Honey Bee Colony Losses 2018-2019: Preliminary Results

Bee Informed.jpg

JUNE 19TH, 2019

Note: This is a preliminary analysis. Sample sizes and estimates are likely to change. A more detailed state-specific report, as well as a manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, will follow at a later date. 

The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP; http://beeinformed.org) recently conducted the 13th annual survey of managed honey bee colony losses in the United States. This past year, 4,696 beekeepers collectively managing 319,787 colonies as of October 2018 provided validated colony loss survey responses. The number of colonies managed by surveyed respondents represents 11.9% of the estimated 2.69 million managed honey-producing colonies in the nation (USDA, 2018).

During the 2018-2019 winter (1 October 2018 – 1 April 2019), an estimated 37.7% of managed honey bee colonies in the United States were lost (Fig. 1). This loss represents an increase of 7 percentage points compared to last year (30.7%), and an increase of 8.9 percentage points compared to the 13-year average winter colony loss rate of 28.8%. This year’s estimate is the highest level of winter losses reported since the survey began in 2006-2007.

Similar to previous years, backyard beekeepers lost more colonies over the winter (39.8%) compared to sideline (36.5%) and commercial (37.5%) beekeepers. Backyard, sideline, and commercial beekeepers are defined as those managing 50 or fewer colonies, 51 to 500 colonies, and 501 or more colonies, respectively.

Our survey also asked what level of winter loss would be acceptable by beekeepers. Interestingly, this revealed an increase from 20.6% last year to 22.2% this year, which is much greater than the 11-year average of 17%. This increased acceptable loss may indicate that beekeepers are more realistic or pragmatic in their expectations of colony losses. Even with a higher acceptable loss, sixty-two percent of responding beekeepers lost more colonies than the level deemed acceptable.

During the summer 2018 season (1 April 2018 – 1 October 2018), an estimated 20.5% of managed colonies were lost in the U.S. This level is slightly higher (3.4 percentage points) than the previous summer’s colony loss estimate of 17.1%, but is on par with the summer loss average reported by beekeepers since 2010-2011 (20.5%), when summer losses were first recorded by the BIP.

For the entire survey period (1 April 2018 – 1 April 2019), beekeepers in the U.S. lost an estimated 40.7% of their managed honey bee colonies. This is similar to last year’s annual loss estimate of 40.1%, but slightly higher (2.9 percentage points) than the average annual rate of loss reported by beekeepers since 2010-11 (37.8%).

We note that loss rate for each period was estimated by identifying the total number of at-risk-colonies that died, and that annual loss rate was not estimated by summing the individual summer and winter loss rates. This year’s state-specific loss rates will be added to previous years’ results on the BIP website shortly (https://bip2.beeinformed.org/loss-map/).

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Fig 1. Total winter colony loss rate in the United States across years of the Bee Informed Partnership’s National Honey Bee Colony Loss Survey (yellow bars; 1 October – 1 April)1. Total annual loss estimates (orange bars) include total winter and summer (1 April – 1 October) losses; the latter has been estimated since 2010-2011 only. The acceptable winter loss rate (grey bars) is the average percentage of acceptable winter colony loss declared by the survey participants in each year of the survey.

 1Previous survey results estimated total winter colony loss values of 31% in the winter of 2017-18, 21% in 2016-17, 27% in 2015-16, 22% in 2014-15, 24% in 2013-14, 30% in 2012-13, 22% in 2011-12, 30% in 2010-11, 32% in 2009-10, 29% in 2008-09, 36% in 2007-08, and 32% in 2006-07 (see reference list).

https://beeinformed.org/results/2018-2019/

More Bad Buzz For Bees: Record Number Of Honeybee Colonies Died Last Winter

NPR The Salt By Susie Nielsen June 19, 2019

Honeybee hives stand on a field at the Central Maryland Research and Education Center in Beltsville, Maryland. An annual survey of U.S. beekeepers shows the rate of colony death last winter — nearly 40% — was the highest reported since the survey began 13 years ago.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Honeybee hives stand on a field at the Central Maryland Research and Education Center in Beltsville, Maryland. An annual survey of U.S. beekeepers shows the rate of colony death last winter — nearly 40% — was the highest reported since the survey began 13 years ago. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

It's a sweltering morning in Beltsville, Md., and I'm face-to-face with bee doom. Mark Dykes, a "Bee Squad coordinator" at the University of Maryland, shakes a Mason jar filled with buzzing honeybees that are coated with powdered sugar. The sugar loosens the grip of tiny Varroa mites, a parasite that plagues bees; as he sifts the powder into a bowl, they poke out like hairy pebbles in snow.

