American honeybee colonies had another hard year. A recent federal survey showed that just over 40 percent – or a rate of about two out of five – honeybee colonies in the U.S. died off since April 2014.
The results were the second worst in the nine-year history of the survey and part of a larger batch of mixed results in the survey overall. The annual count is put together by the Bee Informed Partnership, a joint venture between the United States Department of Agriculture and multiple universities across the country.
“What we’re seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there’s some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems,” study co-author Keith Delaplane at the University of Georgia told the Associated Press. “We just happen to notice it with the honeybee because they are so easy to count.”
Another finding was that summer losses were unusually high, when colonies should normally be thriving. The summer losses were already 19.8 percent in 2013. In 2014, they jumped to 27.4 percent. According to the report, commercial beekeepers appear to consistently lose greater numbers of colonies over the summer months than over the winter months, whereas the opposite seems true for smaller-scale beekeepers.
The annual survey is designed to give scientists reliable data to draw upon in building a more accurate picture of bee populations and how they trend over time. But of the 6,128 beekeepers (representing almost 400,000 colonies or 19 percent of the U.S. total) that provided valid responses nationally, state to state numbers varied wildly.
Oklahoma had it the worst with a total loss of 63.4 percent of its colonies. Other more northern states like Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania also had colony losses of over 60 percent, while Oregon, Nevada and South Carolina had losses only around 25 percent. Hawaii had losses just under 14 percent. Most states averaged around 40 percent.
Pesticides, poor nutrition and mites can be blamed in large part for the deaths of the colonies, however, scientists will still need more research to determine more telling details.