All the Buzz About Bees - Talking Points Featuring Bill Lewis of Bill's Bees

Bill Lewis, President/Owner of Bill’s Bees and former president of the California State Beekeepers Association and the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association, shares some of his experiences with bees over the last 30-some years.

"It's not something everybody does." ~Bill Lewis

In this fascinating overview, Bill talks about honey bee activity, hive behavior, bee colony collapse, habitat loss, crop pollination, and honey production. 

Bill Lewis Talking Points.jpg


Take a peek at the amazing life that goes on inside a beehive: how bees communicate, get along inside a hive, and who makes the decisions. Learn how bees collect nectar and pollen and bring it back to the hive to make honey, how honey is harvested and preserved. 

When asked about the best ways to behave around bees, Bill's reply:

"Pretend they're not there." 

Beach TV/CSULB Host: David Kelly
California State University/Long Beach

Bill's Bees

It's Tough Being a Bee During the Spring-like Rains

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley Garvey    March 14, 2018

It's tough being a bee--especially when you have work to do and the rain won't let you out of your hive.

But when there's a sun break, it's gangbusters.

To put it in alliteration, we spotted a bevy of boisterous bees networking in the nectarine blossoms in between the springlike rains this week. What a treat!

Nectarines are a favorite fruit of California and beyond.  In fact, according to the UC Davis Fruit and Nut Research and Information website, "California leads the nation in production of peach and nectarine (Prunus persica). In 2013, 24,000 acres of California clingstone peaches produced a crop of 368,000 tons of fruit valued at $133,865,000; 22,000 acres of California freestone peaches produced a crop of 280,000 tons valued at $144,418,000. This California crop of 648,000 tons represents 70% of the national peach production. Nectarines on 18,000 acres in the state produced a crop of 150,000 tons with a value of $117,000,000.(USDA 2014),"

Some folks prefer the necatarine over a peach.  A nectarine or "fuzzless" peach tends to have sweeter flesh than the more acidic peach, according to the Fruit and Nut Research and Information website. "The lack of pubescent skin is the result of a recessive gene. Nectarine gained popularity in the 1950's when breeding allowed for firmer flesh and better post-harvest handling and longevity."

The foraging bees don't care whether the blossoms are nectarine or peach.

It's food for the hive. 

A honey bee pollinating a nectarine blossom in Vacaville, CA. Photo: (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)A foraging honey bee takes a liking to a nectarine blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=26607

"Honey Bees Are Superb Beekeepers; They Know What They're Doing."

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley     March 5, 2018

The Honey Bee Credit: Kathy Keatley Garvey"Honey bees are superb beekeepers; they know what they're doing."

So said bee scientist and author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., when he keynoted the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium, held March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.

"EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies," Seeley said in his talk on "Darwinian Beekeeping."

"And I mean everything."

 Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, where he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees, visually transported the symposium crowd to his research site, the 4200-acre Arnot Teaching and Research Forest owned by Cornell University.

Located about 15 miles from the campus, Arnot Forest is a place where the honey bees live in the wild, that is, they are not managed by beekeepers, Seeley pointed out. They build small nest cavities high in the trees, about 25 feet high, and space their colonies apart by at least 750 meters.  They build drone comb freely, amounting to 15 to 20 percent of the nest cavity. They live as they did millions of years ago.

It's survival by natural selection.

"We can learn from the wild colonies," Seeley said. "I go into the wild areas and track down where bees are living and follow the bees home. It takes me about two days to find a bee tree."

Does the Arnot Forest have Varroa mites, the worldwide parasitic, virus-transferring mite that's considered the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers? A pest that arrived in the New York area around 1994?

Yes, they do. All the colonies in the forest are infested with Varroa mites. And they survive.

Seeley's research shows that before 1978 (pre-Varroa mite), the forest contained 2.8 colonies per square mile. After 2002 (post-Varroa mite), the forest still contained 2.8 colonies per square mile.

Honey bees typify the Charles Darwinian concept of evolution by natural selection, Seeley said. Indeed, "all bees living today are the products of natural selection."

Darwin, who described comb building as "the most wonderful of all (insect) instincts" and Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who invented the movable-frame hive, "both had important insights that can help us with our beekeeping," Seeley related.

"Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully."

However, Darwinian beekeeping or "bee friendly beekeeping" is not for everyone, Seeley emphasized. "It's not for large-scale beekeepers, it's not for urban beekeepers. It is an option for small-scale rural beekeepers who want to avoid chemical treatments and who are satisfied with modest honey crops."

With Darwinian beekeeping, the emphasis is on the "environment of evolutionary adaptedness, "or the original environment in which wild colonies live," Seeley said. "Colonies are genetically adapted to their location."

How can beekeepers practice Darwinian beekeeping?

"Keep bees that are adapted to your location," he said. "Rear queens from your best survivor colonies, OR capture swarms with bait hives in remote locations OR purchase queens from a queen breeder who produces locally adapted queens."

"If the mite level gets high (more than 10 mites per 100 bees), then euthanize the colony; pour warm, soap water into hive at dusk," he said. "This does two things: it eliminates your non-resistant colonies and it avoids producing mite bombs. An alternative to euthanasia of the colony: treat for Varroa and requeen with a queen of resistant stock."

The issues of hive size and proximity are also important. Many modern beekeepers use "multi-storied wooden kits, super-sized like McDonald's," the professor said. "And managed bee hives are often a meter away from one another, as compared to 750 meters in the wild."

Seeley also said it's important "not to disturb colonies in winter: no checking, no stimulative feeding, no pollen patties, etc. Even a brief removal of the lid causes winter cluster to raise its temperature in alarm for several hours."

In his presentation, Seeley touched on nine Darwinian beekeeping tips, summarized here:

1. Keep bees that are adapted to your location 
2. House colonies in small hives and let them swarm 
3. Space colonies as widely as possible 
4. Line hives with propolis collection screens or untreated lumber to allow them to build a "propolis (antimicrobial) shield"  
5. Provide the most resilient (lowest mite count) colonies with 10 to 20 percent drone comb 
6. Keep the nest structure intact 
7. Use a small, bottom entrance
8. Do not disturb colonies in winter 
9. Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa

He lists 20 Darwinian beekeeping tips in his article published in the March 2017 edition of the American Bee Journal. (The article also appears on the Natural Beekeeping Trust website, printed with permission.)

Seely is the author of Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life(1985), The Wisdom of the Hive: the Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010), all published by Princeton Press.

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology sponsored the event, which drew a crowd of 250.  Amina Harris, director of the center, coordinated the event.

