Saving pollinators from an imaginary bee-pocalypse

Honeybees are doing OK, despite varroa mites, the Covid-driven economy and other problems

Paul Driessen

A torrent of media stories from 2013-2014 presented frightening tales of “unprecedented” colony collapse disorder (CCD) among honeybees, conjuring up visions of a “bee-pocalypse” and “a world without bees,” a world in which flowers and agriculture would be decimated.

Many articles blamed neonicotinoid pesticides, while others added climate change and biotech (GMO) crops as likely culprits. Some mentioned Varroa destructor mites and various viruses and diseases as possible causes. Virtually none suggested that organic food industry chemicals could also be implicated in bee deaths. The overall tone was “deep concern,” bordering on hysteria. But it sold papers and air time.

Over the next few years, the number of US honey-producing bee colonies (hives) generally and gradually increased, though with bumps in the road. There were 100,000 more hives in 2014 than in 2013, and numbers went on a slight roller coaster in subsequent years, up and down in the same range as 1993-2012.  

A recent US Department of Agriculture honey report could ignite new concerns, especially in conjunction with recent data that show a 4% decline in US bee colony numbers: 2,812,000 in 2019 versus 2,706,000 in 2020. This time, though, the more likely cause is the Covid-driven 2020 economy

Indeed, honey production dropped 6% but honey prices rose slightly to offset some of the lower production and sales. Almond grove and other pollination revenue went down 18% and other revenues fell even more sharply. But it’s also interesting that that there were 1,000 fewer apiary workers in 2020 than the year before – and spending on Varroa and other bee disease control declined almost 30% (the same drop as expenditures on syrup and other bee food). That largely explains the lower hive numbers.

(Also interesting, four states – Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota – accounted for 38% of all US honeybee colonies in 2020, many of them reliant on canola flowers. Their honey averaged $1.60 per pound in 2020, versus $6.30 per pound for boutique honey from four states – Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey and Vermont – that collectively had just over 1% of all US hives.)

Even more fascinating and instructive is the trajectory of US honeybee colony numbers over the past five decades, showing no connection to neonics, other pesticides or much of anything else.

The all-time-high for US honeybee hives was in 1977 (4,323,000 colonies), and it was 6% higher than in 1972. The total then plummeted 25% by 1986 – and hasn’t been above 3,000,000 since 1992. The all-time-low for US honeybee colonies was 2,342,000 in 2008 – five years before the bee-pocalypse!

It gets even harder to decipher recent bee problems when you realize that Varroa mites didn’t arrive in the United States until 1987, and neonic use didn’t begin until the mid-1990s. But US honeybee colony numbers have been consistently in the 2.5-2.9 million range, with just a few dips to 2.4 million.

Varroa mites are nasty threats largely because the American-European honeybee (unlike its Asian cousin) had no natural defenses against them. The mites bite into bees and bee larvae, feed on bee “blood,” and create pathways into bees for at least 19 viruses and diseases. Tracheal mites, Nosema intestinal fungi, parasitic phorid flies, the tobacco ringspot virus and other pests can also cause significant colony losses.

Beekeepers can accidentally kill entire hives, trying to address such problems, but professionals have become much better at getting treatments and doses right than have most hobbyist beekeepers.

As their name suggests, neonicotinoid pesticides are derived from synthetic nicotine. Some 90% are applied as seed coatings that dissolve and get absorbed into plant tissues as crops grow; they target and kill only pests that feed on the crops. Neonics also largely eliminate the need to spray with other insecticides that can easily harm bees and other beneficial insects. These innovative chemicals have nevertheless been targeted by anti-pesticide groups, and by organic food producers that themselves use various crop-protecting pesticides that are harmful or lethal to honeybees and wild bees.

Among those organic farm chemicals, pyrethrin neurotoxin pesticides are highly toxic to bees, possible human carcinogens – and no longer derived from flowers, but synthetically manufactured. Nicotine sulfate can partially paralyze bee wings and legs, and can be poisonous to humans. Copper sulfate is highly toxic to bees, deadly to fish, bio-accumulative in soil and water, and all-around nasty.

Changing agricultural and land-use practices, also play a role, including more houses, factories and highways replacing flowering trees and open fields of plants that provide pollen and nectar for bees. 

