We have all heard about the decline of both the honeybee and bumble bee, especially lately. However, there seems to be little information as to why, depending on the source that you are getting the information from. Let us help sum up the problems:
There are multiple problems that have led to the decline of bees.
Over wintering issues
Invasive plants and bees
American Foul Brood (AFB) is a serious disease. It is caused by a bacteria that forms a spore. It can happen throughout the world despite the (American) part. It kills the larvae in the brood cell. The hive has a distinct look and smell when AFB is present. The spores spread by transfer of wax, queens, combs or honey. There is no known treatment to kill the spores, so it is recommended to burn the hive and equipment.
European Foulbrood (EFB) is also caused by a bacteria and found around the world. Similar to AFB it kills the larvae leaving empty cells. Similar to AFB it persists from year to year and is spread in a similar way.
Small Hive Beetle Infestations are more common in the south but have been known to happen in the north as well. The beetle is native to Africa but was introduced to the US due to commercial beekeeping. The beetle feeds on larvae, pollen, honey and bee brood. They leave the hive to pupate in the soil where they hatch and then fly to find new hives to infest. When the infestation is heavy, the bees will leave the hive.
Varroa Destructor (varroa mite) is considered one of the most important issues for beekeepers currently. These mites are found around the globe in almost every hive. They can spread viruses such as deformed wing disease. Early infestations are hard to detect because they attach themselves to the abdomen of nurse bees. Only when infestations are at a critical level is it easy to detect the mite.
Tropilaelaps mites have become an increasing concern. Originally from Asia, these mites are parasites that feed on the brood and cause deformities in adult bees. It spreads by direct contact from bee to bee.
Nosema affects only adult bees. It is caused by a unicellular parasite that lives on the tissue in the midgut. It strikes mostly in spring during long lasting cold and rainy periods where there is insufficient pollen.
Wax Moths are a thorn in a beekeeper's side. Generally, when storing hive materials, beekeepers have to be incredibly careful. Wax moths can completely destroy wooden frames and honeycombs. While they are not necessary a threat to a strong colony, in a weak colony they will eat all of the honeycomb.
Tracheal Mites are microscopic internal mites that attack the bee's respiratory system. They reproduce inside the bee in the tracheae and feeds on the bee's blood. This affects the bee's ability to breathe and opens them up to other pathogens.
Pesticides have been in increasing problem for our bee population. Neonicotinoid pesticides hurt a bee's ability to reproduce. These pesticides kill bees over a long period of time, slowly killing colonies. Not only is it a problem for reproduction, but pesticides also impair natural defense systems. If you need to use pesticides, the rule is 8pm to 8am. After the bees are in their hives and before they are out. This way they have a chance to dry prior to bees foraging.
Habitat loss has been a significant issue as more and more land is plowed over to create housing. The land left for the pollinators is not enough to meet the needs for nectar and other needs. Wild bees use hollowed out trees while ground bees use the soil. Both are disappearing as humans prefer to stay away from what they consider a threat.
What can we do? Beekeepers stay on top of viruses, parasites and diseases. As someone who does not have bees, you can plant bee friendly plants. Plant flowing plants that span throughout the early spring all the way into frost. This helps ALL pollinators. In addition, stay away from pesticides. Use natural products but even some of these are harmful. Stick to the 8pm-8am rule.