health, and what can be done to manage the situation. Colony losses present a financial burden for beekeepers, and can lead to shortages among the many crops that depend on honey bees as pollinators. Some crops, such as almonds, depend entirely on honey bees for pollination.

Estimates of the total economic value of honey bee pollination services range between $10 billion and $15 billion annually.

“The winter loss numbers are more hopeful especially combined with the fact that we have not seen much sign of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) for several years, but such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling,” said Jeffery Pettis, a senior entomologist at USDA and a co-coordinator of the survey. “If beekeepers are going to meet the growing demand for pollination services, researchers need to find better answers to the host of stresses that lead to both winter and summer colony losses.”

summary of the 2014-2015 survey results is available on the Bee Informed Partnership’s website.

Source: University of Maryland


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Matt says:

The answer is two fold:

1. Mites transmitting disease
2. Neonicotinoid insecticides.

Number 1 can only be controlled through sanitation and miticides. Number 2 is a larger problem. The large chemical companies claim their is no problem. In Europe where Neonicotinoid’s have been banned this problem is nowhere near as bad.

Colony collapse disorder is usually due to lethargic workers. They don’t gather enough pollen to produce enough nectar to sustain the hive. Eventually the colony collapses due to starvation. Mites make the bees sick and they don’t forage as well. The same is true of Neonicotinoids.

We know what the solution is, but large agribusiness does NOT want to hear it.

Paul Pugliese says:

Australia uses neonicotinoid insecticides but has not documented a single case of colony collapse disorder in honey bees. What’s so unique about Australia? For one, Australia does not have varroa mites. Perhaps this is an important clue…

Paul Pugliese says:

We also know that some of the worst chemicals that affect bees are the very medications (aka pesticides) that beekeepers use to treat varroa mites in their colonies. Alone, these medications can help protect bees from destructive mites. However, these same medications can also form a synergistic reaction with hundreds of other chemicals bees are exposed to in the environment. Interestingly, neonicotinoid pesticides are the least harmful and least likely to create a horrible synergistic reaction. Perhaps we need to do a better job of managing the mite issue with fewer chemicals? Clearly, taking away neonicotinoid pesticides or any one pesticide will not solve this problem. There is no smoking gun and the issue is much more complex than that.

Paul Pugliese says:

By the way, did you catch the last paragraph in this article? “…we have not seen much sign of colony collapse disorder” for several years…” This article is talking about summer losses and not about CCD.

M. Summerfield says:

Europe was criticized for banning neonicotinoids with out any data to show this group of chemicals were harmful to bees. The critics have been proved right and the bee survival problem remains unchanged.

Matt says:

Paul: Here are a few studies that show, through scientific testing, that sub sub-lethal exposure to neo’s causes colony collapse like disorder among honeybees: (Note. The first study treated all hives for mites, yet only saw colony collapse in the neo treated hives vs. control.)

1. Harvard School of Public Health:

2. Lund University:

3. Lund University:

There are more, but these studies prove, using scientific methods, that Neo Nics cause decline in honeybees, but more importantly they have a significant effect on wild bees. This conclusion has now been proven by multiple independent universities in both lab and field studies.

As to Australia, if you read the government document on neo nics they also are concerned about their use. They note bee poisoning in Germany where 12,000 hives were killed by air seeders emitting dust from coated seeds. I would not use the lack of bee deaths in Australia as a proof that neo nics are harmless. It is much more likely that similar studies have not been completed in Australia. A lack of proof is not the same as scientific studies proving no harm.

The EPA has even stated that they will not approve any new neo-nic registrations. This should be an alarm bell as most of the EPA staffers come from former chemical companies that push this stuff. If they are holding on registrations, then they already know the effects on pollinators. They just don’t want to be the one to sound the alarm.

Shawn says:

The best solution to this problem I have heard is putting exhaust filters on air seeders. Air seeders have increased in use over the past 10 years or so but seed treatments have been there much longer. I have a high management beekeeper friend with 50+ hives sitting in the middle of a corn field who said he didn’t lose any hives last year. I didn’t specifically ask him his take on this issue but obviously it can be circumvented

Robert Borkowski says:

Interesting to me is that in 2006 I was asked about my thoughts on CCD. My first thought was poor nutrition and as the science came to many conclusions only one stood out the most: Nutrition. I appreciate all of the scientific research going on but it is time we beekeepers look at our management practices and re-evaluate how we manage our honey bee colonies. You might also be surprised if you spend some time reading some of the various research articles published over the years.

[…] In Growing Produce […]

Matt says:

Robert: Without knowing if the corn was treated, and if it was, what it was treated with, anecdotal evidence is not really evidence at all. I don’t mean that to sound negative, just that it is not evidence.

Air Seeders (vs. older plate based seeder) cause problems through direct release of the insecticide into the surrounding environment. Everyone agrees that this will kill bees. What is being debated here is whether sub-lethal exposure to the insecticide through exudates from pollen or nectar are concentrated enough to cause effects on bees.

The studies I posted seem to prove that they do. The Lund study also shows that not all bee species are effected the same way. Some are more sensitive that others. The Lund study shows bumble bees and other wild bees are more sensitive that domesticated European honey bees. This finding means that we need to take into account the effect on wild pollinators as well as the domesticated ones.

It is always amazing to me that none of these studies are done before these products are used. If the studies are done, they are done by the chemical company seeking registration and at a paid for institution. What do you think happens when the paid institution does not return a favorable result? How much repeat business do you think they get? It is only through independent research that we can determine if these products can be used without a large impact on the environment. Maybe there is a better way to use these products? Maybe the dose needs to be adjusted based on the crop being grown?

These products are designed to kill insects. They do that exceedingly well. We need to keep in mind that we may also be killing non-target species and THAT is what needs more research. The older pyrethroid insecticides can be used in such a way as to avoid killing pollinators. Spraying at night is a very effective way to avoid killing bees (they are not active at night). Systemic insecticides (which includes GMOs), need to be held to a higher standard as they are present within the plant and for a much longer duration.