"Right now there [are] three mites per hundred [bees]," says Dennis vanEngelsdorp, associate professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and president of the Bee Informed Partnership, which studies bee survival rates. That's a high rate of mites, vanEngelsdorp says: "If this were September and you were seeing that number, you'd expect the hive to die" during the lean months of winter.

Varroa  mites, tiny pests that can weaken and destroy honeybee colonies, are on display in a small jar.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Varroa mites, tiny pests that can weaken and destroy honeybee colonies, are on display in a small jar. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Bee colony death continues to rise. According to the Bee Informed Partnership's latest survey, released this week, U.S. beekeepers lost nearly 40% of their honeybee colonies last winter — the greatest reported winter hive loss since the partnership started its surveys 13 years ago. The total annual loss was slightly above average.

The survey included responses from nearly 4,700 beekeepers managing almost 320,000 hives, making up about 12% of total managed honey-producing colonies in the United States.

Bee decline has many causes, including decreasing crop diversity, poor beekeeping practices and loss of habitat. Pesticides weaken bees' immune systems and can kill them. Varroa mites (full, ominous species name: Varroa destructor) latch onto honeybees and suck their "fat body" tissue, stunting and weakening them and potentially causing entire colonies to collapse.

Honeybees crawl through a modern-day hive. This past winter saw the most dramatic losses of managed honeybee colonies in 13 years, according to researchers.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Honeybees crawl through a modern-day hive. This past winter saw the most dramatic losses of managed honeybee colonies in 13 years, according to researchers. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

"Beekeepers are trying their best to keep [mites] in check, but it's really an arms race," says Nathalie Steinhauer, science coordinator for the Bee Informed Partnership and co-author of the report (vanEngelsdorp is also an author). "That's concerning, because we know arms races don't usually end well."

Steinhauer says Varroa mites are the "number one concern" around wintertime. They've become harder to control, she says, because some of the tools that beekeepers have been using — chemical strips that attract and kill mites, essential oils and organic acids — are losing their efficacy.

Pollinators are responsible for one of every three bites of food we take, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Most of these pollinators are domesticated honeybees. They have become essential for many flowering crops, including blueberries, almonds and cherries. Wild insects can't be relied on to pollinate hundreds of acres of these crops, so fruit and nut producers call in commercial honeybee colonies instead.

Beekeepers use this device, called a smoker, to calm honeybees.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Beekeepers use this device, called a smoker, to calm honeybees. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Beekeeping has thus become an essential cog in the machine of American industrial farming. But it's a tough industry. Commercial beekeepers are so migratory that it's difficult to track how many live in each state, and all that moving around is expensive and stressful. Beekeepers have to monitor thousands of hives for sickness and pests.

These winter losses have made business even tougher, says vanEngelsdorp.

"We're not worried about honeybees going extinct. What we're worried about is commercial beekeepers going extinct," he says. When hives die, beekeepers can split healthy hives to replace their numbers — but it's costly to do so. "The question is, how long can they do that and stay economically viable?"

If the beekeeping industry shrinks, he says, crop production will suffer. "If we want to continue to have a food supply that has the variety that we want, we need a movable pollination supply, and those are honeybees," he says. "If we don't have commercial beekeepers managing those, then we won't be able to meet that demand."

Dennis vanEngelsdorp pulls out a frame from a hive. Managed honeybee hives are usually made of stackable, separable components so that beekeepers can closely monitor the colony's health.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Dennis vanEngelsdorp pulls out a frame from a hive. Managed honeybee hives are usually made of stackable, separable components so that beekeepers can closely monitor the colony's health. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Maryann Frazier, a retired senior extension associate for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, who was not involved with the survey, says its results are limited by the fact that they rely on self-reported data from beekeepers. Beekeepers who've lost a lot of bees may be more likely to contribute to the survey, she says.

