Protecting Our Environment

Are Honey Bees Really Dying out?

We’ve all seen the “Bees Are Dying!” memes pop up in social media feeds. It’s an unsettling thought! Honey bees are incredibly important to providing some of your favorite foods, including almonds, apples, strawberries, blueberries and many more. Understandably, you’re concerned. But, is there a need to be? Are bees actually dying out? Let’s look at the facts.

The Ins and Outs of Honey Bee Populations

Honey bees are a part of the natural world around us, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia, but for most of the world, and especially in the U.S. and across Europe, the honey bees we see are, in fact, managed by beekeepers, very much like farmers manage pigs, sheep and cattle.
Honey bee populations can fluctuate from year to year, mainly due to a combination of factors that can impact a colony’s health. If colony populations in a given area are slightly lower this year than the previous year, that doesn’t necessarily mean the population is dying off. To understand the population dynamics, we need to look at trends over time and think about the social and economic factors that may play a part — like whether the number of beekeepers has gone down, for instance. Fewer beekeepers mean less colonies.

A look at worldwide honey bee populations over 50 years

As you can see,  honey bee colonies worldwide have increased by more than 65 percent from the 1960s to the 2010s, and across the European Union the number has been pretty stable, too. According to the USDA the number of honey bee colonies in the U.S. increased by 17% between 2006 and 2018.

The Honey Bee Year

You might have also seen headlines to the tune of “Beekeeper Loses 40 Percent of Colonies.” While this headline may be correct, it does not refer to honey bees dying out. Instead, it indicates that honey bees are facing some challenges during the lead into winter. In the northern hemisphere, winter can be a time of heavy colony losses for beekeepers, especially if the colony is not managed well and weakened before the winter period due to a spread of disease or through a lack of food. The weather can also wreak havoc. Long periods of too hot or too cold temperatures can be very destructive for hives that are already under stress.
This, along with Varroa mite infestations and other threats, can result in the loss of entire colonies. Generally, beekeepers accept that there will be some losses of colonies each year. In Europe this is about 15 percent, and in the U.S., the current norm is 20.6 percent. However, beekeepers can build up their hive numbers following these instances by splitting colonies into two groups in the springtime (which also prevents swarming).

Throughout the summer, the number of bees in each colony increases again to make a strong, healthy colony. How? Well, the queen is constantly laying eggs (up to 2,000 per day!) in the height of the season and the average lifespan of a worker bee during the summer is about six weeks. This means that, in a colony of some 50,000 bees, a few thousand honey bees may die each day of natural causes but this is offset in the colony as some 2,000 worker bees hatch each day.

Most surveys of honey bee colonies track losses, but they don’t always report the gains in colony numbers that take place over the spring and summer. (It’s sort of like basing your financial situation only on your bank withdrawals, but not what you’ve deposited.) What does this all mean? Think of it this way: If a beekeeper experiences a loss of 40 percent of his or her colonies, that’s not good. However, the beekeeper can replace them the following year, albeit at a financial cost. So, just talking about colony losses isn’t really indicative of overall honey bee health.

Honey Bee Health

Beekeepers have a key role to play as they can directly influence the health of their bees by offering the main things a colony needs to survive — that’s food, shelter and a safe environment. Without the help of a beekeeper, honey bee colonies would hardly be able to survive in Europe or the U.S. today. If left unattended, a colony would die within two to three years, due to the impact of Varroa mite infestation.

What factors affect the health of honey bee colonies? Here are the key threats:

So, to answer the original question: No, honey bee colonies aren’t moving towards extinction (phew) — in fact they’re increasing in numbers around the world (double phew). But honey bees still face many challenges around the world. Because of this, it is important to study and monitor health concerns, so we can be sure to protect our buzzing pollinator buddies.

Thankfully, organizations such as Project Apis m. and others worldwide are working on treatments and other ways to help honey bee populations. Through our Bee Care Science Program, we are supporting many other projects around the world, including Healthy Hives 2020 LATAM.

In 2015, Bayer launched Healthy Hives 2020 USA with a goal of funding research that is focused on finding tangible solutions to many of the challenges honey bees face by the year 2020. With less than two years to go, we can’t wait to share the results of these independent bee researchers! Learn more about the Bayer Bee Care Program and our efforts to protect honey bees here.

