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The question is, are they red flags, or merely red herrings? Many professional beekeepers have in recent years complained of elevated rates of colony loss  and queen supersedure, peaking during the epidemic of CCD which ran from about throughbut still continuing to some extent today.
And many beekeepers, now having learned how to deal with those colony killers, are enjoying much better success these days. This leads me to suspect that the epidemic of CCD overshadowed additional problems caused, or exacerbated by, factors other than the deadly troika mentioned above.
More specifically, there is considerable evidence that colonies in many operations suffer from the lethal or sublethal adverse effects of pesticides. A Potential Bombshell A couple of weeks ago a beekeeper emailed me a blog with explosive implications.
It was written by Penn State entomologist Dr. David Biddinger for tree fruit growers , but may help us to connect the dots between beekeeper complaints of problems with agricultural insecticides neonicotinoids specificallybeekeeper-applied amitraz, and colony and queen losses. Most tree fruit growers will remember amitraz as Mitac which was used heavily for pear psylla control in the past.
This product was routinely used for synergizing organophosphate and pyrethroid insecticides in crops like cotton where key pests had developed resistance, because it shut down the enzymes insects used to detoxify pesticides. This raises concerns about amitraz being used to treat mites in honey bee hives.
Go ahead and read it again!
Have beekeepers inadvertently been synergizing multiplying the negative effects of miticide residues and agricultural chemicals in hives by their applications of amitraz? I immediately started a correspondence with Dr. Biddinger, which then led me to writing this article, because it only gets more interesting!
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Narrowing In On Suspects I run trials of bee health products for companies wishing to bring new products to market. These trials provide me with valuable data on the colony and queen survival rates in carefully monitored groups of hives.
This fact then raises the question as to what might be different between my colonies and those of beekeepers who are experiencing problems. Let me first state emphatically that I do not owe the difference to my beekeeping.
My two sons and I run up to hives, but much of my time is taking up with research, writing, and speaking engagements. We are nearly always running behind, struggle to keep mite levels down, and ever since we gave up our traditional summer migration, must supplement our hives with protein as they struggle through our long, rainless summer prior to going into a cold, wet winter.
However, there is one factor that strongly differentiates my operation from those of most commercial beekeepers.
And that is the degree to which our bees are exposed to pesticides, due to three main reasons: The only time our colonies are exposed to agricultural pesticides is during almond pollination, and even that is mainly to fungicides and herbicides, rather than insecticides.
The rest of the year we keep bees in foothill locations with zero to minimal pesticide exposure.
We sell up to half our brood combs each year in nucs, so there is little chance for pesticide residues to build up in our combs. In essence, my operation could be considered to be a pesticide-free control group which can be compared to typical operations receiving much higher degrees of pesticide and synthetic miticide exposure.
I strongly suspect, to no surprise, that this is one reason why we have fewer problems. But beekeepers have always had problems with pesticides. Which leads me to the next question: So what other changes in pesticide exposure could be the reason?
Everyone on Earth has by now has heard about the putative link between the neonics and colony loss, and there is certainly reason for concern .
But has the single minded focus on the neonics distracted us from the negative effects of other pesticides, or their synergisms with beekeeper-applied miticides? This is the problem with tunnel vision.
When an investigation focuses solely upon only one suspect, the real culprit could be standing right next to you, quietly chuckling.
My question is then, could other common hive contaminants withstand the degree of scrutiny that has been afforded the neonics? Another pesticide keeps popping up on my radar. The pesticide, as you may have guessed, is amitraz, and the way our bees are exposed to it is by beekeepers intentionally putting it into their hives to control parasitic mites.
I realized that this provides me with a good analogy to the shaky case that some have attempted to build against the neonics."While loneliness and social isolation are often used interchangeably, there are notable differences between the two.
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