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POLLINATOR HEALTH: Colorado has been part of a national survey of honeybee hives for three years and has learned about the pest complex affecting these insects.

Bee survey offers hive insight

National honeybee survey shows more than hive numbers as apiarists gather knowledge.

The most recent Honey Bee Colony Losses survey was released in late May, with good news of fewer losses than in the past. Both winter losses and total loss numbers have fallen.

The survey included data from more than 4,900 beekeepers from across the country, including 67 apiaries in Colorado. But why take part in the survey?

The Colorado Department of Agriculture has taken part in the survey of National Honey Bee Health for three years. Laura Pottorff, CDA, noted that "scientific surveys and research on honeybee health bear out that the past decade has been challenging for beekeeping, with a decline in managed hives in the U.S."

Pottorff, who is the CDA Division of Plant Industry's apiary program manager, added that honeybees are a "crucial part of our environment, and the national survey provides a valuable insight into the state of managed honeybees in Colorado."

The survey is sponsored by USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and the Bee Informed Partnership, which is a coalition of groups working around the pollinator health issue.

Honeybee researchers agree that there are a range of factors responsible for the challenges facing bees, including:

• infectious pests and diseases of managed honeybee populations that are not being controlled properly
• loss of habitat and habitat diversity due to increased urbanization
• improper use of pesticides toxic to pollinators
• lack of genetic diversity in managed bee populations

In Colorado, 67 apiaries were sampled over three years for the varroa mite, several honeybee viruses that the varroa mite spreads, and a fungal disease called nosema. Of the participants, 27% were hobby apiarists, with the rest involved in commercial honeybee use.

Varroa mites a major threat
Varroa mites are parasitic animals that feed on the blood of bees; and they have proven difficult to control. Not only do the mites cause injury to the honeybee, but they also spread several honeybee viruses. Left untreated, the mites can kill a colony in two or three years. And the mite is thought to be the biggest reason for high colony losses during the winter.

Pottorff noted that nationally, surveys have determined that high varroa mite numbers are particularly troubling for backyard and hobby beekeepers who do not have the appropriate mite controls in place.

Beekeepers can learn more about integrated hive management including tactics for pest and disease control affect the state's honeybees, with help from the free booklet Integrated Hive Management for Colorado Beekeepers.

Source: Colorado Department of Agriculture

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