In introducing the keynote speaker, Professor Neal Williams of the entomology faculty and the faculty co-director of the Honey and Pollination Center board, described Seeley's work as "innovative and insightful. He is truly a gifted author who blends science and philosophy."

"Honey bees are superb beekeepers; they know what they're doing," keynote speaker Tom Seeley tells the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey“EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies,” Cornell bee scientist Tom Seeley pointed out. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)“Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully,” keynote speaker Tom Seeley says. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)Professor Neal Williams (left) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, shares a laugh with keynote speaker Tom Seeley of Cornell. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=26525

The 10 Most Amazing Honey Bee Facts Ever

Glory Bee    May 2, 2017

The 10 Most Amazing Honey Bee Facts Ever

You don’t have to be a beekeeper to appreciate the honey bee! This fascinating insect is one of Nature’s most social creatures, and also one of the most unique living organisms on our planet. In the past three decades, honey bees have been dying off. No one is sure of the exact cause for their disappearance. Pesticides, genetically modified crops, parasites and changing climate patterns are all being considered as contributing factors, but more scientific research is needed.

Knowledge is power. The more people learn about the honey bee, the more they will be motivated to take action and protect our pollinators. Here are ten amazing honey bee facts to share with your family and friends to help them truly appreciate the hard-working honey bee. Discover more ways to help honey bees at SAVEtheBEE.org.

HONEY BEE TRIVIA

  1. Honey Bees have 5 eyes- 2 large compound eyes and 3 small simple eyes.
  2. Honey Bee queens lay 1,500 eggs A DAY.
  3. A single bee makes 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its entire lifetime. A typical little 12-ounce honey bear squeeze bottle takes 864 bees to make all the honey that goes inside it.
  4. Bees flap their wings 190 times a second. (That’s over double the 70 times a second the hummingbird flaps its wings)
  5. A honey bee flies 15 miles per hour.
  6. Honey bees keep the inside of their hives at 93 degrees Fahrenheit. (If it’s cold outside, all the bees vibrate their bodies and create body heat to warm up their hive to 93°, and when it’s hot outside, they flap their wings like fans to create a breeze and cool it off.)
  7. Honey bees never sleep!
  8. It takes approximately 1,100 bee stings to be fatal to a healthy adult human.
  9. Honey bees are the ONLY insect that produces food for humans to eat.
  10. Honey bees pollinate approximately 80% of all vegetables, fruit and seed crops in the USA.

    https://glorybee.com/blog/the-10-most-amazing-honey-bee-facts-ever/

The Plants the Help Monarchs Also Help Honey Bees

CATCH THE BUZZ  By Candace Fallon   December 15, 2016

Candace Fallon
Senior Conservation Biologist
Endangered Species Program


Monarchs are in decline across North America. With milkweed loss in the east identified as a major contributing factor to this decline, the national call to action has understandably focused primarily on planting milkweeds, which are the required host plants for monarch caterpillars, and a favorite for honey bees, too. Yet while restoring the millions of milkweed plants that have been lost is certainly an important strategy, monarchs need more than milkweed to support them throughout the year. Adult monarchs need nectar to fuel them during spring migration and breeding and to build up stores of fat which sustain them during fall migration and winter.

There are many sources of information about which species of native milkweeds are best for your region, but information on which nectar plants are best for monarchs has not been available for large areas of the U.S. Working with the Monarch Joint Venture and the National Wildlife Federation, the Xerces Society has created a series of nectar plant lists for the continental U.S. based on a database of nearly 24,000 monarch nectaring observations. Each of the 15 regional guides highlights species that are commercially available, are native to and widely found in the region, and are known to be hardy or relatively easy to grow in a garden setting.

Read more about this project at http://www.xerces.org/blog/to-save-monarchs-we-need-more-than-just-milkweed/  or find a nectar plant guide for your region herehttp://www.xerces.org/monarch-nectar-plants/

These plant lists are works-in-progress and benefit from your help. You can submit additional monarch nectaring observations via our online survey. We are grateful to the many different researchers and monarch enthusiasts across the country who have already contributed to our database – thank you! 

To Save Monarchs We Need More Than Just Milkweed

Xerces Society  By Candace Fallon   December 7, 2016

Candace Fallon
Senior Conservation Biologist
Endangered Species Program

Tall blazing star (Liatris aspera) was the plant with the most records of nectaring 
monarchs of any plant in the database. (Photo: Joshua Mayer/Flickr) 

The message is out: Monarchs are in decline across North America. The loss of milkweed plants due to extensive herbicide use and changes in farming practices, such as the widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant crops, has been identified as a major contributing factor of monarch’s decline in the eastern U.S. Disease, climate change, widespread insecticide use, and loss or degradation of nectar-rich habitat may also be contributing to declines. A memorandum issued by President Obama and subsequent U.S. national strategy to protect monarchs and other pollinators, in addition to a recent petition to list monarchs under the Endangered Species Act, has highlighted their plight and led to a surge of interest in protecting these amazing animals and their phenomenal fall migration.

The national call to action has focused primarily on planting milkweeds, which are the required host plants for monarch caterpillars, a simple and effective way to support monarch conservation. However, it is important to remember that milkweed may not be appropriate in every landscape. For example, we do not recommend planting milkweed in areas such as coastal California, where it did not historically occur.

While restoring the millions of milkweed plants that have been lost is certainly an important strategy, monarchs need more than milkweed to support them throughout the year. Adult monarchs need nectar to fuel them during spring migration and breeding and to build up stores of fat which sustain them during fall migration and winter. Too few nectar plants in the landscape may reduce the number of monarchs that successfully arrive at overwintering sites in the fall.

There are many sources of information about which species of native milkweeds are best for your region (including from the Xerces Society), but information on which nectar plants are best for monarchs has not been available for large areas of the U.S. To address this need, the Xerces Society has created a series of nectar plant lists based on a database of monarch nectaring observations compiled from a wide variety of sources, including published and technical reports, research datasets, and personal communications with monarch researchers, lepidopterists, botanists, and other experts. This database now houses nearly 24,000 reported monarch nectaring observations on 358 native plant species.

Working with the Monarch Joint Venture and the National Wildlife Federation, the Xerces Society used this database to develop monarch nectar plant guides for all regions of the continental U.S.  Each of the 15 guides highlights species that are commercially available, are native to and widely found in the region, and are known to be hardy or relatively easy to grow in a garden setting—although, as with any plant choice, we encourage you to use additional references when making final species determinations for your location. 

