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The buzz about bees is anything but sweet

Ed Rice left looks Barry Birkey looks over fresh shipment bees Rice's home Calumet Township Monday May 13 2013. |

Ed Rice, left, looks on a Barry Birkey looks over a fresh shipment of bees at Rice's home in Calumet Township Monday May 13, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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What’s the buzz?

By the numbers

Percentage of managed honeybee colonies in the U.S. lost over the winter:

2012/2013 31

2011/2012 22

2010/2011 30

2009/2010 34

2008/2009 29

2007/2008 36

2006/2007 32

Source: Annual national survey of honeybee colony losses, from the Bee Informed Partnership, in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Learn more

About honeybees, go to www.beeinformed.org.

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Updated: July 15, 2013 9:41PM



Honeybees are critical to food crops, yet area beekeepers are reporting some losses again this year.

Holly Klisiak, a director with the Indiana Beekeepers Association and a member of the Northwest Indiana Beekeepers Association, said a survey of beekeepers showed a 10 percent drop in the number of bees since last year.

“Some people had no bees in their bee yards at all. I had one hive that opened this spring and it was completely empty ­— no bees at all,” said Klisiak, who lives in Lowell and keeps bees there and in Crown Point. She lost two of her 10 hives.

“Everyone has had losses. We’re just seeing it more and more,” she said, adding that she suspects pesticides caused some of her bees to die off last year.

Colony collapse disorder, blamed for a massive loss of honeybees a few years ago, can be caused by an assortment of factors, including crop pesticides, viruses and parasites, Klisiak said.

Folks who keep more bees are prone to seeing larger die-offs, said Ed Rice, president of the Northwest Indiana association, who keeps bees at three locations.

The biggest killers of honeybees, Rice said, are stress, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

“Some of these by themselves are not fatal to bees, but when you have a combination, it is deadly,” he said.

Rice, who’s been keeping bees for 15 years, said this has been one of his best winters because the weather wasn’t as cold. Last year’s warm-up, followed by a freeze, left his hives without enough food or female bees to care for a new brood.

Some members of his club lost a couple of hives, like Klisiak, and some lost all. Rice lost four of 19 hives, and most of that was after February.

Jim Belli, president of the Illinois State Beekeepers Association, who has 16 colonies at the Mill Creek Nursery he owns in Wadsworth, said he experienced losses of 30 percdent to 40 percent; there are 60,000 bees in a colony during the height of summer activity.

“They do a voluntary bee survey every year, and the preliminary results show 30 to 40 percent of the bee population died,” he said. “That’s a lot of bees across the nation.”

The cause is not so clear cut, however. “It could be from a lot of things,” Belli said.

“These are amazing little creatures that we play with,” Rice said.

Lake County, Ill., will be the epicenter for the bee discussion this summer as the Illinois convention is held June 29 in Gurnee, featuring top speakers on the subject, Belli said. Lake, Cook/DuPage and McHenry counties have the top three beekeeping clubs in Illinois, and keepers have seen considerable population losses.

“The honeybees, which are not native, pollinate all the crops we brought over from Europe and Asia,” he said. “Our natural pollinators, the bumble bees, pollinate crops native to here,” like pumpkins and other vegetables.

Concerns about colony collapse disorder have created a growing interest in honeybees as people realize they are critical to crop production, Rice said. He recently received 150 packs of bees to replenish members’ hives. Each 3-pound pack contains 10,000 bees; he got 200 packs last year.

“It’s affecting the entire world; it’s a complicated issue,” Belli said.

Lyndsay Ploehn, extension service agent and natural resources associate educator with the Porter County office of the Purdue Extension Service, said any loss of bees can affect food production, particularly for fruit.

“They are a large pollinating community. If you don’t have bees, plants don’t pollinate, and if plants don’t pollinate, we don’t get fruit,” she said, adding that many plants can only be pollinated by bees; other insects won’t do the trick.

Pesticides could cause bee die-offs, particularly if they are misused, Ploehn said, and pesticides can’t be applied when plants are blooming because that’s when bees are pollinating.

Steve Chard, apiary inspector for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said colony collapse disorder is not very common, and there’s been just one case in the state — Warren County in northwest Illinois — that fell into that category where experts could not find any other source for the die-off.

“The jury is still out for CCD,” he said.

Contributing: Frank Abderholden, Sun-Times Media



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