US beekeepers lost 33 percent of bees in 2016-17

May 25, 2017, University of Maryland
This summary chart shows the results of an 11-year annual survey that tracks honey bee colony losses in the United States, spanning 2006-2017. Credit: University of Maryland/Bee Informed Partnership

Beekeepers across the United States lost 33 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2016 to April 2017, according to the latest preliminary results of an annual nationwide survey. Rates of both winter loss and summer loss—and consequently, total annual losses—improved compared with last year.

Total annual losses were the lowest since 2011-12, when the survey recorded less than 29 percent of colonies lost throughout the year. Winter losses were the lowest recorded since the survey began in 2006-07.

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

"While it is encouraging that losses are lower than in the past, I would stop short of calling this 'good' news," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and project director for the Bee Informed Partnership. "Colony loss of more than 30 percent over the entire year is high. It's hard to imagine any other agricultural sector being able to stay in business with such consistently high losses."

Beekeepers who responded to the survey lost a total of 33.2 percent of their colonies over the course of the year. This marks a decrease of 7.3 percentage points over the previous study year (2015-16), when loss rates were found to be 40.5 percent. Winter loss rates decreased from 26.9 percent in the previous winter to 21.1 percent this past winter, while summer loss rates decreased from 23.6 percent to 18.1 percent.

The researchers noted that many factors are contributing to colony losses, with parasites and diseases at the top of the list. Poor nutrition and pesticide exposure are also taking a toll, especially among commercial beekeepers. These stressors are likely to synergize with each other to compound the problem, the researchers said.

"This is a complex problem," said Kelly Kulhanek, a graduate student in the UMD Department of Entomology who helped with the survey. "Lower losses are a great start, but it's important to remember that 33 percent is still much higher than beekeepers deem acceptable. There is still much work to do."

The number one culprit remains the varroa mite, a lethal parasite that can easily spread between colonies. Mite levels in colonies are of particular concern in late summer, when bees are rearing longer-lived winter bees.

In the fall months of 2016, mite levels across the country were noticeably lower in most beekeeping operations compared with past years, according to the researchers. This is likely due to increased vigilance on the part of beekeepers, a greater availability of mite control products and environmental conditions that favored the use of timely and effective mite control measures. For example, some mite control products contain essential oils that break down at high temperatures, but many parts of the country experienced relatively mild temperatures in the spring and early summer of 2016.

This is the 11th year of the winter loss survey, and the seventh year to include summer and annual losses. More than 4,900 beekeepers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia responded to this year's survey. All told, these beekeepers manage about 13 percent of the nation's estimated 2.78 million 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. Some crops, such as almonds, depend entirely on honey bees for pollination. Honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops in the U.S. annually.

"Bees are good indicators of the health of the landscape as a whole," said Nathalie Steinhauer, a graduate student in the UMD Department of Entomology who leads the data collection efforts for the annual survey. "Honey bees are strongly affected by the quality of their environment, including flower diversity, contaminants and pests. To keep healthy bees, you need a good environment and you need your neighbors to keep healthy bees. Honey bee health is a community matter."

Explore further: Nation's beekeepers lost 44 percent of bees in 2015-16

More information: A summary of the 2016-2017 survey results is available upon request prior to May 25, 2017; thereafter the results will be added to previous years' results publicly available on the Bee Informed Partnership's website.

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Paulw789
2 / 5 (2) May 25, 2017
How does the math work when you lose 33% of the bees in 2012-13, then 44% in 2015-16 and then another 33% in 2016-17.

Are we not counting the new bees hatched or something. How long do bees live.
Dingbone
May 25, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) May 25, 2017
How does the math work when you lose 33% of the bees in 2012-13, then 44% in 2015-16 and then another 33% in 2016-17.

They are splitting up beehives. If more queens are given a chance to start a beehive you get more bee larvae laid. (i.e. even though they are losing more hives as a percentage of the whole they are also setting up more hives..which isn't a great strategy since it means that there's no selection for best queen... but it's the only strategy left)
nrauhauser
4 / 5 (1) May 26, 2017
This article would have been better if it also contained a graph of total colonies by year, and a brief explanation of how new colonies are created. I think antialias_physorg has the right idea, but should have been included, rather than turning up as a comment.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) May 26, 2017
wish I could lose the hive in the side of my chimney. 4 or 5 a day get into the house somehow...
physman
5 / 5 (2) May 26, 2017
@Whydening Gyre Don't get it exterminated, your local bee dude will happily take it for you
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet May 26, 2017
@Whydening Gyre Don't get it exterminated, your local bee dude will happily take it for you

Local bee dude wants a thousand (minimum)) to do it...
I'll put up with the buzzing for a while longer, thanks...
Paulw789
1 / 5 (3) May 26, 2017
If you lose 33% bees each year, then after ten years you should have one bee from 60.000 bees... Real situation is , though...


The chart is the article shows 11 straight years of 30% losses.

ie, the math is just wrong and should not be promoted because we have brainwashed half the world into thinking the bee colonies are dissappearing.

But the number of hives is actually flat or slightly increasing.

The simple fact is that 30% of colonies die out each year. This is known fact by beekeepers ever since it became a managed industry and hobby.

I hate when everyone is being misled so badly. And this has real consequences because we are banning chemicals left and right, based on myths.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet May 26, 2017
...
ie, the math is just wrong and should not be promoted because we have brainwashed half the world into thinking the bee colonies are dissappearing. But the number of hives is actually flat or slightly increasing.
The simple fact is that 30% of colonies die out each year. This is known fact by beekeepers ever since it became a managed industry and hobby.
I hate when everyone is being misled so badly. And this has real consequences because we are banning chemicals left and right, based on myths.

You're right, I suppose. It's in the supply/demand topography. While they may lose 30%, they are more than likely PRODUCING 30% (or more) more queens and hives... And, I've noticed, the price of bees (and honey) has been rising...
Bees are not "dying out"...
Osiris1
not rated yet May 27, 2017
Starvation and mass famine will be the wages of subsidizing monopolies like Monsanto and their death dealing sprays and monocultures. Those sprays kill the bees. Bees go! then WE go! It is that simple.

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