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The Birds and the Bees
Author: TriSec    Date: 05/16/2015 13:18:56

"Birds do it, Bees do it, They say that up in Boston even beans do it..."
- Ella Fitzgerald

Well, I can't speak for our feathered friends, despite the fact that there was a local sensation about a month ago when a nesting pair of Bald Eagles was discovered along the Charles River right here in Waltham...but I digress.

Longtime readers of this space will recall the many stories about Colony Collapse Disorder that we've posted over the years. The good news is that it's receding as mysteriously as it appeared. It's still out there, but the prevalence is far less than it once was, and of course the media has moved on to other things.

But bees are still dying...although now it's the old scourges of viruses and mites that have returned with a vengeance. Think for a moment - folks in the warmer climes of the blog readership don't experience a true winter, so neither do your bee colonies. After a winter like we just had in New England, you'd be surprised to find any insects survived, but of course they always do.


Summer deaths outpaced those in the winter, the season that traditionally has the most deaths, for the first time in the five years that 12-month mortality has been tracked.

Beekeepers lost 27.4 percent of their hives from April 2014 through September, up from 19.8 percent the previous year, according to the survey. Losses from October through March fell to 23.1 percent from 23.7 percent.

“We’re a little frustrated that we’ve stabilized our winter losses only to see mortality go up in the summer,” vanEngelsdorp said.

Total losses for the full year were reported at 42.1 percent. The half-year components add up to more than the annual figure because the data includes hives that replaced lost colonies during the survey period, vanEngelsdorp said.

Two years ago, the survey found a record 45 percent of keepers’ bees died.

What's alarming now is the new statistic that more bees are dying during the warmer summer months, instead of the depths of winter when you'd expect them to. There's a curious mix of things happening during the winter - beekeepers are better able to control mites, due to the assist from the weather. But with no crops at that time of year, bees are more dependent on artificial food sources. And come spring and summer, they're exposed to more pesticides than ever.

“Beekeepers have been able to keep mites in check over the winter, while the problems with pesticides, made worse by lack of healthy forage, are the leading driver of bee declines throughout the year,” Emily Marquez, a staff scientist with the Pesticide Action Network, a Sacramento, California-based advocate for more regulation, said in a statement.

While pesticide residues may be a factor in weakening bees, it is far from the main reason for losses, said Dick Rogers, an entomologist with Bayer in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Bee mortality has risen as viruses and pests have proliferated, Rogers said. “The obvious, high-impact things are problems with mites and viruses you see in the hives,” he said. “The good news is, beekeepers are doing a good job of managing their colonies.”

This used to be the canary in the coal mine (Say, there's that phrase again!), but as interest has waned and the stories have moved off the front page, it's becoming easier to overlook. I've seen the ocassional "No Farms, No Food" bumper sticker here in urban Greater Boston, but the bigger reality is "No Bees, No Food". Take a look around you this spring - you'll see bees, but they're not the semi-domesticated European Honeybee. I get lots of bees around here, but they're the big, fat, native Carpenter Bee, and the increasingly rare Bumblebee.

There's no real threat to the native bee population at the moment, but do the math...Carpenter Bees are solitary. Bumblebees are communal, but their hives are small, usually less than 100 bees. Sure, they all pollinate things, but it's the European honeybee with an average colony size in excess off 50,000 that is the industry leader.

Take that away, and we'd be pretty hungry.

3 comments (Latest Comment: 05/16/2015 20:14:51 by Raine)
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Comment by Will in Chicago on 05/16/2015 19:42:17
We often forget about the small things that make our civilization possible. Thanks for the blog.

I am sorry that I have not been here much, but I have been busy with work, family and job hunting. I hope that everyone is well.

Comment by Raine on 05/16/2015 20:06:12
I was listening to our local garden expert today, and he mentioned native bees as a critical part of pollination. I have to admit I was not aware of this.

This is from 2011, but I think it might give some hope for the eastern United States:
"An individual visit by a native bee is actually worth far more than an individual visit by a honeybee," Danforth added. "Honeybees are more interested in the nectar. They don't really want the pollen if they can avoid it. The wild, native bees are mostly pollen collectors. They are collecting the pollen to take back to their nests."

They are also more plentiful than once thought. In 25 surveyed orchards near Ithaca and Lake Ontario, Danforth and his team expected to find 40-50 native bee species, and they found almost 100.

Honeybees are considered valuable because, unlike most native species, they can be moved from farm to farm. For example, honeybees are critical in pollinating California almond fields in February when there are no native bees around, Danforth said.

However, the mobility of the honeybee has exposed it to a wide variety of pathogens and stresses, which likely contribute to colony collapse disorder, he said.
Here is 2013 USGS article that impresses that honey bees are not the only source of polinixation and seems to allude that colony collapse while terrible, we might want to care more for native bees as they like to pollinate as opposed to honey bees that seek nectar and pollinate as an afterthought.

I learned something today!

Comment by Raine on 05/16/2015 20:14:51