We still don’t know exactly why bees have been dying in large numbers. The causes of colony collapse disorder, which started appearing in 2006, aren’t proven conclusively. But we do know it’s a serious thing. Dozens of crops rely on bees for pollination (this is what a salad bar would look like without bees). These busy-buzzers are worth at least $15 billion a year to the agricultural industry, to say nothing of their non-financial merits.
The map here, based on a survey of beekeepers, shows where honeybees have been dying fastest. Between April 2014 and April 2015, 42% of respondents reported losing colonies, with the greatest losses in Oklahoma (63% of beekeepers) and the least in Hawaii (14%). Not far behind behind Oklahoma are Iowa, Illinois and New York, all of which have numbers above 60%. The data comes from the Bee Informed Partnership, a group representing research labs and universities and supported by the USDA and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. In all, 6,128 beekeepers responded to the survey, representing 398,247 colonies in all.
Total losses are down slightly from their 2012-13 peak, though they’re still at a high level. The Partnership estimates that more than 40% of colonies were lost in 2014-15 (April to April). Beekeepers consider 15% an “acceptable” rate, meaning that’s what they would normally expect, all things being equal.
Though the causes aren’t clear, there are two likely culprits. One is a parasitic mite called Varroa destructor, which sucks out a bee’s circulatory system and delivers a virus. The other, more controversially, is a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which were developed by Shell and Bayer in the 1980s and 1990s and which started to be used widely about the time colonies started collapsing. The circumstantial evidence for their role is certainly suspicious, but the U.S. government hasn’t yet followed the example of the European Union in banning their use in this country. The White House earlier this summer promoted a strategy to “promote pollinator health,” promising to “develop proper assessment tools for evaluating the lethal and sublethal effects of these substances.” Which is a start, perhaps, though one hopes we’ll see more concrete action before too long.