However, when they see lurid photos of dead bees, people should understand that bees have very short lives. Exactly how long depends on their species and sex, the climate where they live, food availability, overall bee health in the hive – and what time of year bees emerge from their cell.

Queen bees can live 2-3 years, even 4 years or more; they lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. Male drone bees live several months during warm weather, but die after mating with a queen, because their reproductive organs are ripped from their bodies in the process! Female worker bees live only 4-6 weeks, because foraging for food takes them miles every day and wears their bodies out quickly; they live up to 20 weeks in the winter, when their job is keeping the hive warm.

Average honeybee colonies hit peak population counts of 50,000-60,000 in June – but those numbers plummet rapidly in autumn, as flowers disappear and cold weather sets in. So dead bees in and around hives is normal (but excellent fodder for fear-mongering).

As to “colony collapse disorder” (sometimes called “disappearing disorder”), major bee die-offs were reported in Ireland as far back as 950 AD! The first recorded US case of worker bees suddenly abandoning hives full of honey occurred in 1869; researchers reported 25 significant bee die-offs between that one and 2003. The causes are unknown, but die-offs are not unprecedented.

Of course studies have purported to demonstrate the toxicity of neonics. But many were conducted in laboratories, using doses and application methods that bear no relation to what farmers do or what bees experience in the real world, where they might encounter neonic levels in pollen and nectar measured in parts per billion or trillion: the equivalent of a few seconds in 32 or 32,000 years, respectively.

Multiple field studies – in actual farmers’ fields – have consistently shown no adverse effects on honeybees at the colony level from realistic exposures to neonics. In fact, bees thrive in and around neonic-treated corn and canola crops in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and elsewhere.

So it was highly surprising that a 2017 article in the respected journal Science claimed that two years of field studies in three countries showed exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides reduced the ability of honeybees and wild bees to survive winters and establish new populations and hives the following year. The article generated a fury of I-told-you-so declarations from the likes of Greenpeace and Pesticide Action Network. But it’s no longer available online. 

Perhaps that’s because, as I explained in my own detailed assessment, the authors violated multiple guidelines for scientific integrity. Not only did their own data contradict their primary claim; they kept extensive data out of their analysis and incorporated only what supported their conclusions. That’s fraud.

When all the missing and doctored data were examined, of the 258 separate honeybee statistical data analyses involved in the study, 238 found no effects on bees from neonics and 7 found beneficial effects from the pesticide! Only 9 (a mere 3%) found harmful impacts, while 4 had insufficient data.

It’s vital that we protect our honeybees, bumblebees and wild bees. But that means understanding history, science, modern agriculture and bee life expectancy – so that we are not so easily snookered by lurid tales of bee Armageddon, and we don’t do more harm than good, for the best of intentions.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow ( and author of books and articles on energy, climate and environmental issues.

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April 13, 2021 2:39 am

A torrent of media stories from 2013-2014 

Martha Kearney, one of the BBCs journalists (I do use the term loosely), just happened to be an avid [hobbyist] beekeeper. Needless to say, she’s always bang on message dutifully following the narrative.

Who Killed The Honeybee?  

Martha Kearney explores the implications of their extinction for global food production.

It was, in the end, a waste of time. The bees are still here. But Martha’s sense of urgency hasn’t abated….

Building a Better Bee

The decline of honey bees may need radical solutions. Martha Kearney examines whether genetic modification or robotics could stop the potential collapse of the world’s crops.

Despite the very unseasonal cold in South London, I’ve seen a few (mainly bumble) bees in my garden. Martha is clearly unaware of any record crop production over the last few years.

Funny that.

Last edited 1 year ago by strativarius
Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  fretslider
April 13, 2021 9:22 am

A few bumble bees here in calgary too, but well below freezing again so they are hiding out again.

6 week growing season still couple months away.

Doug Huffman
Reply to  fretslider
April 13, 2021 9:28 am

differentiate beekeepers from bee-havers.

Reply to  Doug Huffman
April 13, 2021 12:57 pm

A few years ago in Boulder, CO a lot of environmentally concerned folks decided to put hives in their backyards. For a while, until it went out of vogue, there were a lot of bees competing for the limited local resources.

