Recent figures are disturbing.
Beekeepers have reportedly lost 105,240 bee colonies to colony collapse disorder during the early months of 2020. According to the USDA, this is a 76% rise over last year’s figures and the highest total since 2016.
In the year ending April 1, 2020, beekeepers have lost 44% of their colonies according to the non-profit, Bee Informed Partnership. This is the second highest rate of loss since these surveys began in 2006.
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a mysterious scourge that befalls honeybees. It has been taking a toll on bee colonies around the globe since the first reported cases in 2006.
In 2016, the total number of colonies dropped to 2.59 million and 114,000 hives collapsed. This was the largest loss of colonies to CCD since the USDA started compiling the Honey Bee Colonies report. While the actual cause of colony collapse is unknown so far, the top stressor this year again is the Varroa mite, a parasite of bees.
This 3:29-minute video by SciShow gives a great insight into CCD:
Colony Collapse Disorder causes worker bees to flee their hive, abandoning the queen and a treasure trove of food. Researchers believe there are many factors involved, all of which influence the well being of honeybees. The colonies are weakened by parasites, toxic pesticides, disease-causing pathogens, habitat destruction, wildflower shortages, monocultures, climate change and poor nutrition. Even genetic diversity is a factor.
The USDA collects data for the annual Honey Bee Colonies report, and latest figures based on a survey taken by beekeepers with at least five hives indicates that there were 2.88 million colonies in the USA on January 1, 2020. This represents an 8% increase over 2019. The USDA also asks about varroa mites, disease, pesticides, pests, parasites and other stresses.
The USDA says that $15 billion of the annual value of US agriculture is due to managed honeybee pollination that produces superior harvests and increased yields. Therefore, CCD is a major concern because pollinators, especially bees, play a major role in food production.
The less honeybees there are to provide pollination services, the more potential shortages consumers will see on grocery shelves or at the farmer’s market. Recently published research from The Royal Society indicates that crops like apples, blueberries, cherries and watermelon growing in 13 US states will yield smaller harvests when there are fewer bees.
We all need food, and we know agricultural economics are important. But let's face it. Honeybees are cute, intelligent, and a whole lot of us just love them in ways that have nothing to do with their perceived value.
The world just wouldn't be the same without bees.