Honeybees

We’ve heard a lot about honeybees and how important they are as pollinators. But bumblebees pollinate wildflowers and crops, too, and some kinds of bumblebees are in trouble.

Most veterinarians probably don't picture themselves working with bees. But thanks to new federal regulations, more and more might soon find themselves with six-legged patients.

Inside Michigan's beekeeping boom

Jul 24, 2017
Eric Lackie

Plenty of people have heard about the plight of the honeybee, as colonies have been disappearing for more than a decade. Across the country, people are getting into recreational beekeeping to do something about it.

Researchers have found a chemical that’s widely used on crops such as almonds, wine grapes and tree fruits can be bad for bees.

They’ve found it makes honey bee larvae more susceptible to deadly viruses.

Tracking honey bees with big data

Sep 27, 2016

You can thank a honey bee for pollinating about one of every three bites of food we eat. But as you’ve likely heard, bees are in trouble.

They’re getting hit hard by pesticides and diseases and pests, and they’re losing habitat.

Two Grand Valley State University professors are using technology to track the health of hives in a new way.

Building a stronger honey bee

Sep 1, 2015

Honey bee die-offs are so common now that beekeepers generally just order more bees when they lose a hive. But this has put a lot of pressure on bee breeders to raise more and more bees. And that is only bringing the quality of bees down.

But researchers and backyard beekeepers are now teaming up to build a better honey bee. And not through genetic engineering—through good old-fashioned selection.

The search for the next great bee

Aug 4, 2015

Honey bees pollinate about a third of the crops in the U.S—that’s about $15 billion of the agricultural economy. But honeybees have had a tough time lately: a combination of diseases, stress, parasites and pesticides have all hurt the honey bee population.

Scientists are starting to look at how other species of bees could help pick up the slack.

Honey bees are under attack from a lot of threats.

Researchers say varroa mites are the biggest threat. They suck blood from bees, and can kill entire colonies.

Zachary Huang is an associate professor at Michigan State University. He says these mites use a special skill to attack bee hives. They can change how they smell, so the bees don’t know they’re there. They can actually mimic the smell of a honey bee.

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.

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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. 

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.

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.

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.

USDA To Spend $3M To Help Honeybees

Feb 27, 2014
Candice Ludlow / IPR News

The federal government will spend $3 million dollars to help improve the health of honeybees.

Honeybees have been suddenly disappearing or dying in the last several years, known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Habitat loss and pesticide use have contributed to the declining population. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering interested farmers and ranchers assistance to implement cover crops that honeybees feed on, like alfalfa and clover.