 

 Second place in the “Nectar Plant Top 10” went to bearded beggarticks (Bidens aristosa),
which is native in eastern and central North America. It blooms in late summer,
just in time for the monarchs fall migration. (Photo: Dennis Burnette) 

Whenever possible, we included species that were reported by multiple sources or were noted to be exceptional monarch magnets. Each list is also tailored to include only species that bloom during the times of year that monarchs are expected to be in each region. Only native species were included. (These plant lists were compiled using the best available data, but we expect to update them as new information is available. You can help us improve them by submitting your own monarch nectaring observations via our online survey.)

These guides are geared toward gardeners and landscape designers but will also be useful for land managers who are undertaking large-scale monarch restoration projects. And importantly, the plants on these lists will attract not only monarchs but also many other pollinators, from butterflies and moths to bees and hummingbirds.

——————————————————-

Nectar Plant Top 10: The ten flowers in this table are those with the greatest number of recorded observations of nectaring monarchs—but be sure to check the nectar plant list for your region to find out which plants are the best for where you live!

http://www.xerces.org/blog/to-save-monarchs-we-need-more-than-just-milkweed/

You're a Bee. This Is What It Feels Like

 The New York Times    By Joanna Klein   December 2, 2016

A honey bee gathering pollen on a white flower. Dagmar Sporck/EyeEm, via Getty ImagesSet your meetings, phone calls and emails aside, at least for the next several minutes. That’s because today you’re a bee.

It's time to leave your hive, or your underground burrow, and forage for pollen. Pollen is the stuff that flowers use to reproduce. But it’s also essential grub for you, other bees in your hive and your larvae. Once you’ve gathered pollen to take home, you or another bee will mix it with water and flower nectar that other bees have gathered and stored in the hive. But how do you decide which flowers to approach? What draws you in?

In a review published last week in the Journal Functional Ecology, researchers asked: What is a flower like from a bee’s perspective, and what does the pollinator experience as it gathers pollen? And that's why we're talking to you in the second person: to help you understand how bees like you, while hunting for pollen, use all of your senses — taste, touch, smell and more — to decide what to pick up and bring home.

Maybe you're ready to go find some pollen. But do you even know where to look?

Good question. How about an answer?
No, I’m an expert bee. Get me out of this hive.

Honey Bees Matter

The Huffington Post   October 17, 2016


Noah Wilson Rich, PhD founder of The Best Bees Company: "Honey bees are actually even more social than us humans. We need one another. 🐝Thank you to The Huffington Post for the coverage, and thank you to 23pt5 with Sam Champion for the opportunity to discuss bee health. Everyone can help by increasing pollinator habitat (plant flowers) or improving bee populations (get beehives)."

A Look Into the Cell: There's a Lot More to Honey Storage Than You Thought

PlosOne     By Michael Eyer, Peter Neumann, Vincent Dietemann     August 28, 2016

Abstract

Honey bees, Apis species, obtain carbohydrates from nectar and honeydew. These resources are ripened into honey in wax cells that are capped for long-term storage. These stores are used to overcome dearth periods when foraging is not possible. Despite the economic and ecological importance of honey, little is known about the processes of its production by workers. Here, we monitored the usage of storage cells and the ripening process of honey in free-flying Amelliferacolonies. We provided the colonies with solutions of different sugar concentrations to reflect the natural influx of nectar with varying quality. Since the amount of carbohydrates in a solution affects its density, we used computer tomography to measure the sugar concentration of cell content over time. The data show the occurrence of two cohorts of cells with different provisioning and ripening dynamics. The relocation of the content of many cells before final storage was part of the ripening process, because sugar concentration of the content removed was lower than that of content deposited. The results confirm the mixing of solutions of different concentrations in cells and show that honey is an inhomogeneous matrix. The last stage of ripening occurred when cell capping had already started, indicating a race against water absorption. The storage and ripening processes as well as resource use were context dependent because their dynamics changed with sugar concentration of the food. Our results support hypotheses regarding honey production proposed in earlier studies and provide new insights into the mechanisms involved.

For the rest of this Plos One article, click HERE

The Colony-Killing Mistake Backyard Beekeepers Are Making

NPR The Salt    By Dan Gunderson    August 12, 2016 

The healthy bees managed by Jonathan Garaas are checked every two weeks for signs of a possible mite infestation. Dan Gunderson/MPR News

Jonathan Garaas has learned a few things in three seasons of backyard beekeeping: Bees are fascinating. They're complicated. And keeping them alive is not easy.

Every two weeks, the Fargo, N.D., attorney opens the hives to check the bees and search for varroa mites, pests that suck the bees' blood and can transmit disease. If he sees too many of the pinhead-sized parasites, he applies a chemical treatment.

Attorney and hobby beekeeper Jonathan Garaas keeps nine thriving hives outside of Fargo, N.D. Dan Gunderson/MPR News

Garaas has lost hives in his first two years as a novice beekeeper. But with nine hives now established near his home and a couple of University of Minnesota bee classes under his belt, he feels like he's got the hang of it, although it's still a challenge.

"You can get the book learning. You can see the YouTubes. You can be told by others," he says, but "you have to have hands-on experience. When you start putting it all together, it starts making sense."

Scientists wish every beginner beekeeper were as diligent as Garaas.

While experts welcome the rising national interest in beekeeping as a hobby, they warn that novices may be inadvertently putting their hives — and other hives for miles around — in danger by not keeping the bee mite population in check.

Many hobbyists avoid mite treatments, preferring a natural approach, says Marla Spivak, a bee expert at the University of Minnesota. But that's often a deadly decision for the bees, she says.

National surveys by the Bee Informed Partnership show backyard beekeepers are taking the greatest losses nationally, and those losses are often the result of an out-of-control infestation of the varroa mite, says Spivak.

Varroa mites arrived in the United States nearly 30 years ago, and they've become a big problem in recent years.

Untreated hives can spread mites and viruses to other hives within several miles, Spivak says. Healthy bees will invade a dying hive to steal its honey. When they do, they carry the mites with them back to their hives.

University of Minnesota Bee Squad coordinator Becky Masterman secures a strap on a bee box on the roof of the Weisman Museum in Minneapolis. Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

"The combination of the mite and the viruses is deadly," says Spivak.

The University of Minnesota Bee Squad, a group that provides beekeeping education and mentoring in the Twin Cities, is seeing more healthy hives become rapidly infested with mites and the viruses they carry.

Fall is an especially critical season, says Rebecca Masterman, the Bee Squad's associate program director.

"That late season reinfestation means that bees are going through winter with a lot of mite pressure and it's really hard for them to come out of that and survive," she says. "It's important enough to really try to get every backyard beekeeper in the country to at least be aware of it."