Reply to  Scissor
April 14, 2021 4:09 am

Got to plant lots of flowers and clover to support a bigger population.

April 13, 2021 2:53 am

Doomers were going on about bee’s imminent extinction “in ten years” long before 2013. We got The Bee Movie in 2007 lol.

Around the same time, Doomers also were going on about bananas going extinct “in ten years”.

I found then how serendipitous two disparate issues had the same verbiages, time frames, fear mongering… my trust in ‘experts’ and media died back then.

Steve Case
Reply to  Ruleo
April 13, 2021 3:23 am

Hans Christian Anderson 1805-1875 pretty much made the point about the “experts” with his tale about the “Emperor’s New Cloths.” Aesop before him warned us about crying wolf.

Today we have million dollar wind mills that amount to 13th century technology in order to solve a 21st century non-problem. At least the mice who wanted to hang a bell on the cat had a real problem.

Bill Powers
Reply to  Steve Case
April 13, 2021 11:24 am

Gravitas was invisible clothing that, in the year 2000, we were to believe that Al Gore was adorned in and of course W’s wardrobe was devoid of the necessary adornment. a 21st century rewrite entiltled the “Emperor lacks Clothes”

Those paying attention, looked at Gore, (The soon to be TV/Documentarian spokes mouse for the narrative that “the Globe is burning irreversibly and we will all die after the Polar Bears have been expired.”) back in 2000 and observed that this leftist Emperor Wannabe had no clothes.

Bill Powers
Reply to  Ruleo
April 13, 2021 11:24 am

Leftist narrative is always scripted Ruleo. Recall how all the talking newsmongers discovered the term “Gravitas” overnight and assigned it to Bush Jr. to dissuade voters from making him Prez. Of course the implied false narrative, by omission, was that the Progressive’s lab assistant, ALGORE, had it.

Climate believer
April 13, 2021 3:06 am

France has banned all these: clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, thiacloprid and acetamiprid.

We shall see what happens.

Bill T
Reply to  Climate believer
April 13, 2021 3:46 am

France banned them mostly to protect their own pesticide manufacturers from the German manufacturers.

Climate believer
Reply to  Bill T
April 13, 2021 3:54 am

Yeah, that wouldn’t surprise me, they certainly couldn’t care less about bees.

Reply to  Bill T
April 14, 2021 7:27 am

They’re working to develop a wine-based pesticide. Drunken pests are less of a threat.

Last edited 1 year ago by beng135
Reply to  Climate believer
April 13, 2021 4:01 am

France has a thing for banning or blocking new good stuff in order to protect their own industry. Like pulse fishing.

Climate believer
Reply to  Jeroen
April 13, 2021 5:17 am

Heaven forbid a country should try and protect their own industry.

The ban is Europewide it’s not just France, but haven’t the UK done the same?

Brexiteer and former MEP Martin Daubney tweeted: “A superb early win for the UK, as pulse fishing is banned from British waters the very minute we left the EU.”

April 13, 2021 3:48 am

Funny, I know five people in our area who have set up bee hives BECAUSE of the Chinese Disease driven economy. Agway and Rural King are both having a hard time keeping bee keeping equipment and supplies in stock.

Bill T
April 13, 2021 3:49 am

This is a very accurate description of what has been happening in Beekeeping- I have been successfully keeping bees for over 30 years and mentor other beekeepers.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Bill T
April 15, 2021 4:54 am

Paul Driessen writes excellent posts. This is, indeed, one.

April 13, 2021 3:51 am

I remember to have heard some years ago from US kiler bees invading Germany and big fear was spread. Never heard again about.

Reply to  Krishna Gans
April 14, 2021 7:32 am

Those bees got quiet midnite knocks on their hives and were never heard from again.

