Apr 11, 2013 11:20 AM by Elaine Sheridan

Winter bee death report expected to be grim

This past winter has been exceptionally rough for honeybees - and although it's too early to say exactly why, the usual suspects range from pesticides that appear to cause memory loss to pests that got an exceptionally early start last spring.

Friday marked the start of an annual survey that asks beekeepers to report how many bees they lost over the winter, conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The advance word is that the results will be brutal. The New York Times, for example, quoted beekeepers as saying the losses reached levels of 40 to 50 percent - which would be double the average reported last year.

One beekeeper in Montana was quoted as saying that his bees seemed healthy last spring, but in September, "they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy.

California beekeeper Randy Oliver, who discusses industry trends on the Scientific Beekeeping blog, said the past summer's drought was also a factor: "When there's a drought, the bees are in poor shape with the food," he told NBC News. He said he and other beekeepers predicted that there'd be heavy winter losses last July, when the scale of the drought became clear.

Heavy losses are bad news, and if bee colonies are becoming progressively weaker, that's worse news. It's not just because of the honey: The Department of Agriculture says that bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. A bee scarcity increases costs for the farmers who need them for pollination, and that could lead to higher food prices. But Oliver said it's important to keep a sense of perspective about the bad news.

"The situation with the bees is not dire," he said. "The bees are doing OK. There's no danger that the bees will go extinct. ... That's just not true."  (Photo:Scott Bauer / USDA via AP)



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