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Honey Bee Colonies Remain “Relatively Stable” Despite Multiple Threats

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Fall asters (New England asters) and goldenrods are considered two of the most important fall flowers for honey bees and bumble bees, providing some of the last fresh food they will eat before the winter freeze. (Adobe Stock)
Fall asters (New England asters) and goldenrods are considered two of the most important fall flowers for honey bees and bumble bees, providing some of the last fresh food they will eat before the winter freeze. (Adobe Stock) 

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 Kathryn Carley, Producer

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Tuesday, July 11, 2023   

Parasites and extreme weather led to the loss of nearly half of America’s managed honey bee colonies over the past year, according to a new survey. However, researchers’ preliminary findings reveal that despite colonies experiencing the second-highest death rate on record, the overall population remains “relatively stable.” 

Heather Achilles of the New Hampshire Beekeepers Association said while the Northeast is currently experiencing high rainfall, years of severe drought can also impact the bees’ food supply.  

“If the flowers are stressed they still may blossom but they may not put out pollen or they may not put out nectar, or if they do it may not be as nutritious so that affects the bees,” she explained. 

Honey bees are vital to our food supply, pollinating more than 100 different crops, including vegetables, berries and nuts. Achilles added both commercial and backyard beekeepers are learning to better manage their colonies with the assumption that a certain percentage will be lost. 

Pesticides and a parasite known as the varroa mite are also wreaking havoc on the nation’s bee colonies, making them more susceptible to viruses and disease. People can help by not spraying chemicals on their yards, keeping a variety of blossoming plants – including dandelions, and some water in the yard, Achilles said. 

“Bees like water that’s a little dirty,” she explained. “It has different minerals in it so leaving a source of water can also be helpful for the bees.”

Research shows that bees with a diverse diet of flowers are better able to survive exposure to pesticides and disease. Achilles said leaving old wood or bricks around the yard can also provide helpful spots for bees to build nests.