One Out of Four American Honeybee Colonies Died This Winter

May 15, 2014 09:45 AM EDT | Matt Mercuro

One out of four American honeybee colonies were killed this winter, a loss that's not as bad compared to recent years, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of beekeepers, and the "Bee Informed Partnership," a group of honeybee industry participants.

Total losses of managed honey bee colonies was 23.2 percent nationwide for the 2013-2014 winter, according to the report.

The death rate for October 2013 through April 2014 was better than the 30.5 percent loss reported for the winter of 2012-2013. It was worse than the 21.9 percent in 2011-2012 however, according to Reuters.

Previous surveys showed that the total colony losses averaged 29.6 percent over the last eight-years.

"It's better news than it could have been," said Dennis van Engelsdorp, a University of Maryland entomology professor who led the survey, according to the Associated Press. "It's not good news."

The last few years bee populations have been dying at a rate that the U.S. government believes is economically "unsustainable," according to Reuters. Honeybees pollinate plants that help produce approximately a quarter of the food consumed by Americans.

Food affected by honeybees includes watermelons, beans, almonds and apples, according to government reports.

Bee keepers believe bees are dying off at a devastating rate due, at least in part, to the use of pesticides sold by agrichemical companies to increase yields of staple crops, like corn.

"With the damning evidence mounting, pesticide companies can no longer spin their way out of this crisis," said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer who specializes in food issues, according to Reuters.

A study released on May 9 by the Harvard School of Public Health shows that two widely used neonicotinoids significantly harm honeybee colonies during the winter, especially during colder winters.

Experts aren't quite sure why this year wasn't as bad as previous years. They don't believe there is one reason for the losses however.

"It's a really wild ride," said David Mendes, a North Fort Myers beekeeper and past president of the American Beekeeping Federation, according to AP. "It's not a whole lot of fun."

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