Honeybee losses reach 60 percent

Winter losses of honeybee colonies over the 2017–2018 season were greater than expected in Virginia — double the national average — and larger than the average of 30 percent per year for the past decade.

“The winter losses were 59.5 percent,” said Keith Tignor, Virginia State Apiarist.

He said this is the highest rate since 2000, when the state began monitoring winter losses. There was a decrease in colony losses reported for the summer of 2017 when compared to the 2016 summer season.

Staff with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) found high levels of Varroa mites and nosema infections in wintering bees. Both of these maladies shorten the lifespan of worker bees, increasing mortality rates in winter months.

Nationally, 30 percent of managed colonies in the United States were lost during the winter of 2017-2018. This represents a 9.5 percent increase over the previous year.

Although many groups, including Virginia Tech, are conducting research on honeybee losses, no one cause stands out. It is a combination of environmental conditions, loss of habitat, pests and diseases such as mites, small hive beetles and nosema, pesticides around beehives and other factors affecting the sustainability of honeybees and other insect pollinators.

To help bolster the honeybee population, VDACS is encouraging people to become new beekeepers and existing beekeepers to add to their existing hives. In addition, border plantings of bee-friendly plants around crop fields provides needed forage, particularly in hot, dry summer months and into the fall.

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