Bees are dying across the United States and threatening the fruit, vegetables and nut industries


Bees are dying across the United States and threatening the fruit, vegetables and nut industries.

If the dying trend continues, prices for fruit, vegetables and nuts could skyrocket as the primary source of reproduction for these food products dies off, said Chris Shrack, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks education information representative and a bee keeper for 45 years.

Besides fruits, vegetables, nuts and flowers, bees also produce honey and bees wax that is used for candles, lotions and lip balm.

Exactly why bee populations are dying is a mystery that many organizations are studying.

“There is still no official cause,” said Sharon Dobesh, Kansas State University Research and Extension assistant director of the Great Plains Diagnostic network. “It appears to be a combination of factors.”

Across the country land-grant universities, government agencies and industry have joined together to put information about bee health on eXtension. The information is available at www.extension.org and Kansas State University Research and Extension is part of eXtension. 

Kansas no longer has a state apiary (bee) inspector or state apiary laws so Extension is keeping track of bee activity through beekeepers and through the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

Kansas’s beekeepers and their various associations are reporting almost no change in Kansas’s bee populations. Kansas has missed Colony Collapse Disorder facing other states. Swarms are a sign of healthy bee populations and the Extension offices are still getting calls for someone to come and get a swarm.

“If we get swarm calls that’s a sign we’re doing pretty good,” Dobesh said.

 The CCD is a disappearance of bees from a hive with no remaining bodies and nothing moving into the abandoned hive. What happens to the bees is a mystery.

“We don’t know what happens,” Dobesh said. “It could be disease, pesticide or environmental practice.”

One known problem for bees is mites. Two species, varrroa mites and tracheal mites both feed on bee blood and kill the bees.

Another problem is cell phones. The cell phone signals can actually disorient bees, Shrack said.

Other reasons are sought for the death of bees but answers are hard to come by and that has food producers keeping a close eye on their products especially those most directly affected including fruits, vegetables, nuts and flowers.

But why are these foods so dependent on bees? Bees are pollinators and the best of the pollinators, Shrack said.

It is that pollination that has scientists concerned about bees dying. They transfer pollen from one plant to another providing a bigger gene pool for healthier plants.

“That’s what honeybees do. That’s their livelihood,” Shrack said. “That’s why we have bees. It’s part of the system. Bees are just the best at pollination.”

While some plants can survive with self-pollination, some plants absolutely need bees for their crops to perform at the maximum, Dobesh said.

Bees are so important to the pollination in the food chain that semi truckloads of them are moved to growing areas across the country especially California and Florida that have long growing seasons. From several hundred up to a thousand Kansas hives will go to California for the almond crop.

Plants can also pollinate using wind but bees are much more efficient.

Almond producers are already seeing a drop in their harvest because of the decline in bee population.

Bees are protected in Kansas. If someone finds a swarm of bees they should contact the police or sheriff’s department or a beekeeper immediately. Let them handle the situation and do not use any type of pesticide to control or kill the bees, Shrack said.

Law enforcement should have a plan in place if a swarm of bees is discovered. When a hive gets too big they will create another queen that will leave the hive with the excess bees. The workers will seek out a new place to form a hive but in the meantime the hive will gather around itself in a swarm.

Bees will protect the hive so anyone who comes across a hive should remain calm. If they get excited they can produce adrenaline and that could produce anaphylactic shock if they are stung.

If a person is stung they should scrape the stinger off with a fingernail and now pull it out because it has barbs. If it is pulled out the barbs will inject more venom so just scrape, Shrack said.

Only the workers have stingers and they can only sting once then they die.