Masterman says she's also encouraging commercial beekeepers to check their bees more often for surprise mite infestations. A new online mite-monitoring project lets beekeepers anywhere in the country share data on infestations that will help researchers track the spread.

A mite control experiment this summer should provide more information about how to best treat mites in bee colonies.

One threat to honeybees is the varroa mite, seen here invading the pupae of a developing bee. Untreated infestations will kill colonies. Judy Griesedieck for MPR NewsBees face other challenges beyond mites, including poor nutrition, disease and pesticides. Even veteran beekeepers say it takes more effort to keep their bees alive these days.

But the mite and virus threat to bees is something that can be controlled, says Spivak.

"I really understand why some people might not like to have to treat their bee colony for mites. It just sounds so awful. It's such a beautiful bee colony and to have to stick some kind of a treatment in there seems so unnatural," she says.

"But our bees are dying. And it's very important to help do whatever we can to keep them alive."

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/12/489622982/the-colony-killing-mistake-backyard-beekeepers-are-making

The Wildlife Society Partners with Feed A Bee to Plant 25 Million Flowers

PR Newswire - Bayer Corporation  June 22, 2016

Partners celebrate National Pollinator Week by announcing large-scale planting to establish spring forage for pollinators. So…never look a gift horse…. 

Announced today, the Bayer Bee Care Program has engaged as a Premier Partner of The Wildlife Society (TWS). The groups will work together toward the goal of planting 25 million pollinator-attractant wildflower seeds, increasing forage and nutrition options for hungry bees that are suffering from a limited menu. So far, thousands of people have participated in “Tweet a 🐝, #FeedABee,” the social initiative driving the number of seeds being planted. By partnering with TWS and encouraging even more people to get involved online, Feed a Bee hopes to double the number of current engagements to reach the 25 million seeds by the fall, when the planting will take place.

“Bees and other pollinators play a vital role in contributing to the outdoor landscapes that TWS members work so hard to protect and preserve,” said Ken Williams, chief executive officer of TWS. “As an organization committed to sustaining wildlife populations and habitats, TWS is partnering with the Feed a Bee program to help combat one of the leading challenges facing honey bees today – lack of forage.”

TWS will engage its nearly 10,000 members to identify key areas in the U.S. in need of more forage and announce where the millions of seeds will be planted at its 23rd Annual Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, in October. The planting will occur later in the fall, just in time for the pollinator buffet to bloom and establish spring 2017 forage.

“We’re excited to partner with TWS for the Feed a Bee program’s first ever large-scale planting this fall,” said Dr. Becky Langer, program manager of the Bayer Bee Care Program. “Planting more flowers is something everyone can do to help address the challenges pollinators face today. Conducting a planting of this magnitude on a national scale will help not only to increase forage options but also to raise awareness of the important role pollinators play in our everyday lives.”

In addition to partnering for the premier planting event of the year, TWS will involve its dedicated membership of scientists, managers, educators, consultants, students and other pollinator allies to distribute and plant 60,000 wildflower seed packets, contributing to even more forage across the nation.

Partnering with TWS is one of many ways the Feed a Bee program is supporting pollinator and bee health awareness. In the year since the White House announced its National Pollinator Strategy, more than 500,000 people have engaged with Feed a Bee to plant 150 million flowers across the nation. Additionally, Feed a Bee has partnered with more than 100 organizations, including TWS, from every sector for planting and education initiatives.

In addition to leveraging their social media accounts to plant seeds, people can get involved with Feed a Bee in several ways:

  • Request seed packets: For a short time, individuals can request a free packet of wildflower seeds, while supplies last, to start their own pollinator patches.
  • Sing along: An original Feed a Bee music video stars Beatrice Blume and her friends as they spread wildflowers. As more people follow along and view the video, Bayer will plant additional wildflowers working with its network of Feed a Bee partners.

###

The Wildlife Society

Founded in 1937, the Wildlife Society is a strong and effective voice in representing wildlife conservation and management, and ensuring sustainable wildlife populations in healthy ecosystems. The mission of TWS is to represent and serve the professional community of scientists, managers, educators, technicians, planners, and others who work actively to study, manage, and conserve wildlife and its habitats worldwide. Find us on the web at www.wildlife.org.

Read more: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-wildlife-society-partners-with-feed-a-bee-to-plant-25-million-flowers-300288556.html

With Busy Bees in the Lead, "Pollinator-Friendly" Approach Vital for Healthy Agricultural Ecosystems UN

CATCH THE BUZZ - Bee Culture Magazine    June 6, 2106

A bee does its business in Kenya’s Kerio Valley. Photo: FAO/Dino MartinsAs bellwethers for ecosystem health and biodiversity, bees play a crucial role in agriculture and ending hunger, and “pollinator-friendly” approaches are therefore highly encouraged, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“A world without pollinators would be a world without food diversity – and in the long run, without food security,” José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, said late last week during a visit to Slovenia’s national beekeepers’ festival.

FAO, as well as some 53 countries, has supported Slovenia in the promotion of declaring May 20 as the World Bee Day at the last regional Conference of Europe.

The technical committees of FAO and the FAO Conference in 2017 would be one of the first concrete actions in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to Mr. Graziano da Silva.

Honey bees, he noted, are the world’s most famous pollinators, a group of species whose members fly, hop and crawl over flowers to allow plants – including those that account for over a third of global food crop production – to reproduce. Their absence, however, would remove a host of nutritious foods from our diets, including squash, strawberries, carrots, apples, almonds, cherries, blueberries and cocoa.

Moreover, ecosystem health and biodiversity also depend on more than 20,000 species of wild bees which have links to specific flowering plants and are more vulnerable to climate change.

“Bees are a sign of well-functioning ecosystems,” said Mr. Graziano da Silva, adding that “to a great extent the decline of pollinators is also a sign of the disruptions that global changes are causing to ecosystems the world over.”

Land-use change, pesticide use, monoculture agriculture and climate change are some facts that have threatened bee populations.

Fostering robust pollinator communities ensures a diversity of environmental homes for them and supports traditional agricultural practices that benefit them, he noted.

“Pollination is one of the most visible ecosystem services that make food production even possible,” said the FAO Director-General.

Improving pollinator density and diversity have direct and positive impact on crop yields. In this regard, the FAO-backed International Pollinators Initiative – knowledge, guidelines and protocols – has been supporting countries in monitoring pollinators and better understand threats, information needs and data gaps since 2000.

Welcoming Slovenia’s leadership in apiculture, Mr. Graziano da Silva also urged all countries to take up “pollinator friendly” approaches towards farming and appreciate the important role of bees and other pollinators, and make their pollinator-friendly choices, he added.

