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CoastLine: Honeybees, The Threats They Face, And Common Myths

Ken Thomas / Wikimedia Commons
Italian or Ligurian honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica) worker; photo in Caldwell County, NC

The honey bee population declined slightly in the United States from 2016 to 2017.    That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The most-often reported colony stressor:  varroa mites. 

Colony collapse disorder, a separate phenomenon, also went up slightly from 2016 to 2017.   But the stressors that cause honey bees to die fall into roughly four categories, according to one of my guests today.  Colony collapse disorder is only one of those causes.   The notion that this little-understood phenonemon is decimating the honey bee population is only one of several often-repeated myths that seems to maintain traction.   

So what are the factors threatening honey bees?  They are largely parasites and pathogens, pesticides, and nutritional deprivation from habitat loss and the movement towards monocultures.  Loss of genetic diversity also plays a role.

But it’s nuanced:  while pesticides are killing bees, a recent study by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin suggests that the active ingredient in Roundup doesn’t directly kill bees.  But it harms their gut microbiome, which, as NPR reports, leaves them more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria.


David Tarpy, Professor of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University; Cooperative Extension State Apiculturist

Colleen Higgins, First Director, New Hanover County Beekeepers Assocation

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.
Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR