Honeybees In The Wild Nearly Gone In North America

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Honeybees in the wild in North America have been virtually wiped out by an unusually harsh winter, a soggy spring and two blood-sucking mites, an Ohio State University bee expert says.

"Honeybees in the wild are decimated," said James E. Tew, an associate professor of entomology at Ohio State and honeybee researcher with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster, Ohio. Bee experts across the country agree that most of the wild or feral honeybees have likely been annihilated, Tew said.

Backyard gardeners will feel the impact in smaller yields and smaller, lower-quality fruits and vegetables, according to Tew.

"The harsh winter across the United States and the wet, messy spring, combined with all the routine problems facing bees that have never gone away -- bee diseases, pesticide problems -- pushed honeybees to the edge," Tew said. "The mites, however,were clearly and definitively the last straw in causing this population collapse."

Honeybee populations maintained by the nation's beekeepers have also been reduced by mites, Tew said, although not as severely. Estimates of domesticated bee losses to mites vary from state to state, he said.

"Honeybees are not in danger of extinction. Beekeepers are still maintaining around 3 million colonies in the United States," Tew said. "What's much closer to extinction, however, is the unmanaged population of honeybees."

The European honeybee, which was brought to the United States in the 1600s, is the country's most important bee for crop pollination and honey production, Tew said. According to the OhioDepartment of Agriculture, more than 90 American crops valued at more than $9 billion depend on bees for pollination.

The two mighty mite culprits -- the microscopic tracheal mite and the larger varroa mite -- are invader species that made their way into the United States in the mid- to late '80s. Tracheal mites do their damage by infesting the breat

Contact: James E. Tew
Ohio State University

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