“Without bees, it would be impossible to achieve FAO’s main goal, a world without hunger,” he said.

http://goo.gl/btucxM

10 Ways You Can Help Save the Bees

New York Bee Sanctuary     March 3, 2016

Bees are disappearing rapidly. And not just the Honey Bees (who make the delicious honey) but all the bees. There are over 4,000 species of wild bees in North America alone, some are quite extraordinary, and honey bee is just one of them (which is not native as it was brought by the first settlers).

Most of those bees are pollinators, which means they help plants to reproduce. So without bees, no plant babies. And who are the plants babies? The fruits and the veggies we eat every day. From apples to strawberries, from coffee to chocolate, from almonds to tomatoes, all those plants need pollinators, bees. It is estimated that 30% of the world crops (and 90% of the wild plants!) need an insect like a bee to thrive. Without them, crops would die and the world will starve.

There are many reasons all those bees are disappearing. Insecticides, pollution of rivers & water sources, pollution of the soil which contaminates plants (like Roundup), extreme climates, reduction of wild prairies, mono-crop culture, the extension of lawns, industrial beekeeping practices, etc. The list is sadly too long; bees are becoming weaker and die off faster. The result? 40% of bee colonies died last year alone.

In 2015, we created the New York Bee Sanctuary to be part of the solution to protect the bees and all the other wild pollinators. One of the big efforts we are focusing on is to encourage individuals, corporations and cities to create BEE-SAFE zones; places where pollinators are safe and can find healthy food, water & shelter. But very often I got the question from people on what can they do to help the bees.

So here are 10 ways YOU can save the #bees with us, and be part of a growing global movement!

  1. Join BEE-SAFE and pledge to protect the bees on a piece of land you manage, your garden, the backyard of your company or your rooftop! We have partner towns, schools, corporations, and individuals. Everyone can join!
  2. Do not use any pesticides, fungicides or herbicides on plants or in your garden. Plants get contaminated and the product will likely reach the bees and kill them. Make sure the plants you buy are not pre-treated with neonics pesticides!
  3. Buy local & raw honey from your local beekeepers. Avoid honey sold in bulk or in the supermarket unless you are sure of its provenance and quality. Always best to buy on farmers market so you can meet your beekeeper and check with him his sustainable beekeeping practices.
  4. Plant your garden with native and bee friendly plants. They provide great sources of nectar and pollen (both food for the bees and butterflies). It’s important for bees, as it is for us, to have a diverse and regular food supply.
  5. Avoid planting lawns. Lawns are literally desert for insects and for wild plants because lawns usually never have plants beneficial to bees and are cut too often so plants never get to bloom. Instead, plant prairies!
  6. Do not weed your garden. Many plants like dandelion, for example, are an excellent source of food for bees. In early spring, those “weeds” are often the only source of food for beneficial insects. Lots of those weeds are often excellent food and medicine for us too!
  7. Even if you just have a small balcony you can install a little water basin for the bees to drink during the warm day of summer. Put a few stones and floating cork on the water so bees won’t drown!
  8. Stay connected to the Facebook page of New York Bee Sanctuary and our Instagram account so you can stay informed and sign regular petition to pressure our state and country to pass regulations to help the bees (like the ban of neonicotinoids)
  9. Educate yourself and your children about bees. Bees are not dangerous; they forage on a flower and don’t attack humans. By better understanding them we will learn to better respect them. There are 5 must-see documentaries about bees.
  10. If the buzz gets to you, learn how to become a beekeeper and install a hive in your garden or on your rooftop. It’s a powerful way to give honey bees a home and probably the best local honey you will ever get!

We hope this gives you some good ideas on how to help us #SaveTheBees

We look forward to seeing all of you be a big part of the solution, advocate of the bees, and may be a BEE-SAFE partner!

Bee-well!

http://goo.gl/38wMQy

 

How the Honey Bee Crisis is Affecting Almond Pollination Growers

Los Angeles Times    By Robin Abcarian    February 26, 2016

("I read the following article and attended this meeting. I thought it was a good informative meeting. It was great to hear from some of the top researchers investigating bee problems. I really appreciate their taking time out of their busy schedules to share with us. Yes, in 2014 President Obama put out a Presidential Memorandum instructing federal agencies to create a national strategy to promote the heath of honey bees and other pollinators. A lot of work is being done. However, to my knowledge, there was never any budget set aside to fund this effort. Dr. Jeff Pettis said it best. "You need to talk to some of the people down in Washington, D.C., and get a few more of us out in the field that care about the industry," and fund this effort." ~ Bill Lewis, Owner, Bill's Bees Inc.)

The last of the evening light had disappeared, stealing the incandescence from a million pink and white almond blossoms. Inside the modest conference room of a research facility once operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the South Valley Bee Club convened its regular meeting.

More people than usual — 51 — turned up Tuesday. A sprinkling were out-of-staters, part of a huge migration of keepers and their bees who trek to California each year from as far as Florida and New Jersey for what has been called the planet's largest "managed pollination" event.

Without bees, there can be no almonds. In fact, each of California's nearly 1 million acres of almond orchards requires two hives. But California beekeepers have only a quarter of the needed hives.

As almond acreage has exploded and bees have been in some kind of crazy death spiral, growers have been in a mild state of panic over where to find enough little pollinators.

As a result, they are willing to pay dearly — up to $180 to rent one hive for a couple of weeks.

"None of us wants to get into the bee business," said Los Banos almond grower Joe Del Bosque, whose bee budget is $250,000 this year. "Bees are livestock. It's like owning a dairy. A lot of work."

Hence, the annual bee migration.

"We're the whores of agriculture," said Dave Hackenberg, a Pennsylvania beekeeper, who rents his hives on a national circuit, starting with almonds in February, ending with Brazilian peppers in Florida in the winter.

After the bee people finished their barbecue dinner, they turned their attention to two of the world's leading bee researchers.

David De Jong has studied bees in Brazil for more than 35 years, and is an expert on a particular mite that plagues bee colonies. Jeff Pettis of the USDA's Bee Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., has been instrumental in determining why bee colonies are in such steep decline.

Bottom line: There's no single cause for the weakening or untimely demise of the tiny creatures that make the almond harvest possible. The idea of a mysterious "colony collapse disorder" has seized the public imagination — who among us does not love bees, or at least the idea of bees? — but it's mostly a misnomer.

Bee failure has multiple, probably interlocking causes, many of which are still poorly understood. Bees are vulnerable to pesticides and pests such as the varroa mite, fungicides and fungus, and a host of viruses that cause them to fly slowly, or act demented or die prematurely.

Pettis has looked at the effect of high and low temperature spikes on queens during transportation, and drone sperm motility issues.

