"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.