Archived Letter – 541

Why Are Honey Bees Dying?

Never before have so many bee researchers over North America and Europe focused their research on a single problem. We have have learned that the problem is caused by many factors: pesticides (not only neonicitinoid insecticides but also chemicals beekeepers use to control parasitic mites); two kinds of parasitic mites; numerous viruses; microscopic gut parasites; poor nutrition in part due to large scale crop production; weakened immune systems of bees, and corn syrup many beekeepers feed to hives for winter survival. The problem is extremely complex, and research has implicated beekeeper management practices as part of the problem.
Nearly everyone agrees that dust from pesticide-treated seeds is responsible for many early spring bee colony deaths. However, not all colony losses are caused by agricultural use of neonicitinoid insecticides, as implied in last week’s cover story. If the problem were that simple, it would have been easily solved several years ago!
I have researched honey bees for 40 years. The current problems with bee losses are exceedingly difficult to dissect. While I am not an advocate for the current widespread use of pesticides, I worry that laying blame on one factor (“neonics”) without strong supporting scientific evidence will delay understanding of the problem while potentially causing unnecessary economic losses to other growers. Beekeepers (and other farmers) need to be vocal when they experience problems– but please trust the scientists to do the job that they are trained to do.

Dr. Gard Otis