What else hurts bees? "Cellphones," joked one beekeeper. "Aliens," said another.

Finally, Jack Brumley, a Porterville-area beekeeper with 40 years of experience, could take it no longer.

"We've been talking about this problem for what, 10 years?" said Brumley, 72, who told me he lost more than half of his 9,000 hives this year. "How many more academic papers do we have to pay for? How many more PhDs do we have to educate before we get some information that I can take home and use?"

Knowing laughter rippled through the room.

"Don't bark at me," Pettis said. "You need to talk to some of the people down in Washington, D.C., and get a few more of us out in the field that care about the industry."

In 2014, President Obama, acknowledging the critical state of bee colony health, ordered the creation of a national strategy "to promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators." The goal is to reduce honey bee colony losses to no more than 15% within a decade.

Needless to say, people in this room aren't holding their breath.

On Wednesday morning, on the edge of a fragrant almond orchard south of Bakersfield, I donned a rather fetching white bee suit and joined two University of Maryland entomology students collecting bees for testing by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Kneeling on the ground, Nathalie Steinhauer, a doctoral student, stuffed pine needles into a baffled smoker, lit them, then gently puffed smoke into square wooden hives to calm the bees, which, to put it mildly, can get agitated when disturbed.

I had learned this the hard way a few days earlier, when I visited one of Del Bosque's orchards in Firebaugh, north of Fresno, with his longtime beekeeper, Rosemary Grissom. As I approached a hive to shoot some photos, Grissom ordered me to back away from it quickly but calmly.

I was wearing black, a color that displeases bees because it makes them think bears, their natural enemies, are coming for their honey. I didn't move quite fast enough.

Let's just say I now have a visceral understanding of what it means to have a "bee in your bonnet." There is no mistaking the sound of an angry bee, especially when it's stuck in your hair.

Steinhauer's colleague, Meghan McConnell, a master's student, gently pried frames from their hives. Each frame was covered in thousands of cells, filled with honey, or pollen, or larvae or pupae. Being careful to avoid hurting the queen bee, who is essential, McConnell shook each frame into a pan, then scooped up a quarter-cup of bees into a live-bee box or a jar of alcohol.

Back in the lab, the live bees will be tested for viruses; the dead ones for pests. With a narrow stick, she painstakingly collected pollen to test for pesticides.

"Look here," McConnell said. "You can see two babies being born."

In a corner of the frame's spectacular swirl of brown, orange and yellow, two new bees poked their teensy heads out of hexagonal cells.

In a day, they'll be at work in the almond blossoms. In a few weeks or so, they'll be dead. In a perfect world, the hive would live on, ad infinitum. These days, survival is always in doubt.

Anyway, next time you pop a handful of almonds, thank a bee.

http://www.latimes.com/local/abcarian/la-me-abcarian-bees-almonds-20160226-column.html

The Presidential History of Honey Bees

National Honey Board    February 18, 2016

Earlier this week we celebrated President’s Day, originally known as George Washington’s birthday. This day was designed to honor America’s first president on his birthday, but has since come to be known as a holiday to celebrate all presidents and the great work they have done for our country.

You may have heard about a little initiative the White House took on in 2015 to protect and promote pollinator health. Understanding the importance of the humble honey bee and other insect pollinators, President Obama put together an interagency task force to create a strategy for the promotion of pollinator health.

In case you were wondering just how important honey bees are to our ecosystem, consider this: about one-third of the U.S. diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants and honey bees are responsible for about 80 percent of that process. That’s right, one-in-three bites! We can all thank honey bees for our favorite fruits, vegetables and nuts, like apples, almonds, watermelon, cucumbers and avocados. Did you also know that because of their pollination work, honey bees alone add more than $15 billion in agricultural value each year? So yes, honey bees, and all insect pollinators, are pretty important to our way of life, and we are so excited to see them get the attention they deserve.

In honor of this great work done by the Obama administration and all of our great presidents throughout history, we thought it would be fun to share some sweet facts about our nation and its relationship with the humble honey bee.

  • George Washington is said to have been a big fan of honey and enjoyed it in his tea and was quite fond of covering his hoecakes with a reasonable drizzle.
  • Both fans of gardening, and understanding the pollination performed by honey bees, Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both kept bees on their estates.
    • There are still bees kept at Mount Vernon, and you can learn all about them here.
  • According to records at Mount Vernon, George Washington is thought to have been among the first to keep his bees in wooden boxes, as opposed to the traditional black gum hives.
  • Thomas Jefferson wrote about the origins of honeybees in his nature book, Notes on Virginia.
  • Martha Washington is said to be quite the fan of rose-flavored honey (honey boiled with rose petals).
  • Have you heard about the “Bees that Saved America?” It is quite the tale, and you can read about it here.
  • According to our friends at Historical Honeybee Articles, Abraham Lincoln is rumored to be “very fond of honey.”
  • In 2009, Charlie Brandts became the first official White House beekeeper when he installed a hive of nearly 70,000 bees near the garden on the South Lawn. He retired from government in 2012, but is still on-hand to maintain the hive.
  • In its first three years, the presidential hive produced 340 pounds of honey that has been given out as gifts, used to make beer and in both daily and formal meals at the White House.
    • Get a inside look at the Presidential beehive here.

Which of these fun facts surprised you the most? What other facts have you seen about the presidential history of honeybees? 

You can make comments at the National Honey Board blog: http://www.honey.com/blog/2016/detail/the-presidential-history-of-honeybees

Urban Beekeeping: What's the Buzz About?

KCET SoCal Connected  Air Date: Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 8:00PM

For the first time in more than a century, the Los Angeles City Council officially legalized urban beekeeping in single family homes in October 2015, catching up with cities like Santa Monica, New York, and Santa Barbara in permitting backyard beekeeping.

But now, what will it take to create a new generation of beekeepers? Can computers and smartphone apps help make the traditional task of beekeeping more inviting?

There's no question that backyard beehives face multiple challenges. One expert, Kelton Temby, calls them the four P's: Pests, pesticides, poor management, and pathogens. He has come up with a high-tech monitor to gauge the health of beehives remotely. What does this technology have to offer aspiring beekeepers?

