Most of us know that honey bees are seen as our world’s most important insect pollinators; without them, there would be mayhem. More and more social media tactics have been implemented to warn us to look after and care for our bees, as they are dying at exponential rates, but nobody says why. Are honeybees dying, and why?
Honeybees are dying at exponential rates due to pesticides, loss of habitat, and decline in pollen resources. Diseases such as Varroa Mites, American Foulbrood, and Small Hive Beetles are dangerous to bees, along with climate change and poor management skills practiced by inexperienced beekeepers.
Whether you’re a beekeeper or want to do your part to keep our most important pollinators out of harm’s way, knowing why our honeybees are dying and what it could mean for our future is vital.
The Decline In Honeybee Colonies
The collapse of bee colonies all over the world isn’t such a huge mystery, but it is a huge concern. The average lifespan of a female honeybee, also known as a worker bee, is roughly six months during the summer months but several months during winter.
A bee colony will continuously produce new worker bees during the summer and spring, with reproduction slowing down during the winter.
On average, a bee colony will decline between 5 and 10% during winter, but they replace the lost bees during the spring. During a bad year, a bee colony could lose between 15 and 20% of its population, which is normal.
However, since 1962, the amount of bees per hectare has declined by a whopping 90%. This means that bee colonies are unable to balance the winter die-off rates.
If we look at the numbers, it becomes even more important to examine the causes.
Why Are Honeybees Dying?
There are a few contributing factors to our honeybee population decline, and most of them could be avoided. Let’s take a look:
Honeybees Are Dying Due To The Use Of Harmful Pesticides
The overuse of pesticides is one of the main reasons for honeybees dying. More often than not, these pesticides claim to cause no harm to bees, but even if they are applied according to the proper guidelines, they negatively affect bees.
These pesticides can not only kill bees instantly, but they could weaken their immune systems, making them more susceptible to disease.
Other harmful effects of pesticides include reducing bees’ ability to navigate distance to and from their hives and impacting their ability to effectively reproduce, feed, and even forage, leading to their death.
Honeybees Are Dying Due To Loss Of Habitat
Due to urbanization, bees are constantly losing their habitats. Urbanization is one of the most rapidly growing forms of disturbances for bees, and it’s only getting worse.
Over one million square kilometers of urban land will be added to the earth between 2000 and 2030, which means it will only worsen for our bees.
Urbanization means that bees will have to travel further for food and may even have to leave some areas with an existing hive to build a new one, and many bees die due to these reasons.
Honeybees Are Dying Due To Loss Of Pollen
Pollen is the single most important source of food for honeybees, and it gives them all the nutrients they need, including minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and proteins. These things are crucial for healthy development, growth, and being who they are.
Due to pesticides and urbanization, as mentioned above, more and more bees are losing this crucial food source. Bees need a wide variety of plants to get all the nutrients they desperately need and keep them safe from health, stress, and reproduction issues.
Due to less and less pollen being at their disposal, many bees don’t have enough food during winter, which means many die due to hunger inside their hives.
Honeybees Are Dying Due To Diseases
With their weakened immune systems, most bees become vulnerable to bacterial and viral diseases. Some common diseases that kill honeybees include:
- American Foulbrood
American Foulbrood is a bacterial and highly infectious brood disease that will weaken and eventually kill entire honey bee colonies.
This disease must be caught early by correct apiary management and regularly changing hive components, as this disease could easily spread from one bee colony to another.
- Deformed Wing Virus
Deformed Wing Virus is closely associated with physical wing deformities, paralysis, and abdominal bloating. This virus affects a bee’s ability to fly and causes the death of millions of bees.
- Varroa Mites
Varroa Mites are small reddish-brown parasites that can be located on honeybees.
Varroa Mites will feed and can even live off adult honey bees, but they will primarily reproduce and feed on the pupae and larvae in a colony’s brood.
This will cause the weakening of honey bees’ immune systems, and they can transmit multiple deadly viruses from one colony to another.
- Small Hive Beetle
The Small Hive Beetle is a well-known pest for beekeepers, and although they come from sub-Saharan Africa, they have spread to many other places, such as the Philippines, Australia, and Noth America.
Small Hive Beetles are destructive to entire honey bee colonies and will cause great damage to stored honey, pollen, and even honeycomb. A Small Hive beetle infestation could cause a bee colony to leave its hive and even cause a colony collapse.
Honey Bees Are Dying Due To Climate Change
Climate change affects everything negatively, including our stinger friends. Due to the changes in our climate, bees are becoming less and less, pollination is becoming less, and bees are much more susceptible to pests and diseases.
Some honeybee species leave their hives too early after winter, most likely due to the increased temperatures, causing more competition for food resources.
Honeybees Are Dying Due To Poor Beekeeping Practices
Over the last decade, the interest in backyard beekeeping has increased greatly. This might be seen as a good thing as bees are well looked after and protected. However, many beginner beekeepers struggle greatly when it comes to properly maintaining their beehives.
The poor and improper management of honeybee colonies will negatively affect the entire colony’s health when pathogen spillovers happen.
As an example, Varroa Mites, due to poor apiary management, have been shown to cause Deformed Wing Virus in wild honeybees.
When it becomes so apparent that our most important pollinators are vanishing, it becomes even more apparent that we need to do everything we can to help and protect them. Without bees, we won’t have flowers, and without bees, we certainly won’t have any delicious honey!