This Winter Was One of The Worst Ever For Bees

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 29 2013 11:43 AM

This Winter Was One of The Worst Ever For Bees

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A bee feeds on a flowering Anigozanthus plant, also known as Kangaroo Paws, at a nursery in San Gabriel, California on March 25, 2013

Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Beekeepers in the U.S. say that, in just one year, as many as half of their hives have vanished. It's due to colony collapse disorder, which has been around for several years. But this year's loss is much worse than it's been in at least the past few decades.

According to today's New York Times story on the drop, between 40 and 50 percent of hives in the care of commercial beekeepers disappeared last year. For perspective, beekeepers have become accustomed to losing about a third of their hives yearly since the onset of colony collapse disorder. Before then, just 5 to 10 percent of hives would typically be lost each winter. While the Agriculture Department will give their official report on bee populations in May, experts aren't waiting until then to characterize this season as unprecedented.

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Since there's no conclusive explanation for the disorder, there's not much beekeepers can do to prevent it. The Times does note, however, that there's one explanation for the declining populations currently gaining traction: 

"But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor. The pesticide industry disputes that. But its representatives also say they are open to further studies...The explosive growth of neonicotinoids since 2005 has roughly tracked rising bee deaths."

Other explanations include drought, viruses, and bee mites, though none of them seem to comprehensively explain what's going on. Read the full story at the New York Times.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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