Beekeepers debate shrinking bee population

Published 8:40 am Friday, May 31, 2013

On May 16, about 18 local beekeepers met at the Crystal Creek Center in Mill Spring to discuss the alarming decline in honeybee hives worldwide, with specific focus on the state of beedom in the foothills.

The number of years of beekeeping range from one to 30, with an average of seven. The fraction of hives lost since last year ran from zero to 100 percent, with an average of 44 percent, which is severe.

After I dominated way too much of the discussion with a slide presentation of possible causes for the so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (sorry about that – we’ll do more discussion next time), the participants were surveyed, and here are the results of what they thought, in descending order of what is most likely:

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Genetic homogeneity of queens: 43 percent. Most of the queen bees purchased commercially in the area come from a restricted number of bloodlines. The thought is that there may be some weaknesses emerging coming from the lack of hybrid cross-breeding vitality.

Chemotoxicity: 38 percent. The new neonicotinoid pesticides are very toxic to bees, and some think they cause central-nervous-system damage to the bees, causing them to be unable to navigate home correctly. While there is not much commercial spraying in the area, this class of pesticide is in wide use now, even by homeowners and gardeners, and some beekeepers use pesticides to control varroa mites. One study showed that the suspected residues of neonicotinoid pesticides in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) fed to bees by commercial beekeepers can cause honeybee hives to collapse. Neonicotinoid pesticides include acetamiprid, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid, which is in local use to control fire ants. One attendee, whose neighbor treated for fire ants, lost 100 percent of her hives.