Abolition Man
April 13, 2021 4:22 am

How miserable it must be for children being inculcated with the dogma of the Church of Doom and Gloom! Not content with filling little heads with lies and distortions, Doomers are only satisfied when their young charges are depressed or driven out of their minds with fear and self loathing!
What is it with Progressives and child abuse? The southern border is like an open sewer now; bringing child, sex and drug traffickers into our nation in record numbers! Child and human sex trafficking are the fastest growing criminal activity in the world, and groups like Catholic Charities are being paid millions to facilitate the movement of untested and unknown “children” deeper into our country! Who could have seen that coming? Anyone with eyes and a brain!
The Great Bee Die-off appears to be like most Doomer apocalypses; greatly exaggerated, nonexistent or just the opposite of reality! Their motto seems to be: Why tell the truth when what we make up is so much more depressing! It must be horrible for them; waking up everyday, knowing they are filth and corruption inside with no path for purification or redemption!

Last edited 1 year ago by abolition man
Bill Powers
Reply to  Abolition Man
April 13, 2021 11:40 am

Mencken warned us of the “Dr. Frankenstein” Progressive left and their creation of menacing Hobgoblins.

Our public schools and universities ensure an endless supply of alarmed populace clamoring to be led to safety by the Progressive Central Authoritarians in Control of The Swamp.

Thanks WUWT
April 13, 2021 4:49 am

My measure of the health of honeybees is the ability to walk into any grocery store in the US and buy all the honey I can fit into a shopping cart or two-at a very reasonable price.

Peta of Newark
April 13, 2021 4:52 am

The paranoia in here is nearly as evident as that of the warmists.

Nicotine is a Truly Hideous Poison.
Yet when folks ingest/smoke it, it’s not the nicotine that kills them.
Most animals including us metabolize it incredibly rapidly – smoke a pack of 20 and then test.
After 48 hours its un-findable. All gone.

I knew copper was important to livestock. My farm and all the neighbours knew we were copper deficient. In cows it manifested as Copper Spectacles – basically = pigment deficiency showing as grey hair/fur around the eyes.

But mostly, as we all understood, very important in the production of babies.
Hmmm. Back on the subject of ‘Rich & Intelligent‘ are we not?

Sheep are insanely sensitive to copper. let sheep feed on (copper enhanced) food meant for cows and they die. period
Yet still, in Cumbria, it was necessary to treat them with copper. Sheep were given subcutaneous slow release ‘copper needles’. The timing (when in the year) was important but cannot remember exactly why.

But this is where I have just damn near shat myself..
Did a search for copper deficiency in humans..
See what I found..
Quote: “Copper deficiency may be one of the many causes of fatigue and weakness. Copper is essential for absorbing iron from the gut ( 2 ). When copper levels are low, the body may absorb less iron. This can cause iron deficiency anemia,# a condition in which the body is unable to carry enough oxygen to its tissues.”

My # Doncha love how the Mighty Google cant spell amnaeimeniamenia

Now then…
Lets mix anaemia with Vitamin B deficiency (coming as it does from a plant based diet) and, assuming you even get the girl pregnant, she stands a very strong chance of dropping a mentally damaged & dysfunctional child upon you both.

Did lack of Copper precipitate the Iron problem? By avoiding that stuff as a cancerous mega toxin, we are literaly trashing the brains of our own children, even before they’re born.
The word ‘sad’ come nowhere near, does it. Nowhere

Ehrlich’s prediction is actually playing out now, in real time.
The problem is, the consumption of fake food (sugar) instead of real human food (saturated fat) brings on the Magical Thinking.
And so folks around to see mountains of wheat, corn, rice, potato (10 different ‘staples’ as Willis told us recently) they think ‘everything has never been better’

Why. None of those 10 things Willis listed are fit for human consumption.
OK, they may get you out of a short-term hunger/starvation jam, but they are not fit, safe or good for long term consumption.

Even worse, even our own scientists, doctors and governments think, inside their own bubbles of Magical Thinking, that all those Fat & Obese people out there are just plain stupid. They lack self-control. They are lazy. They don’t ‘work-out’
No they’re not stupid or lazy. They are starving.

Yeah alright, the sugar removed their self-control, just like alcohol and now also cannabis. Even in folks who should be paragons of self-control – our very own Police Forces.
Or Western Governments, when it comes to printing, borrowing and spending money.

And when ‘most folks’ look around a bit more and see nothing like they saw in the average B grade (e.g. Day After The Munchies) disaster movie, this confirms & reinforces the magical thinking.

