honeybees

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Michigan environmental group says gardeners should be careful when buying plants – they may be inadvertently harming bees.

The Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center was part of a study looking at the pesticide content in plants bought from major home and garden stores in 18 cities across North America.

Of four plants purchased at a metro Detroit Home Depot, two tested positive for neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides known to be toxic to bees.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

That’s right, bees rule. At least that what my second grader thinks after she studied them at school.

“You wrote bees rule. Why do bees rule?” I asked.

“I think it’s neat for how they can make it into honey and that they can speak to each other by doing a dance," she answered.

She, of course, isn’t the only one who think bees rule. A lot of us think they rule. Especially when you consider that around one out of every three bites of food we eat is the result of a bee.

But as you’ve likely heard, bees are in trouble. Beekeepers have been experiencing losses at alarming rates — and scientists across the country are scrambling to try to stop these losses. Whether from Colony Collapse Disorder, or other bee stressors, the problems bees face are more complicated than it once seemed.

Sara Hoover

Beekeepers have to keep their honeybees healthy against a lot of challenges: deadly mites, pesticides and harsh winters.

Once they make it to the spring though, it doesn’t mean they’re in the clear. Bears are emerging from hibernation at their hungriest.

And beeyards are like a dinner bell.

Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill (H.B. 5226) that could allow beekeepers and hunters to work together to protect honeybees from bears. 

Photo by Jim Eklund / ARS/USDA

You can thank a bee for about one of every three bites of food we eat.

Jeff Pettis is the research leader for the Bee Research Lab with the Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Most of the nutritious stuff in our diet is probably pollinated by some kind of animal, and most likely a bee,” he says.

Pettis just wrapped up a survey of beekeepers around the country, and he found they lost just over 23% of their bee colonies this past winter.

“The previous about seven-year average has been just over 30%, so this number is a little bit better, but by no means is it a great number for numbers of colonies lost through the winter. Before we got the parasitic mite varroa, we used to lose 5-10% of the colonies in the winter. We got two parasitic mites in the 80s; the numbers jumped between 15-20% losses," he says.

Sara Hoover / Interlochen Public Radio

It’s been a tough winter for honeybees. Bees already face several obstacles, including parasitic mites, habitat loss, and pesticides.

Those factors and others are believed to contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon where bees disappear from the hive in large numbers. 

In the face of all these things, beekeepers in Michigan are trying to breed a hardier bee.

cygnus921 / Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to give honeybees more and better-quality food in the Midwest.

Dan Zay is a biologist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Michigan. He says the agency hopes a better variety of high-quality flowering plants will help honeybees rebound from major population losses over the last eight years.

“It’s said that one in three mouthfuls of food and drink that we consume involves the efforts of honeybees,” Zay said.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey_bee

This winter has been especially tough for the already-fragile population of Michigan honeybees.

Beekeepers are coping with a nearly decade-long decline in commercial honeybees and their wild cousins. It's called "colony collapse disorder".

Now comes the unrelenting cold of this record-setting winter, and beekeepers in Michigan and other states are reporting staggering losses that could endanger crop production all over the nation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced it's spending $3 million on a new program to help honeybees. 

Let's find out why this is so crucial and what it means for Michigan's farmers and beekeepers.

Mike Hansen is the State Apiarist with Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Zachary Huang / MSU

Humans got off easy this harsh winter, compared to honeybees.

The severe cold killed off many hives.

Zachary Huang is a honeybee expert at Michigan State University.

He says, in a normal winter, a hive needs about 60 pounds of honey.  "And  they just eat the food and then shiver their muscles (to create heat) and huddle together so they are warm enough, and they don't get frozen."

But, this was no normal winter.  And it also followed a very poor goldenrod season, a plant many honeybees use to make honey.