In this segment of "SoCal Connected," reporter Cara Santa Maria introduces us to beekeepers from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and finds out what backyard beekeeping is doing to support the honey bees of Southern California.

http://www.kcet.org/shows/socal_connected/stories/environment/urban-beekeeping-whats-the-buzz-about-1.html

Increasing pollinator numbers and diversity a possible way to increase crop yields

Phys.org    By Bob Yirka  January 22, 2016   

Apis mellifera on Phacelia tanacetifolia. Flower strips along crop fields attract pollinators and can increase the number of pollinators in the focal crop. Here, a honey bee is seen approaching a lacy phacelia in bloom, a highly attractive plant to bees (note the blue pollen baskets on the hind legs). This material relates to a paper that appeared in the 22 January 2016, issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by Lucas Alejandro Garibaldi at Instituto de Investigaciones en Recursos Naturales, Agroecología y Desarrollo Rural (IRNAD) in Río Negro, Argentina, and colleagues was titled, "Mutually beneficial pollinator diversity and crop yield outcomes in small and large farms." Credit: Sondre Dahle

A large team of researchers with members from across the globe has found that small farms with higher densities of pollinators produce more food than those with lower densities—for larger farms, the difference in yield was more closely related to pollinator diversity. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes their study and analysis of multiple farms in Asia, South America and Africa over a five year period and what they learned about ways to increase crop yields in the years ahead.

Some scientists have predicted that the amount of food grown will have to double by 2050 to keep up with a growing world population, and one way to do that, the  with this new effort contend, is by narrowing or closing the  gap (the difference in yield between the most productive  and the least). One way to do that, they believe, is by increasing the number of pollinators on small (less than 2 hectares) farms and increasing diversity on larger farms.

The researchers came to this conclusion by conducting a five year study of 344 farms of all sizes, looking at 33 crops in particular, all of which need pollinators to bear fruit. The team monitored pollinator visits for each field counting numbers of pollinators broken down by species to allow for calculating diversity. In analyzing the data that was collected, the researchers found that the yield gap on small farms was approximately 47 percent and that there were far fewer pollinators visiting lower yield farms than the higher yield ones, suggesting that increasing pollinator numbers on less productive farms would likely bump up yields. The researchers note this is important because approximately 2 billion people around the world rely on food from such small farms. With larger farms, the story was different, rather than pollinator density making a difference, it was diversity—farms with a higher degree of different pollinators, such as bees, beetles, wasps, butterflies, etc. had higher yields. This suggests of course that lower yield producing large farms could bump their yields simply by attracting more different kinds of pollinators.

The researchers suggest that farms of any size could attract more pollinators by planting strips of plants, such as flowers, close to crops that are very attractive to pollinators or by changing pesticide application patterns to minimize exposure to .

    Explore further: Pollinator decline not reducing crop yields just yet

More information: L. A. Garibaldi et al. Mutually beneficial pollinator diversity and crop yield outcomes in small and large farms, Science (2016). DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7287

Abstract 
Ecological intensification, or the improvement of crop yield through enhancement of biodiversity, may be a sustainable pathway toward greater food supplies. Such sustainable increases may be especially important for the 2 billion people reliant on small farms, many of which are undernourished, yet we know little about the efficacy of this approach. Using a coordinated protocol across regions and crops, we quantify to what degree enhancing pollinator density and richness can improve yields on 344 fields from 33 pollinator-dependent crop systems in small and large farms from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For fields less than 2 hectares, we found that yield gaps could be closed by a median of 24% through higher flower-visitor density. For larger fields, such benefits only occurred at high flower-visitor richness. Worldwide, our study demonstrates that ecological intensification can create synchronous biodiversity and yield outcomes.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-01-pollinator-diversity-crop-yields.html#jCp

Seminal Fluid of Male Honey Bees Can Destroy the Fungal Spores of Nosema

Bee Craft B-kids FB post   1/21/16

Breaking News!

New research by scientists at Western Australia's Centre for Integrative Bee Research (CIBR) have discovered that the seminal fluid of male honey bees can destroy the fungal spores of one of the most wide-spread bee pathogens - Nosema.

The fungal pathogen Nosema apis is frequently found in bee colonies, and when hives come under stress, from bad weather or hunger, it can spread, leading to complete colony collapse.

To study the interaction between seminal fluid and pathogens the scientists collected around 200 drones, placing them in a cage for 10 minutes before inducing ejaculation by gassing them with chloroform, they then squeezed the fluid from the drones with a pipette.

Fungal spores were collected from hives known to be infected with Nosema. Pure seminal fluid was capable of killing most of the spores within five minutes, although diluted samples of seminal fluid were still highly effective.

In the long term, researchers at CIBR are hopeful they can extend the research to some of the most threatening bee diseases and the Varroa mite.

Bee Craft B-kids FB post: https://www.facebook.com/BKids.BeeCraft/?fref=photo

USGS Pollinator Research and Monitoring

 Download at: http://gallery.usgs.gov/videos/988

The USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, located in the Northern Great Plains state of North Dakota highlights their current and ongoing research on land use and pollinator health. 

This part of the country represents critical summer forage habitat for commercial beekeepers and their honey bees. Colonies located here in the summer produce honey and go on to pollinate many crops throughout the country, particularly almonds in the Central Valley of California. Researchers at Northern Prairie are studying how diversity and abundance of pollen (protein) resources differ with land use and result in varying outcomes for honey bee colonies. This research fits within the Presidential Memorandum on pollinators and the subsequent "National Strategy to promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators" created by the Pollinator Health Task Force. USGS scientists are measuring colony health, productivity, and survival of colonies in varying landscapes, and collaborating with the USDA to evaluate conservation program lands for their contribution to the honey bee diet. 

This research will be useful in equipping land managers and policy makers with the best-available science to improve forage and habitat for pollinators.

Videographer: Clint Otto, USGS
Credits:
Kirk Mason filmed, edited, and produced the video 
Feature Speakers: Clint Otto, Matthew Smart, Sarah Scott
Zac Browning and Bret Adee provided filming locations

More pollinator research at: https://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/

Are Pesticides to Blame for the Massive Bee Die-Off?

PBS Newshour  Allison Aubrey, reporting   November 24, 2015

Commercial beekeepers across America have been struggling with great numbers of bee deaths over the past few years. What’s behind their failing health? Some research points to a class of pesticide that’s coated onto a large proportion of corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. Allison Aubrey of NPR reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In this week when we think about food, we take a look now at the vital role bees play in getting some of your favorite dishes to the table, and the way commercial beekeepers in the U.S. are struggling to keep their bees healthy.

Allison Aubrey of National Public Radio has our report.

The story is part of the NewsHour’s ongoing collaboration with NPR.

ALLISON AUBREY: It’s harvest time at Adee Honey Farms in Bruce, South Dakota. Bret Adee’s the third generation to manage the 80,000 hives the Adees have scattered across five Midwestern states. He says beekeeping these days is much harder than it’s ever been.