Still, she says the results are troubling, if unsurprising. Stressed, sick bees in close proximity are likely to die during the winter months. And bees face increasing levels of stress. Until all parties work together to address the sources of that stress, she says, steep winter die-offs will continue.

"I don't expect to see a change in losses over time for this reason. There's been no significant effort to correct what's causing the decline," she says.

Take pesticides, she says. "There's a huge amount of data [and] research showing pesticides are a significant player in the decline of honeybees and other insect species. And yet there's been so little done to make a change on that front," she says. "The EPA has been incredibly ineffective."

She says that pesticide industry leaders often try to shift blame for bee declines solely onto Varroa mites and viruses when in fact, she says, "there is so much evidence that pesticides are a major player in the decline of honeybees."

"And these things are synergistic," she adds. Pesticides can compromise immune systems, so when a mite or other pest hits "a bee compromised by pesticides, it's a downward spiral." Other sources of stress, like changing landscapes, have not been corrected.

Bees crawl over larvae and capped honey cells on a hive frame. Larvae are especially vulnerable to pests like  Varroa  mites.  Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Bees crawl over larvae and capped honey cells on a hive frame. Larvae are especially vulnerable to pests like Varroa mites. Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Honeybees are a "sentinel species," Frazier says, meaning that their losses may warn humans of the larger trend of insect decline worldwide, including the decline of other pollinators like beetles and wild bees. "The picture is well beyond honeybees," she says. "The whole system is crashing."

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/06/19/733761393/more-bad-buzz-for-bees-record-numbers-of-honey-bee-colonies-died-last-winter

[NOTE: The beekeepers in this story are working the bees in short sleeves and without protective clothing. They are located in the state of Maryland. They do not have the danger of Africanized Honey Bees. If you are in areas such as Southern California, which have AHB, we advise that you DO NOT work your bees without protective clothing.]

Controlling Varroa – 89% Of Large-Scale Beekeepers Said They Use Chemical Varroacides, While 61% Of Small-Scale Beekeepers Do

Catch the Buzz May 23, 2019

varroa mite on bee.jpg

With the Varroa destructor mite a pernicious pest of managed honey bee colonies across North America, beekeepers have a variety of control methods to choose from to reduce the mites’ impact on their hives. Which ones do they most prefer?

To answer that question, researchers at the University of Maryland and the Bee Informed Partnership analyzed four years of data from surveys that asked beekeepers about their Varroa-management methods. Their findings, reported in a new study published in April in the Journal of Economic Entomology, highlight a wide variety of combinations of methods used and indicate a lack of any perceived “silver bullet” option for controlling Varroa mites.

Among the range of practices, though, some patterns emerged, says Ariela Haber, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland at the time it was conducted. (Haber is now a postdoctoral researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service.) For instance, 89 percent of large-scale beekeepers (managing 50 or more colonies) said they use chemical varroacides, while 61 percent of small-scale beekeepers said they did. And, while about half of large-scale beekeepers said they use nonchemical methods (either exclusively or in combination with varroacides), about three-quarters of small-scale beekeepers said they use them.

Haber says these insights into use of Varroa-management methods “take into account important considerations such as affordability and logistical constraints associated with different practices. Thus, the findings can inform future experiments that directly test the efficacy of different Varroa management practices that beekeepers can realistically use.”

The survey data, which Haber analyzed with University of Maryland colleagues Nathalie Steinhauer and Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Ph.D., covered nearly 19,000 responses over a four-year period, asking beekeepers about their use Varroa-management methods among the bevy of options currently available:

bee informed survey results.jpg

Beekeepers were also asked about colony losses. Across all types of beekeeping operations, use of varroacides was associated with lower colony loss, with amitraz associated with better colony survival than all other varroacides. Meanwhile, among nonchemical methods, splitting colonies was associated with the lowest levels of colony loss, “although our results suggest that nonchemical practices have limited success as stand-alone controls,” the authors note in their report. The survey did not ask about intensity of Varroa infestations or other factors that can influence colony survival, so Haber and colleagues stress that the results are only observational and shouldn’t be interpreted to infer causal links between Varroa-management methods and colony survival rates.

