Colony Loss 2014 – 2015: Preliminary Results

Nathalie Steinhauer1, Karen Rennich1, Kathleen Lee2, Jeffery Pettis3, David R. Tarpy4, Juliana Rangel5, Dewey Caron6, Ramesh Sagili6, John A. Skinner7, Michael E. Wilson7, James T. Wilkes8, Keith S. Delaplane9, Robyn Rose10, Dennis vanEngelsdorp1

1 Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742
2 Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108
3 United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, MD
4 Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC 27695
5 Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843
6 Department of Horticulture, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331
7 Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996
8 Department of Computer Science, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608
9 Department of Entomology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602
10 United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Riverdale, MD
Corresponding Author: dvane@umd.edu

Note: This is a preliminary analysis. Sample sizes and estimates are likely to change. A more detailed final report is being prepared for publication in a peer-reviewed journal at a later date.

The Bee Informed Partnership (http://beeinformed.org), in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is releasing preliminary results for the ninth annual national survey of honey bee colony losses. For the 2014/2015 winter season, a preliminary 6,128 beekeepers in the United States provided valid responses. Collectively, these beekeepers managed 398,247 colonies in October 2014, representing about 14.5% of the country’s estimated 2.74 million managed honey bee colonies1.

About two-thirds of the respondents (67.2%) experienced winter colony loss rates greater than the average self-reported acceptable winter mortality rate of 18.7%. Preliminary results estimate that a total of 23.1% of the colonies managed in the Unites States were lost over the 2014/2015 winter. This would represent a decrease in losses of 0.6% compared to the previous 2013/2014 winter, which had reported a total loss estimated at 23.7%. This is the second year in a row the reported colony loss rate was notably lower than the 9-year average total loss of 28.7% (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Summary of the total colony losses overwinter (October 1 – April 1) and over the year (April 1 – April 1) of managed honey bee colonies in the United States. The acceptable range is the average percentage of acceptable colony losses declared by the survey participants in each of the nine years of the survey. Winter and Annual losses are calculated based on different respondent pools.
Figure 1: Summary of the total colony losses overwinter (October 1 – April 1) and over the year (April 1 – April 1) of managed honey bee colonies in the United States. The acceptable range is the average percentage of acceptable colony losses declared by the survey participants in each of the nine years of the survey. Winter and Annual losses are calculated based on different respondent pools.

Beekeepers do not only lose colonies in the winter but also throughout the summer, sometimes at significant levels. To quantify this claim of non-winter colony mortality of surveyed beekeepers, we have included summer and annual colony losses since 2010/2011. In the summer of 2014 (April – October), colony losses surpassed winter losses at 27.4% (totalsummer loss). This compares to summer losses of 19.8% in 2013. Importantly, commercial beekeepers appear to consistently lose greater numbers of colonies over the summer months than over the winter months, whereas the opposite seems true for smaller-scale beekeepers. Responding beekeepers reported losing 42.1% of the total number of colonies managed over the last year (total annual loss, between April 2014 and April 2015). This represents the second highest annual loss recorded to date.

As in previous years, colony losses were not consistent across the country, with annual losses exceeding 60% in several states, while Hawaii reported the lowest total annual colony loss of ~14% (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Total annual loss (%) 2014-2015 by state. Respondents who managed colonies in more than one state had all of their colonies counted in each state in which they reported managing colonies. Data for states with fewer than five respondents are withheld.
Figure 2: Total annual loss (%) 2014-2015 by state. Respondents who managed colonies in more than one state had all of their colonies counted in each state in which they reported managing colonies. Data for states with fewer than five respondents are withheld.

This survey was conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, which receives a majority of its funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA (award number: 2011-67007-20017).

1 Based on NASS 2015 figures
2 Previous survey results found a total colony loss in the winters of 24% in the winter of 2013/2014, 30% in 2012/2013, 22% in 2011/2012, 30% in 2010/2011, 32% in 2009/2010, 29% in 2008/2009, 36% in 2007/2008, and 32% in 2006/2007 (see reference list).