But as we know, The Human Animal cannot lie.
Thus, to paraphrase (not sure that’s the right word but anyway)..
Methinks the Skeptix Take The Piss A Little Too Strongly
But magical thinking wont let them see as much

Last edited 1 year ago by Peta of Newark
Reply to  Peta of Newark
April 13, 2021 8:32 am

Those mentally deficient potato eaters … not only screwed up themselves, they also screwed up all of their decedents.

And, jeeze, don’t get me started on the rice eaters.

Reply to  DonM
April 13, 2021 5:33 pm

Potatoes and rice??? They eat avocados and quinoa.

John Bruce
Reply to  Peta of Newark
April 13, 2021 5:22 pm

As a kid I remember having to give our sheep selenium supplements to stop sleepy sickness
Remember we all need trace elements such as zinc to help fight various diseases

April 13, 2021 6:10 am

Great analysis! As a former beekeeper, there were a lot of discussions on the issue, but (Surprise!!) one of the main drivers of noise was researchers wanting more federal money to study the issue.
I never had any problems with CCD, but did struggle with user error, varroa, and winter kill, most of the time the winter kill was associated with user error.

If you think all those things are scary, read about ‘foulbrood’. The only solution for that is to burn all your equipment and start over, and that’s been around since the beginning.

April 13, 2021 6:18 am

Okay then, one of the very few scary stories I’ve been paying attention to, debunked! Nobody likes their biases rubbished, but in this case, thank gods I worried for nothing!
Of course, living closely with killer bees 😉 all my life, and not seeing their numbers drop, I assumed this was an American/ European problem, grist to my mill of deriding those stupid GMO freaks…and their sissy bees.

Reply to  paranoid goy
April 14, 2021 7:38 am

I do now see more of the giant hornets here in the east US (I think they’re European?). They’re twice as big as a bald-faced hornet & patrol flowers, seizing & stinging whatever they can catch.

Last edited 1 year ago by beng135
Mike From AU
April 13, 2021 7:18 am

Having some experience with bees in over ten years, my biggest contribution to the discussion is somewhat peripheral.

Bees need to control the climate inside a beehive and keeping them in wooden boxes is like going back to the stone-age in my opinion. The beehives made of mud and straw were a lot better in terms of insulation (skep, a straw or wicker beehive. ) And this is were the dilemma begins for the bee keeper hoping to overwinter his bees by first stealing all their winter stores of honey and replacing with sugar in the hope the bees will merely get by with this junk food equivalent to giving them big macs for breakfast lunch and tea during the said winter.

It amazes me how the bees survive in cold wooden boxes. It does not get more stressful than that for a bee.

I first started experimenting with insulation in my second year of bee keeping by plastering the outside of my wooden bee hives with extruded styrene 50mm insulation. The result was astonishing. My honey production increased over 30% and was also harvesting honey in the depths of our Australian winter in Victoria region.

The effects of insulation for bee hives is profound and in effect, the bees are able to control the temperature of the hive without having to burn through their honey carbohydrate stores to generate heat for the brood to survive. Instead the bees are easily able to control the temperature of the brood using minimal carbohydrates and so instead of using all their resources to help keep the brood warm, they are able to attend to other tasks like building comb moving honey around, and other tasks in the hive.

Reply to  Mike From AU
April 14, 2021 7:43 am

I see honeybee hives near me where they stack straw bales around them (keeping the front open) over the winters.

Reply to  beng135
April 14, 2021 8:43 am

I have seen people do that here in western PA. All using foam insulation board on outside and tops. As the song says, countryboy can survive. ;}

April 13, 2021 7:25 am

Does anyone else here recall the furor created when some “experts” claimed that cell phone towers (and, I presume, the associated RF radiation) was causing colony collapse? My reaction was to scoff- there would have been nothing easier to track than bee activity around cell towers, which are far from covert…

Reply to  Kpar
April 13, 2021 7:56 am

I do. I do electric fence maintenance for a big farm, on one of their hilltops they lease ground for a cell tower, within 100 yards they have a large set of beehives. Bees are just fine, and they plant large plots of clover all around the tower base.