The primacy of chemical management methods, however, indicates the ongoing challenge beekeepers face in managing Varroain their honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies. Repeated use of varroacides has led to Varroa populations evolving resistance to at least two previously effective products. “Even though evidence from our study and from other studies suggests that chemical treatments tend to be more effective than nonchemical practices for controlling Varroa, we should be cautious in interpreting the results of any varroacide efficacy study and in making recommendations to beekeepers, as it is unlikely that any chemical control will be effective in the long term,” Haber says.

More broadly, Haber says she sees the intensive operations of managed honey bee pollination services in agriculture as an environment with multiple factors contributing to honey bee colony losses, such as low-quality pollen diets in monoculture crops to high-density colonies. “This suggests that honey bee colonies in the U.S. will be vulnerable—to problems we have already seen as well as new, unforeseen problems—as long as we keep our current system in place,” she says.

Read more - Source: Journal of Economic Entomology

See: https://beeinformed.org/

National Management Survey Explorer App

Bee Informed Partnership   March 27, 2017   Winter Loss Survey

If you haven’t heard by now, the Bee Informed Partnership has been hosting an annual management survey for many years. The survey is data intensive and collects detailed information about many different aspects of beekeeping. The survey has reached tens of thousands of beekeepers and has spanned the better half of the last decade.

The survey has proved to be very successful and has generated a significant amount of data. Our team of researchers and technology professionals have spent many years analyzing this data to gain a clearer picture of honey bee health. Now, we want to make this data easily accessible to everyone by releasing a new app called the “National Management Survey Explorer”. You can start using the app today at https://bip2.beeinformed.org/survey.

Read more: https://beeinformed.org/2017/03/27/national-management-survey-app/

Bee Informed Partnership Survey

Following are two messages from the Bee Informed Partnership:

Dear Beekeeper:

We are midway through our National Annual Loss and Management survey and would appreciate help from you to appeal to more commercial beekeepers who are under-represented in our survey.   

Thank you for those of you who have already participated in our Tier 6 (Almond Pollination) survey. We have two additional surveys that are now open to all beekeepers and are asking for your help.  The link to these surveys is provided below.

The Bee informed Partnership, a joint project among numerous universities and laboratories, is asking you to please send the following email to all the beekeepers that you know.  Both surveys are open only from 1 April through 30 April 2014.  

Should you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact us at: askbeeinformed@gmail.com or call us at 443.296.2470.

You can learn more about the Bee Informed Partnership at beeinformed.org.  We really believe this effort will be able to change our industry by giving beekeepers the tools they need to make informed management decisions. But, for it to work it needs participation – lots of participation. SO please take the survey if you have colonies of your own and pass this letter below to your beekeeper contacts and encourage them to participate! We thank you in advance.
 

*****************************************
Dear Beekeeper:
 
We need your help.  Please take 30 minutes out of your busy day to complete these two surveys.  Both surveys are only open from 1 April through 30 April 2014

National Loss and Management Survey:

http://10.selectsurvey.net/beeinformed/TakeSurvey.aspx?SurveyID=BIP2014

The loss survey should take less than 10 minutes and the management survey should take less than 30 minutes.

The purpose of the Bee Informed Partnership is to use beekeepers' real world experiences to help solve beekeepers' real world problems. We will use the data generated from these two surveys to help you decide which management practices are best for beekeepers like you, who live where you do and have operations similar to yours.  For this to work, we need as many participants as possible...so please take the time to fill out the survey and SEND THIS EMAIL TO ALL THE BEEKEEPERS YOU KNOW asking them to fill out these survey too.
 
Should you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact us at askbeeinformed@gmail.com or call us at 443.296.2470.

You can learn more about the Bee Informed Partnership at beeinformed.org
BE INVOLVED, BE INCLUDED, BEE INFORMED. 
 
Thank you,

The Bee Informed Partnership Team

Beekeepers: Have You Taken the Survey Yet!

