Monday, August 03, 2009

Honey bees are buzzing at Roundtop

I know I said I wouldn’t post any more photos of non-native plants, so please try to ignore the invasive black knapweed and focus instead on the honey bee on one of its purple flowers. By this time, anyone who has been paying attention has likely heard about colony collapse disorder that’s been killing bees around the world, especially in North America and Europe.

So far, here at Roundtop, my impression is that honey bees are in good supply. Truthfully, I never paid too much attention to the number of bees until I started hearing about colonies collapsing, but I believe I have a general sense of them—at least enough to notice if suddenly I didn’t have many.

Instead, I seem to have a normal or perhaps even a slightly higher than normal number of them this summer. In the past Pennsylvania has experienced severe losses of bees for non-colony collapse disorder reasons. For example, during the winter of 2000-2001, nearly 50% of the bees disappeared, though natural winter losses are typically in the 15-25% range, according to Penn State University. The Colony Collapse Disorder Working Group is based at PSU.

CCD, as it’s come to be abbreviated, is still incompletely understood, with researchers now believing that many causes contribute. Focus is on everything from mites, a virus, fungus, cell phones, nicotine pesticides and bacteria that might somehow all work together to suppress the bee’s immune system.

Researchers also indicate that propagation of the CCD is much like a contagious disease in how it spreads. Healthy bees become contaminated with CCD when they enter a diseased colony’s hive to rob its provisions for their own use. Even climate change is implicated in CCD, with suggestions that it has made bee hives more vulnerable. As plants are now blooming at different times of the year, nectar flows are also much earlier and this may contribute to increased bee stress. At this point, climate change is not considered to be a direct cause of CCD.

The most recent information I’ve found is located here, a preliminary report published in mid-May. Total colony losses in the U.S. for ’08-09 are just under 29% of managed bee colonies, a reduction over the two previous years. In those years, bee colony loss was at nearly 36% and 32%. While this sounds like an improvement, researchers note that the rate of loss is unsustainable. Still, colonies lost from CCD symptoms last year was put at 15%, compared with 60% during the previous winter.

Bees can roam pretty long distances—several miles from the hive. As Roundtop is about a mile from one edge of an apple orchard, many of the bees I see are likely from their hives, though I have also seen several wild (or perhaps escaped) hives down in the woods this year. In any event, seeing bees is now something I pay more attention to than I used to, and I’m glad that there seems to be plenty around to look at.


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I know we differ philosophically on this…but I can enjoy the beauty of the non-native knapweed blooms while I'm reading about the non-native honey bees. :-)

During the last twenty-odd years, we've lost all but a handful (relatively speaking) of our honey bees here in Ohio. When I was growing up, every backyard patch of clover had bees working it. You could plop a chair in the middle and count a hundred honey bess about as fast as you could point and count. Almost overnight, the bees vanished. An entire backyard white with clover contained not a single buzzing honey bee; multi-acre fields of clover were bee-less.

I'm glad to know there are places where it's still possible to see the old average number of honey bees out and about. I have seen perhaps a few more honey bees here this year that last—it's now possible to count two bees as I walk from the back door up the little hill to the mailbox. I can usually find a honeybee working some bloom or another in the yard. But it has been at least two decades since I last found a swarm or "bee tree" colony in the wild. I do hope we (a global "we") can save the honey bee.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: Gee, the lack of bees where you are really is pretty bad. Has that affected agriculture out your way?? What's pollinating the produce and fruits that need them?

Carolyn H.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Actually, I don't know how some smaller plots are managing pollination. Of course a lot of farmers and orchardists with big spreads bring in bees for spring's bloom. But I can't give you a good answer. There are generally a few native bees around, of several species and sizes. But just now, I checked my clover patches in the yard, of which, I have several that are about the size of an average living room—and I counted three honey bees. When I'm shooting wildflower pictures at a big prairie (100 plus acres) near here that's just filled with blooms, I don't usually see more than one honey bee in any direction at a time—or at least not often.

We're definitely barely scraping by when it comes to honey bees hereabouts.