Reply to  Kpar
April 13, 2021 8:39 am

You might note that the area around solar farms in the UK is often employed for wild flowers and bees… part of the beetle bank concept.

Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  griff
April 13, 2021 8:56 am

At least it finally provides something useful
Thanks for sharing

Reply to  griff
April 13, 2021 10:02 am

Really? How do those flowers grow under a solar panel?

Reply to  griff
April 14, 2021 7:47 am

Uh-huh. Flowers don’t grow well under and around solar-panels because in addition to the shade, they use herbicides there.

Last edited 1 year ago by beng135
Caligula Jones
April 13, 2021 7:31 am

the overall tone was “deep concern,” bordering on hysteria.

So….typical media about everything, then? “If it bleeds, it leads”.

Don’t forget about shortening bee tongues:

April 13, 2021 7:32 am

The article generated a fury of I-told-you-so declarations from the likes of Greenpeace and Pesticide Action Network. But it’s no longer available online. ”

Unfortunately it is still available online, wish it was retracted for fraud (if this is the study referred to here)

Robert W Turner
April 13, 2021 8:06 am

The doom-industry is running out of new ideas. I guess murder hornets never took off, back to bees will be a thing of the past.

Richard Page
April 13, 2021 9:15 am

Bees die off from time to time from a variety of causes, some are still a mystery. The US and UK mystery disease in the early 1900’s decimated the bee populations on both sides of the pond – the UK was so badly hit that the ‘British bee’ was virtually extinct and had to be repopulated from European stock. These things are not new and the global bee population still survives.

April 13, 2021 12:09 pm

Have the “Killerbee” hives being “counted” before a
honeybeepocalipse considered or declared!

Mind you, the “Killerbee”,
happens to be the best
better than the Europian domesticated honeybee.


John Bruce
April 13, 2021 5:15 pm

Thanks for the great story
I love bees – I have recently put honeybees in my garden
I got them for pollination – I love the additional pollination of my Macadamia, avocados and olives -Have had fantastic crops of all three this year
Interestingly the weather in south Western Australia has meant that the honey production was 50% lower this year than last year due to the bees needing food rather than letting me harvest the honey – I’m told this was the same all across Australia due to probably the La Nina – the honey was great even though less than last year
I also had two hive swarms this year – not sure what caused it
The interesting thing is there is always dead bees around – but not many as the bees tend to be very good house keepers and remove the dead bodies
Do the maths – a hive has 50,000 bees – the worker bees live 21 days – 2300 bees die per day – at my hives I probably see 10 bee carcases
Also there is the additional human immune system benefit when you get the odd sting from a suicidal bee

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  John Bruce
April 14, 2021 5:42 am

I know very little about bees and found this thread fascinating. What do they do with the carcasses?

Reply to  Trying to Play Nice
April 14, 2021 7:53 am

The hive “custodians” grab and fly various trash (including bee-excrement & dead bodies) out of the hive & dump it sufficiently far away. I remember my beehive was very active during a mild winter day and was told they were doing housekeeping (there were obviously no flowers in the winter).

Last edited 1 year ago by beng135
Reply to  beng135
April 14, 2021 5:49 pm

Worker bees spend the early portion of their lives performing chores in the hive, and the later portion of their lives as field bees, collecting pollen and nectar. Most of them end up dying away from the hive.

Coach Springer
April 14, 2021 6:49 am

we don’t do more harm than good, for the best of intentions.” I question those intentions too. The motivations have far more to do with issues of personal importance(ego) than anything to do with bees – or climate – or COVID.

April 14, 2021 7:19 am

Long-term inbreeding of European honeybees can’t be good, just like certain dog-breeds. I do notice here in rural US mid-Appalachians that the most prolific pollinators are carpenter bees, bumblebees, mason bees, leaf-cutter bees and the tiny sweat-bees. Honeybees are relatively scarce except in the fall when they work the goldenrods and asters.

Michael S. Kelly
April 15, 2021 4:51 am

Male drone bees live several months during warm weather, but die after mating with a queen, because their reproductive organs are ripped from their bodies in the process!”

So we have more in common with bees than we thought. Who knew?

josh scandlen
April 26, 2021 7:54 am

I notice the bees aren’t wearing masks either. Not cool, bees, not cool.

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