We need your help!  The Bee Informed Partnership is conducting our annual National Honey Bee Loss and Management survey, now open through the end of April. Please take 30 minutes out of your busy day to complete the surveys. 

http://10.selectsurvey.net/beeinformed/TakeSurvey.aspx?SurveyID=BIP2014

The purpose of the Bee Informed Partnership is to use beekeepers' real world experiences to help solve beekeepers' real world problems. We will use the data generated from these two surveys to help you decide which management practices are best for beekeepers like you, who live where you do and have operations similar to yours.  For this to work, we need as many participants as possible...so please take the time to fill out the questionnaire and SEND THIS EMAIL TO ALL THE BEEKEEPERS YOU KNOW asking them to fill out these questionnaires too.
 
You can see what type of results we will generate by visiting the beeinformed.org website and browsing through our results section. Currently we are in the process of posting last year’s management results, so visit the site often to see these results as they are posted.

Depending on the number of participants, we will have the results from this year’s survey broken down by region and should have those results posted within months of the survey close date.  
 
Should you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact us at askbeeinformed@gmail.com or call us at 443.296.2470.

You can learn more about the Bee Informed Partnership at beeinformed.org.

BE INVOLVED, BE INCLUDED, BEE INFORMED. 
 
Thank you,
The Bee Informed Partnership Team

Take the Survey - Deadline extended to April 30, 2013

Due to an overwhelming request from northern and western beekeepers who have not had adequate good weather opportunities to inspect all their colonies, the Bee Informed Partnership is extending the National Online Winter Loss and Management Survey until April 30th.  It is hoped this allows many more beekeepers to participate and join the thousands who have already participated.  All beekeepers are encouraged to take the survey and Bee Culture and Bee Informed thanks those who have already taken the time to join the team! Take the survey!

Take the Survey: Deadline extended to April 30, 2013

Bee Informed Partnership

Due to an overwhelming request from northern and western beekeepers who have not had adequate good weather opportunities to inspect all their colonies, the Bee Informed Partnership is extending the National Online Winter Loss and Management Survey until April 30th.  It is hoped this allows many more beekeepers to participate and join the thousands who have already participated.  All beekeepers are encouraged to take the survey and Bee Culture and Bee Informed thanks those who have already taken the time to join the team!

Click the link and take the survey! 

http://10.selectsurvey.net/beeinformed/TakeSurvey.aspx?SurveyID=BIP2012

 

Take The Survey…Be Part Of The Solution This Year.

Fill ‘er Up, Please!      Eric Mussen,    Extension Apiculturist.    3/20/13

To glean information on better beekeeping management and techniques, do you tend to sidestep formal conference presentations in favor of informal meetings at a local coffee shop? That’s what national surveys indicate. Not to worry. We now have the country’s largest beekeeping coffee shop that can bring the experiences of thousands of beekeepers to you.

And it’s free. You don’t have to buy the coffee or wait for a refill or tip the waiters.

It’s the online “Bee Informed Partnership.” You can go to http://beeinformed.org/ and see up-to-date summaries of all the data that the nation’s beekeepers – more than 5,000 so far – have submitted to the site. Thus, you can access information on what worked and what didn’t from thousands of beekeepers in the national coffee shop, not just your handful of friends in the local area.

The Bee Informed Partnership is well into its third year.  There is just about enough data to begin to break down the survey responses into specific sub-segments such as: regions of the country, size of operation, participants in crop pollination, etc.  However, in order to make the findings valuable for commercial operators, more commercial beekeepers need to submit data.

Participation in the program is free and totally anonymous (covered by federal and state laws).  When you decide to participate, you will be presented with two electronic survey forms to complete.  One is on “winter” losses (but this covers the entire year) and the other is on management practices and how effective you found them to be.  The expectation is that the surveys will be submitted quarterly.  The good news is that each new survey form arrives pre-loaded with your last data.  You change only what is different from the last time and submit it.

The new survey season begins March 29 and remains open until April 15.  By then, participants will know a lot about their wintering success or lack thereof.  I strongly suggest that you take the time to become involved in this program.  Besides data summaries, there are graphics of the data (which I prefer to tables any day).  Additionally, some of us are allowed to comment when we think that the results could be a bit misleading, based on small sample sizes or specific biases in the respondent group.

The national coffee shop is open. Your fellow beekeepers await your presence and your experiences and views.  Please “bee” there at http://beeinformed.org/ .