According to the Spring Survey 2017: NY Bee Wellness Results produced by the not-for-profit NY Bee Wellness, New York honey bee colonies succumbed to a 48% average loss of colonies during the 2016-2017 winter season. Potential factors associated with colony losses are due to the summer 2016 drought, a mild winter the previous year, and effects of the varroa mite on colonies resulting in the spread of the varroosis disease. The Greater Penn Yan Beekeepers Association also provides information on how to prevent pesticide poisoning, which negatively affects local bee populations and the number of colonies that survive. Honey bees are not the only pollinators working on the countryside and other native species, such as carpenter and mason bees, have also been affected by some of the same pressures.
European honey bees (Apis mellifera), are technically an exotic species to the United States. Across the country it is one that is not only tolerated, but encouraged. Apiarists, or beekeepers, raise bees for their honey, bees wax, and the work they do to pollenate our country’s agricultural crops. The 2016 drought resulted in reduced outcomes for crops, garden flowers, and flowering weeds, which negatively affected bee population numbers. The varroa mite is a tiny arachnid that reportedly only reproduces in honey bee colonies, attaching to the body of the bee and sucking fat bodies to survive. Feeding this way weakens the bee and spreads RNA viruses that affect the reproductive fitness of the colony, particularly one with a mite infestation.
While we humans cannot prevent a drought from happening, pesticide use is within our control. The use of synthetic pesticides in the form of dust, powders, and sprays unfortunately affect bee mortality rates when they come into direct contact with the substances, or from unintentional drift of the substances into colony areas. Substances that have been taken into the hive can have a detrimental effect on the colony.
All is not lost though. Bees are important for all of us, whether we are beekeepers, farmers, gardeners, or lovers of the beautiful Finger Lakes Region. Farmers are encouraged to consider their spray schedule and work with beekeepers to establish boundaries where pesticides are not used. Beekeepers can make it easier for farmers by labeling their boxes with large lettering so that farmers are aware of their presence. Beekeepers are also advised to treat honey bee colonies for the varroa mite before the fall to prevent infestation. The general public can plant nectar-rich flowers and provide nesting habitat for carpenter and mason bees. Lastly, choosing to use less or no pesticides benefits honey and native bees, as well as butterflies, birds, and other animals higher up the food chain.