The record cold that gripped much of the Midwest this winter added insult to injury to already struggling bee populations.
While they expect to lose a small proportion of their hives each year, Iowa beekeepers say this year their losses are far beyond normal ranges.
"It's devastating," Mike Swett of Squaw Creek Honey told local Iowa station KCCI. "When I came out and saw my loss, I mean you literally just cry."
Iowa Department of Agriculture bee researcher Andrew Joseph says the losses could be as high as 70 percent, compared to an average winter loss of up to 20 percent.
The high losses, he explains, were the result of not just the frigid temperatures on their own but of the multiple threats bees were already facing that left them more vulnerable.
Alison Sullivan reports:
Iowa Department of Agriculture bee researcher Andrew Joseph characterized the situation as a “death by a thousand paper cuts” as the honey bee population has faced an environment lacking in diversity, pesticide problems, colony collapse and parasites such as varroa mites, since the 1990s. [...]
“It’s not that bees can’t handle a cold winter or snow … (but) when you go into winter with those types of bees and then you’re confronted with the harshness of this season, they don’t make it through to spring time,” Joseph said.
Dave Irvin, President of the East Central Iowa Beekeepers, echoed these points, and told Common Dreams his association reported losses as high as 80 percent — a range "way out" of what normally happens.
The cold is part of it, Irvin said, but it also has to do with the diseases and chemicals bees are confronting.
To help beekeepers now facing these expensive losses, he urges people to buy more bees, and to be aware of the chemical assault they may be waging on their lawns and crops.