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Yep, America's Bees Are Still Dying

In a comprehensive study released yesterday, researchers from the University of Maryland found that in the past year US beekeepers lost 42 percent of their bees. This is the second highest annual loss ever.

by Jesse Hirsch
May 14 2015, 10:30pm

Just once, don't you want to click on a story about bees and discover it's good news? A headline like "The Bees Aren't Dead, They Were Just Hiding!" would really hit the spot, no?

Sorry, we can't help you with that.

In a comprehensive study released yesterday, researchers from the University of Maryland decided to bum everyone out once again. Turns out that between April 2014 and April 2015, US beekeepers lost 42 percent of their bees. This is the second highest annual loss ever.

It sucks.

The announcement—presumably made with a mournful string quartet playing Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" in the background—caps off a year-long, intensive study. More than 6,000 beekeepers were surveyed, everyone from the backyard dabbler to the large-scale power producer. Results were dismal, across the board.

READ: London's Urban Beekeeping Scene Is Exploding

The closest cousin to good news here is that winter losses decreased by a fraction of a percentage point. Of course, this pleasant trifle was neutralized by the summer loss statistics: up almost 10 percent from the previous year.

"We traditionally thought of winter losses as a more important indicator of health, because surviving the cold winter months is a crucial test for any bee colony," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, professional buzzkill/entomology professor. "But we now know that summer loss rates are significant too. This is especially so for commercial beekeepers, who are now losing more colonies in the summertime compared to the winter. Years ago, this was unheard of."

Remember "years ago"? When bees used to buzz around in meadows and support the food chain and not die all the time for no good reason? Those were the days.

Now, yet again, scientists are scratching their heads and speculating on cause. Varroa mites, one of the oft-mentioned suspects in colony collapse disorder, might be responsible for some small-scale loss. Larger beekeepers generally spray for the mites, though; UMaryland researchers believe this crisis is bigger than varroa.

Other possible culprits have floated around for years, with varying degrees of credibility. The "cellphones as bee killer" theory has been largely debunked. Other potential baddies—like high-fructose corn syrup and neonicotinoid pesticides—are still being researched.

A spokesman for Bayer (major neonicotinoid producer) told the Washington Post there is "nothing unusual at all" about all these dead bees. If you are conspiracy-minded, this surely means something is very, very wrong indeed.

READ: How to Steal Honey From Angry African Bees

Now if you really want to mainline some gloom, go out and take an IRL hive tour. I visited my father's beehives late this winter; it was a desolate graveyard. Not a single bee had made it, and answers were in short supply.

Similarly, VICE's own Joe Langford, who keeps bees on a Brooklyn rooftop, lost all his hives over the winter. He can't even replace the missing bees. "So many people lost their bees this year, it's gotten very competitive to find new stock," says Langford.

And if all that isn't enough, study co-author Keith Delaplane says bee loss probably indicates some much bigger problem in the world. He told the AP: "What we're seeing with this bee problem is just a loud signal that there's some bad things happening with our agro-ecosystems."

Um, don't worry bee happy?

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the bees are still dying