And remember, you don’t need a science degree to help support pollinators. There’s plenty you can do right from home! Here’s how you can get started.

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All Comments

jone leung
May 08, 2020 - 03:18 PM

Your data from FAO only shows stocks of honeybee hives managed in commercial operations. You should update your chart to mention that the data you're showing is only for commercially managed HIVES, not bees.

Unfortunately it's estimated that commercial bees only account towards 5% of plant pollination. Although commercial hives have increased globally, it's unlikely we can generalise this to bee hives in wild bee populations because beekeepers have an interest in treating their hives against factors which are leading to the decline in wild populations (i.e. being careful of pesticides, habitat loss, and varroa mites).

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Aileen K. Douglas
March 25, 2020 - 07:42 PM

I'm so glad to hear that the Bee population is NOT becoming extinct! It does really bother me that in the summer trucks drive around spraying some sort of pesticide here in illinois. I will have to get more involved into what is being put into our communities atmosphere now that I am Truly Awakened......

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Norm Wells
April 17, 2020 - 11:23 PM

It's amazing the amount of misinformation circulated about honey bee population trends. Food production continues to increase worldwide on a yearly basis thanks largely to technology. Honey bees are important for the production of some, but by no means all, crops. They aren't a factor in cereals and can replaced by other insects in most crops with colored flowers. But some people and groups are very successful spreading doom and gloom. While asking for money of course.

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Walter Grobius
February 03, 2020 - 11:36 AM

The data could be correct. The sources are given in the text so everyone can check. However, it amazes me how the whole text circumvents the influence of pesticides. Not mentioning them at all is weird.
Also, just because the overall population is increasing, bees from Asia will not fly to Europe and start pollinating local plants.

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November 18, 2019 - 08:08 PM

What is the estimated time the bees will fully die?

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Farm Meets Table Team
November 24, 2019 - 09:41 PM

Thank you for your question, Hussain. Fortunately, honey bees are not on the endangered species list, and data does not show that honey bees are moving toward extinction. In fact, honey bee colony numbers are actually increasing around the world.

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September 08, 2019 - 06:39 PM

so which pesticide company supports your website?

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Farm Meets Table Team
September 09, 2019 - 07:15 AM

Hi sdf -

This is a Bayer website.

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Scott Gilmour
September 07, 2019 - 08:07 AM

Bayer seems to be suspiciously prevalent in this article.

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Farm Meets Table Team
September 09, 2019 - 07:13 AM

Hi Scott -

Nothing suspicious - this is a Bayer website. Our logo is up there at the top.

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john m broderick jr
February 08, 2020 - 07:39 AM

seriously. everyone is funded somehow... dispute the FACTS people. not the finance.. the situation with bees "going extinct", is HIGHLY exaggerated

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Mike T
July 14, 2019 - 08:28 AM

Your chart for Honey Bee population up or down percentages doesn't have figures for the South Pacific which includes New Zealand & that small continent to their West, namely Australia. New Zealand produces a lot of food products including HoNeY... 🐝

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Farm Meets Table Team
July 26, 2019 - 05:07 PM

Hi Mike,

Thank you for raising this point! You’re right that the chart is missing data from this region. We plan to include this information in a future updated version of this graphic.

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June 05, 2019 - 07:53 AM

The article seem to be published in 2019 but in the charts when referencing "past 10 years" the data stops at the year 2013 which seems deceiving. Why is there no data for the 2013-2018 period?

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Farm Meets Table Team
June 07, 2019 - 03:19 PM

Thank you for the great catch, Nom! We had a mixup on some data, and we have now corrected the text.

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May 02, 2019 - 02:00 PM

How could there be such a large media presence for the "dying of honey bees" in recent years, when in fact over the last 50 years there has been a constant global increase of honey bee populations by 65%?

Who should one believe there? Many journalists apparently not, right?

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April 02, 2019 - 12:52 AM

How prevalent are Bayer pesticides outside Europe and North America?

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June 03, 2019 - 09:28 PM

A lot! South America is a global powerhouse for agriculture commodities.

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Farm Meets Table Team
April 02, 2019 - 06:04 AM

Hi Mike - Thanks for the question. Our products are generally available to farmers all over the world based on local needs and country regulations.

Current Readers´ rating (9)

so basically it's your fault.
June 02, 2019 - 09:53 AM

lol, non-answer.

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