Buzzing into Spring Part 2: The Biggest Threats to Bees  

What is Causing Bee Losses? 

In the winter alone, beekeepers usually lose up to 20% of their colony. Although that may sound alarming, some beekeepers–like UMass Dining’s local partner, Red Barn Honey–say that “if you’re not losing bees, you’re not keeping bees.” That is, bee populations will naturally fluctuate over time. Besides overwinter deaths, bee losses can be attributed to mites, harmful pesticides, air pollution, and more.  

Varroa Mites  

When we interviewed Red Barn Honey, owner Dick Conner mentioned parasitic mites, and pesticides used to treat mites, as central factors affecting the bee population. Indigenous to Asia, Varroa mites were introduced to US bee colonies in the 1980s. Although Asian honey bees may withstand the mite, European honey bees within the US struggle to survive. Today, Varroa mites can be found in nearly every US hive. These mites are known to feed on adult bees and their larvae and pupae, which can kill bees or damage their wings and bodies. 

Bees and Pesticides 

The first industry response to mites was to develop a pesticide that killed the mites, but it ended up being lethal to the bees. Not only did mites develop a tolerance to certain pesticides, but some hives were slowly absorbing the synthetic chemicals, which impacted the bees within the colonies.  

Over time, there have been developments of other products to help manage mites within a colony while minimizing bee losses: mechanical methods, various options to test for mites, and fumigants.  

Our local partner Red Barn Honey uses an Integrated Pest Management approach, aiming to monitor the presence of mites and only treat the issue when necessary through non-pesticide and mechanical methods.  

How Can We Support Beekeepers and Bees?  

According to Red Barn Honey, the best way to support beekeepers and bees is to purchase local honey products. Individuals can also manage their land to keep natural plants alive–especially dandelions–for the bees to feed on. Finally, we can strive to support small farms and organic agriculture to avoid large-scale use of pesticides that may be harmful to bees.