BRET ADEE, Adee Honey Farms: In 2010, our bees were just destroyed in a couple of weeks. Most of our bees died.

ALLISON AUBREY: Bret says things really haven’t improved much.

BRET ADEE: I would to see about twice to three times as many bees in most of the hives right now. It will be a real challenge to keep them alive through the winter.

ALLISON AUBREY: The Adees are not alone. According to a preliminary survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, commercial beekeepers lost 42 percent of their colonies last year. Bees are a critical part of agriculture.

Adee trucks his bees out to pollinate California’s almond groves every year. And it’s not just almonds. Bees pollinate everything from apples to cherries and squash. To figure out what’s plaguing the bees, the Obama administration assembled a task force last year. Scientists at the EPA, USDA and researchers across the country who have been studying the problem are finding there are multiple issues.

Bees have fewer wildflowers to forage on due to a loss of habitat. There’s viruses that pests pass on to the bees. Climate change is thought to play a role too. Another issue is pesticides. Some studies suggest that a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoid, or neonics for short, are harming the bees.

These pesticides are coated onto the seed of about 80 percent of the corn that’s grown in the United States and about half the soybeans too. To get a sense of that scale, imagine a cornfield like this taking up the entire state of California. That’s how much of this pre-treated seed is being planted.

CHRISTIAN KRUPKE, Purdue University: This is what corn seeds look like after they have been treated.

ALLISON AUBREY: The pesticide is put onto the corn before it’s ever planted?

CHRISTIAN KRUPKE: That’s right.

ALLISON AUBREY: Christian Krupke is an entomologist at Purdue University who studies bees. His research shows that neonicotinoids can harm bees.

What is a neonicotinoid?

CHRISTIAN KRUPKE: A neonicotinoid is — as the name would suggest, it’s based on nicotine. They’re less toxic to mammals, which is a big feature in their wide adoption. But they are more toxic to honey bees and to other insects.

ALLISON AUBREY: Neonics are a relatively new class of pesticide. They have been around since the early 1990s. They are easier for farmers to use than the traditional method of spraying crops. And according to researchers at Penn State University, their use has increased more than 11-fold since 2003. Companies that sell them are making billions of dollars.

CHRISTIAN KRUPKE: Virtually all of these large acre plants are being treated. So, the level of use is way out of step with the level of the threat. In most fields, and where we have worked, we just haven’t been able to find levels of pests that would justify the level of use.

ALLISON AUBREY: Krupke published a study that linked bee deaths with the pesticide-laden dust that flies up during the planting of the pre-treated corn seeds.

CHRISTIAN KRUPKE: We collected some of those bees and analyzed them and found neonicotinoids on them and in them, so there is an intersection between planting these crops and killing foraging honey bees.

ALLISON AUBREY: Bayer CropScience is one of the leading manufacturers of neonicotinoids. Bayer’s chief scientist, David Fischer, acknowledges Krupke’s findings, but he says Bayer has a seed lubricant that reduces the dust. He says that, outside these acute exposures, neonicotinoids are not harmful to bees.

DAVID FISCHER, Bayer CropScience: We have done those studies. And those studies basically show, if you spray the product, it’s not safe for the bees. If you apply the product to the soil or as a seed treatment, the level of residues that gets up into the plant is in a safe range.

ALLISON AUBREY: Christian Krupke is not convinced.

CHRISTIAN KRUPKE: We find these pesticides in the water. Bees drink water. Plants use water. We find that wildflowers that grow near these areas also have some of these pesticides in them. You add that up over the course of a season, and, yes, we do find concerning levels.

ALLISON AUBREY: Krupke says those levels do not kill the bees, but may leave them more vulnerable.

Bayer’s chief scientist says the major threat to bees is a mite that punctures the honey bees body and feeds on its blood. It’s known as the Varroa mite. And a recent report issued by President Obama’s task force also points to the mite as one issue.

DAVID FISCHER: Eighty percent of the problem is Varroa mites and the viruses and the diseases those viruses cause.

ALLISON AUBREY: But some beekeepers suspect the increased use of the newer pesticides is making their bees more vulnerable to the mite.

BRET ADEE: For 15 years, we managed that Varroa mite and kept our losses under 5 to 8 percent. Now we’re losing 50 percent of the bees every year.

ALLISON AUBREY: Pesticide manufacturers, including Bayer and Syngenta have launched campaigns of their own to boost bee health. Both companies are planting millions of flowers in the U.S. to increase bee forage.

And in 2014, Bayer CropScience opened this $2 million bee care center in North Carolina, where they conduct workshops and tours. Environmentalists say these initiatives are a diversion from the real problem, the pesticides these companies manufacture, something Fischer rejects.

DAVID FISCHER: Bayer has actually been in the business of providing products to beekeepers for more than 20 years. It’s not something that we just started doing.

ALLISON AUBREY: Beekeepers in Europe came out in force a few years ago in support of the European Union’s partial ban on the use of some of these neonics.

And here in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency says it will speed up a safety review and likely not allow any new uses of the pesticide. Environmental groups are locked in several court battles challenging the EPA over the registration of these pesticides.

Manufacturers maintain that neonics are vital for increasing crop production and safer than spraying.

DAVID FISCHER: They’re extremely valuable. They increase crop yields often by 20 percent vs. the other competitors. So, they contribute billions of dollars to the ag economy in the United States.

CHRISTIAN KRUPKE: That would be true if these products, these neonicotinoids, were indispensable to these crops, to agriculture, but they’re not.

Some of our own work in corn and the work of others in the United States has shown that it’s very difficult to consistently show a yield benefit.

ALLISON AUBREY: Lucas Criswell farms close to 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and rye in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Valley. He has stopped using treated seed because he found it wasn’t only killing the bad pests, but the pests he needed to ward off the slugs that were eating his soybean crops.

LUCAS CRISWELL, Farmer: The soil in our fields are a huge ecology of different critters and insects. And they’re all there. We need good and bad. It takes a balance of them all, and that’s what we have seen.

ALLISON AUBREY: Criswell now keeps pests at bay in his fields by planting crops that encourage beneficial insects. The treated seeds cost more, so this method ends up being cheaper for him.

Is it too soon enough to say whether you’re getting the same yields?

LUCAS CRISWELL: Is there corn growing on that hill? It grew.

ALLISON AUBREY: It looks like a lot of corn.

Earlier this year, President Obama’s task force called for a reevaluation of the pesticides. And, consistent with the president’s requirements, the EPA has expedited its review.

I’m Allison Aubrey of NPR News for the PBS NewsHour in Bruce, South Dakota.

Read and View: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/are-pesticides-to-blame-for-the-massive-bee-die-off/