COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s occasionally warm weather this winter has created confusion for honeybees, adding to a list of problems facing bees as researchers investigate how to help them survive and continue to pollinate crops.
Bees huddle for warmth and rely on whatever honey is stored in their hive when temperatures dip below 40 degrees, The Columbus Dispatch reported. Bees leave their hives when the weather turns warm, as it did in February, but find no food to gather. The return to normal cold temperatures in March left bee colonies in danger of starvation of freezing to death.
“We have winters that are not truly winters,” said Michele Colopy, an Akron beekeeper and program director for the state’s pollinator stewardship council. “The climate change has so confused them.”
Barbara Bloetscher, an apiarist with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said bee colonies in the state have faced weather issues the past three years.
In addition to weather, honeybees are also threatened by Varroa mites, pesticides, herbicides, loss of habitat and non-native flowers.
“Those kinds of factors can really knock out whole species or groups of bees,” said Karen Goodell, an entomologist at Ohio State’s Newark campus.
Ohio farmers rely on bees to pollinate about 70 crops. It’s estimated that bees play a role in the production of one-third of the food grown in the U.S.
An estimated 5,786 beekeepers registered with the state of Ohio in 2016, up from 4,838 the year before. Since January, an additional 169 have joined according to Bloetscher.
“It’s been hard for bees over the last 30 years,” said Reed Johnson, an Ohio State University entomologist. “It’s an entirely human-driven problem, and it’s going to be up to humans to solve it.”