This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.
You’ve probably heard that the honey bees in this country are in trouble, with about one-third of our managed colonies dying off every winter. Later this week, we will learn how the honey bees survived this winter. With severe weather in a number of areas in the U.S. this winter, a number of us concerned about bees will be closely watching the results.
While scientists continue work to identify all the factors that have lead to honey bee losses, it is clear that there are biological and environmental stresses that have created a complex challenge that will take a complex, multi-faceted approach to solve. Parasites, diseases, pesticides, narrow genetic diversity in honey bee colonies, and less access to diverse forage all play a role in colony declines. To confront this diverse mix of challenges, we require a mix of solutions – the odds are that we won’t find one magic fix to help our honey bees.
The parasitic mite Varroa destructor remains the major factor in overwintering colony declines. The varroa mite’s full name is Varroa destructor, and it is perhaps the most aptly named parasite ever to enter this country. An Asian native that arrived here in 1987, Varroa destructor is a modern honey bee plague. The problem is that varroa mites are becoming resistant to the miticides used to control them. And while there are folk remedies and organic treatments, none of those work as well. New treatments are in the pipeline, but another miticide can only be a short-term solution as the cycle of new treatment and new resistance continues.
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is looking to the genetics of both the mite and the honey bee for long-term solutions. ARS has put together a program to breed bees that can naturally resist varroa mites. For example, some bees have a propensity for nest cleaning and grooming behaviors, including aggressively kicking varroa-infested pupae out of the hive. The idea is to breed bees specifically to intensify such traits. ARS is also working on improving nation-wide epidemiological monitoring, finding genetic and/or biochemical disruptors and a host of other possibilities to help beekeepers and honey bees fight off varroa.
More important work like this ARS research could be supported by USDA in the future. As part of the current budget, USDA has requested $25 million to establish the Pollinator and Pollinator Health (PPH) Innovation Institute. The PPH would be administered by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and, with help from stakeholders, would be responsible for addressing the biological, environmental and management issues associated with the wide-spread decline of honey bees and other pollinators in our country. If established, the PPH will support the activities already identified in the joint USDA-Environmental Protection Agency action plan and build on current pollinator research and extension projects.
USDA’s dedicated scientists and researchers are working to help the honey bees. There are other pollinators, and some crops like corn, wheat, rice and even soybeans are mostly wind-pollinated, but the 90 or so crops that managed honey bees pollinate for farmers—berries, nuts, fruits and vegetables—are what add color, taste and texture to our diet. So USDA scientists are working to find a solution to varroa mites and other problems associated with honey bee health, so you continue to enjoy the bounty of US agriculture.
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Help-can you give me an email address, telephone # or whatever to contact someone in the Dept of Ag. We have a hive of bees that has been detached from the lid of a storage unit on our patio. The hive w/bees are now attaching to garden tools in the unit. Does Dept of Ag assist in moving the hive. We live in San Diego. Thanks
Hi Patricia - thank you for your comment.
The San Diego County Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures, http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/awm/bees.html, which oversees honey bees in your area, states they do not remove bees from private property. They also do not recommend that inexperienced people attempt to remove bees themselves. The bees may become agitated and you and others may be stung. The website directs people “to contact a pest control company (look under "BEES" in the yellow pages) to find a local company that operates in your area,” especially considering honey bees in San Diego County may be Africanized and more likely to sting on less provocation and in greater numbers. You may also try contacting a local beekeeper to see if they would be willing to come and take the honey bees.
NO mention of pesticides ?
Here is the website for beekeepers in San Diego who do swarm removal. Please don't spray them!
I've been reading about this for years and have not seen anything about the mites.
WHAT ABOUT THE PESTICIDES????
Can someone cite any peer reviewed papers about this?
Where did these mites come from or are they also a result of climate change?
R.R.---Did you read the above article? They came from ASIA IN 1987!!!!!!!!
Author's Note (Brian): Thanks for the comment, Lynda. Pesticides poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control would be one of the environmental stresses referred to the blog. Further, the line "Parasites, diseases, pests, narrow genetic diversity in honey bee colonies, and less access to diverse forage all play a role in colony declines," was corrected on May 16, 2014 to include pesticides, which inadvertently became pests during editing so the line now reads: "Parasites, diseases, pesticides, narrow genetic diversity in honey bee colonies, and less access to diverse forage all play a role in colony declines."
the government and all the major news outlets have been saying for YEARS that WE have been causing the bees to die because of global warming/climate change and by using insecticides...HELLO?
One of the most overlooked areas of decline in bee habitat is the backyard. Each year, homeowners spend millions of dollars on lawn care products that promote non-bee friendly lawns. Simple products that rid yards of dandelions and non-blade forms of grass. The USDA and National Bee Societies need, to promote grass blends containing high amounts of clover and small flowering ground cover flowers.
The "Picture Perfect Lawn" needs to be replaced with an environmentally more diverse product. No more just Lush Green Blades, clover and yes dandelions need to have a place in our yard habitat. the clover withstands heat and dry spells better and offers the bee population food after spring blooming. A "Campaign" needs to with first, college campuses and golf courses. Also, more and more High School and Colligate athletic fields are being resurfaced with artificial turfs. These should be the last places to go "UnGreen". The world dose not need more "parking lots". The value of "Green space" should made a part of the institutions' charter and vision statements.
I'm a new beekeeper in Texas and my bees are dying off! Help, please?
So I was given a hive a couple months ago. I have two supers but only 2 frames in the lower super have comb/bees (most of the bees stay clustered between 2 frames). I checked 1 week ago and the queen's laying and there was about a total of 1 frame of honey stored. There's been a cold snap here in Austin the past few days with lows around 30-35 and highs in the 50s and 60s.
I checked them again today with the plan of feeding them, and I noticed maybe a dozen dead bees on the bottom of the hive and on the bottom board at the entrance, and the rest of the girls were moving pretty slow.
I removed the empty upper super, and replaced it with an top feeder half full of 2:1 sugar:water syrup, and placed a makeshift entrance reducer of newspaper (no wooden one came with the hive).
Is there anything else I can do to ensure the health of the hive??
Thank you !
So I was given a hive a couple months ago. I have two supers but only 2 frames in the lower super have comb/bees (most of the bees stay clustered between 2 frames). I checked 1 week ago and the queen’s laying and there was about a total of 1 frame of honey stored. There’s been a cold snap here in Austin the past few days with lows around 30-35 and highs in the 50s and 60s.
I am commercial beekeeper and applied Taktic to my bees this fall and read somewhere that people were applying more, which I did. The result was not good. My bees (3500 hives) are either becoming so weak or dying off and I need a quick answer as the almond season in San Joaquin Valley is in a month and a huge portion of our business's income. I am John's wife and please text or call him asap with any thought or answers. Thank you so very much and wishing you a Happy New Year. Susan