save the bees
December 7, 2018

We may finally be ready to save the bees.

Scientists in Finland say they have developed an edible vaccine for the prominent and deadly bacterial disease American foulbrood, which spreads rapidly in honeybee populations, NPR reports.

The Finnish researchers are calling the vaccine “PrimeBEE” and say it can be given to the queen bee via a sugar patty.

President of the D.C. Beekeepers Alliance Toni Burnham told NPR that the disease is a "death sentence" for a hive, and particularly concerning given the world's declining bee populations.

"If a colony is diagnosed with AFB — regardless of the level of the infestation — it burns," Burnham told NPR. "Every bit of it burns; the bees are killed and the woodenware burns, and it's gone."

The vaccine is still undergoing safety tests, and developers are working on launching a business for the product, according to a press release. But scientist Dalial Freitak, who worked on the vaccine, says the medication could be a breakthrough. "We need to help honeybees, absolutely," Freitak said. "Even improving their life a little would have a big effect on the global scale." Marianne Dodson

May 27, 2017

Beekeepers in the United States saw a third of their honeybee colonies die between April 2016 and April 2017, an annual survey finds. That sounds grim, but it's actually a slight improvement over similar assessments in the last decade, in which an average of 40 percent of the colonies died off annually.

"I would stop short of calling this 'good' news," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland professor who is also a project director at the Bee Informed Partnership. "Colony loss of more than 30 percent over the entire year is high. It's hard to imagine any other agricultural sector being able to stay in business with such consistently high losses."

Some of the dead colonies may be salvaged, but the process isn't easy. One bumblebee species was added to the federal Endangered Species List earlier this year, and steady decline of bee populations is a serious and widespread problem that is believed to be linked to pesticide use.

"Bees are good indicators of the landscape as a whole," said Nathalie Steinhauer, who worked on the new survey. "To keep healthy bees, you need a good environment and you need your neighbors to keep healthy bees. Honeybee health is a community matter." Bonnie Kristian

January 11, 2017

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the Endangered Species List, warning that the species is "balancing precariously on the brink of extinction." This is the first bumblebee designated an endangered species, and the first bee put on the list from the 48 contiguous United States — seven species of bee in Hawaii were named as endangered in September.

The rusty patched bumblebee, named after the markings on its back, was prevalent in 28 states and two Canadian provinces just 20 years ago, but its numbers have fallen by 87 percent since the 1990s and it is now found only in 13 states and one province. "Listing the bee as endangered will help us mobilize partners and focus resources on finding ways right now to stop the decline," U.S. Fish and Wildlife regional director Tom Melius said in a statement. Christy Leavitt with Environment America noted that the rusty patched bumblebee isn't the only threatened bee species, adding pointedly: "If bees go extinct, it's simple: no bees, no food."

"Causes of the decline in rusty patched bumblebee populations are believed to be loss of habitat; disease and parasites; use of pesticides that directly or indirectly kill the bees; climate change, which can affect the availability of the flowers they depend on; and extremely small population size," the wildlife agency said. "Most likely, a combination of these factors has caused the decline in rusty patched bumblebees." If you want to help, experts say, grow a garden, limit or eliminate pesticide use, and plant native flowers that bloom from the spring to fall. You can learn more in the USA Today video below. Peter Weber

January 7, 2016

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday that there is evidence indicating a common pesticide could be causing some pollinators, including honeybees, to die. Beekeepers and environmentalists have long suspected the pesticide imidacloprid to be a cause of "colony collapse disorder," or the widespread death of bees — but the EPA is only just beginning its preliminary assessment to consider whether to control the use of the pesticides. In the European Union, imidacloprid is one of several banned pesticides.

Imidacloprid is used to keep pests like aphids and beetles from killing crops by attacking their central nervous systems. However, the EPA acknowledged that the pesticide "potentially poses risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators." Some critics don't think the EPA went far enough in their report, because the organization chose to focus on honeybees specifically rather than looking also at native bee species. Others see the EPA's study as too little too late.

"The problem is we should have all been looking at this stuff a long time ago. The same people who produced the chemicals are the ones that did the testing in the first place, and now all the EPA has gone and done is asked those companies to retest those chemicals," beekeeper Dave Hackenberg told The Guardian.

Larrissa Walker, the head of the pollinator program at the Center for Food Safety, felt the same. "We have been saying for several years now that the EPA has enough information and data available to them to take strong action and to severely reduce the amount we are using these chemicals. The new report supports the need for the EPA to really reduce and restrict the use of these chemicals," Walker said. Jeva Lange

May 19, 2015

America's honeybee population is declining, so the White House has created a plan to save the bees.

Tuesday's announcement of the White House program, which aims "to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators," comes after a study last week found that U.S. beekeepers lost 40 percent of their colonies last year.

According to the White House, pollinators add $15 billion in value to U.S. agricultural crops each year. Crops including fruits, vegetables, and nuts depend on honeybees and pollination. The White House strategy includes increasing pollinator habitats' size, promoting bee scientists' training, and creating seed banks for bee-friendly plants. The measures also include planting bee-friendly gardens at government offices across the U.S.

John Holdren, the White House's science adviser, hopes the measures will reduce honey bee colony losses to 15 percent or less within the next 10 years. Meghan DeMaria

April 9, 2015

In a win for bees, Lowe's announced Thursday it will stop selling a pesticide that is suspected of killing honeybee populations that are necessary for pollinating crops, completely phasing it out of products and plants by the spring of 2019.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, boost yields of crops, but can also be used on plants that people buy for their homes. Scientists believe that bee deaths are linked to neonics, Reuters reports, and are extremely worried, as honeybees pollinate plants that produce roughly 25 percent of food eaten by Americans.

A study released in 2014 by Friends of the Earth and the Pesticide Research Institute showed that 51 percent of plants purchased at Lowe's, Walmart, and Home Depot in 18 cities in the U.S. and Canada had high enough levels of neonics to harm or kill bees. Home Depot has asked its suppliers to label plants treated with neonics, and is conducting tests to see if plants can remain healthy without the use of the pesticide. Catherine Garcia

June 23, 2014

The dwindling honey bee population spells bad news for the U.S. food industry and economy, the White House announced Friday, and a task force is being set up to address the issue.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture will work together to determine the best way to boost conservation of honey bees, as well as monarch butterflies and other pollinators, CNN reports. All are vital, as they pollinate fruit, vegetables, and nuts. Their numbers have decreased due to mite infestations, pesticides, and a loss of genetic diversity, the White House said, bringing the number of managed honey bee colonies down to 2.5 million from 6 million in 1947.

Honey bees enable the production of more than 90 commercially grown crops in North America, and contribute more than $24 billion to the U.S. economy. In California, the almond industry is extremely vulnerable, as almonds can only be pollinated by bees, but there are specific crop issues that must be addressed across the nation. "Pollination is integral to food security in the United States," the White House said. Catherine Garcia

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