  • Lee, KV; Steinhauer, N; Rennich, K; Wilson, ME; Tarpy, DR; Caron, DM; Rose, R; Delaplane, KS; Baylis, K; Lengerich, EJ; Pettis, J; Skinner, JA; Wilkes, JT; Sagili, R; vanEngelsdorp, D; for the Bee Informed Partnership (2015) A national survey of managed honey bee 2013–2014 annual colony losses in the USA. Apidologie, 1–14. DOI:10.1007/s13592-015-0356-z
  • Steinhauer, NA; Rennich, K; Wilson, ME; Caron, DM; Lengerich, EJ; Pettis, JS; Rose, R; Skinner, JA; Tarpy, DR; Wilkes, JT; vanEngelsdorp, D (2014) A national survey of managed honey bee 2012-2013 annual colony losses in the USA: results from the Bee Informed Partnership. Journal of Apicultural Research, 53(1): 1–18. DOI:10.3896/IBRA.1.53.1.01
  • Spleen, AM; Lengerich, EJ; Rennich, K; Caron, D; Rose, R; Pettis, JS; Henson, M; Wilkes, JT; Wilson, M; Stitzinger, J; Lee, K; Andree, M; Snyder, R; vanEngelsdorp, D (2013) A national survey of managed honey bee 2011-12 winter colony losses in the United States: results from the Bee Informed Partnership. Journal of Apicultural Research, 52(2): 44–53. DOI:10.3896/IBRA.1.52.2.07
  • vanEngelsdorp, D; Caron, D; Hayes, J; Underwood, R; Henson, M; Rennich, K; Spleen, A; Andree, M; Snyder, R; Lee, K; Roccasecca, K; Wilson, M; Wilkes, J; Lengerich, E; Pettis, J (2012) A national survey of managed honey bee 2010-11 winter colony losses in  the USA: results from the Bee Informed Partnership. Journal of Apicultural Research, 51(1): 115–124. DOI:10.3896/IBRA.1.51.1.14
  • vanEngelsdorp, D; Hayes, J; Underwood, RM; Caron, D; Pettis, J (2011) A survey of managed honey bee colony losses in the USA, fall 2009 to  winter 2010. Journal of Apicultural Research, 50(1): 1–10. DOI:10.3896/IBRA.1.50.1.01
  • vanEngelsdorp, D; Hayes, J; Underwood, RM; Pettis, JS (2010) A survey of honey bee colony losses in the United States, fall 2008 to spring 2009. Journal of Apicultural Research, 49(1): 7–14. DOI:10.3896/IBRA.1.49.1.03
  • vanEngelsdorp, D; Hayes, J; Underwood, RM; Pettis, J (2008) A Survey of Honey Bee Colony Losses in the U.S., Fall 2007 to Spring 2008. PLoS ONE, 3(12). DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0004071
  • vanEngelsdorp, D; Underwood, R; Caron, D; Hayes, J (2007) An estimate of managed colony losses in the winter of 2006-2007: A report commissioned by the apiary inspectors of America. American Bee Journal, 147(7): 599–603.
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111 thoughts on “Colony Loss 2014 – 2015: Preliminary Results

  1. I looked into keeping bees, however in NY State they dont consider it legitimate farming and thus there is no tax break for farm land devoted to bees. Its a shame with all the losses that the State and Cuomo will not offer a farm tax break for beekeeping.

  2. seriously…a tax break. Quit sucking the teet of government and wasting my tax dollars.
    Oh and I am a beekeeper.

  3. NO kidding- wont keep bees unless the government reimburses you for losses? I’m glad you aren’t joining us keepers- we don’t need people like that joining our ranks.

  4. A TAX BREAK is your concern!! Damn Will that is a piss poor way to decide. You don’t need to keep bees. What about the production boost that comes from having bees around? How much land do you think will be taken up by them.

  5. Perhaps that is the problem, I just heard that majority (80%?)of the beekeeper survey in this study is “amateur” bee keepers, not the professional. Every mom and their college kid seems to want to do bee keeping now, with all the media over blowing the situation.

    I wonder if all these huge die-offs are the result of inexperienced bee-keeping, and the mites and diseases from all these neglectful bee-keeper newbies spreading it to all others, when in the old days the mite problem would of been nip-in-the-bud and treated by professionals.

  6. Bees have survived for millions of years without man, so the problem now is neglectful beekeeping? Do pesticides ever come to mind? Maybe Neonicotinoids?

  7. Where do the migratory beekeepers report their losses? Which state gets their numbers, if they’re in 4 states a year?

  8. You are correct that about 80% of the beekeepers who answered our survey are small beekeepers (we call them “backyard beekeepers”, they own 5 hives or less). However, more than 80% of the hives represented in our survey are owned by commercial beekeepers (managing more than 500 colonies). in short, we have less commercial beekeepers but they own far more colonies, which is representative of the general beekeeping population in the US.

    Our calculation of loss is a weighted estimate where beekeepers weight in corresponding to their operation size. Therefore, our total loss estimate is actually somewhat closer to the loss experienced by commercial operations.

    When you split up the losses by operation types (backyard vs commercial, you can look at those numbers in our previous publications, for example:

    Lee, KV; Steinhauer, N; Rennich, K; Wilson, ME; Tarpy, DR; Caron, DM; Rose, R; Delaplane, KS; Baylis, K; Lengerich, EJ; Pettis, J; Skinner, JA; Wilkes, JT; Sagili, R; vanEngelsdorp, D; Partnership, for the BI (2015) A national survey of managed honey bee 2013–2014 annual colony losses in the USA. Apidologie, 1–14. DOI:10.1007/s13592-015-0356-z),

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13592-015-0356-z

    we notice that backyard beekeepers tend to lose more colonies in the winter, while commercial beekeepers tend to lose more colonies in the summer, which was true again this year (those numbers will be made available later in the year in a peer-reviewed publication).

    So we do believe that it is important for small operations to realize the threat that are varroa and diseases, certainly the spread of disease is an issue to be concerned with, but backyard operations do not seem to drive the increase in colony loss.

    Many thanks for your question, and thanks for caring for the bees!

  9. Most the bees we are talking about are raised and bred by man.They are no more and no less than a farm raised pig or cow. They are bred to be non-aggressive, and produce a lot of honey at the expenses of weak immune system. The are highly dependent on human for survival, without human, they would of been out competed by local bees and local pollinators in a few generations.

  10. Do the stats take into consideration the “knock down” in hive population that happens
    in preparation for overwintering/migratory hives used for pollination, as this could really put a different perspective on losses?

    Also, I know of one state last year that had a high ratio of mites than normal, which
    may have been attributed by the prolonged cold wet Spring, also the summer
    nectar flow was cut short which may have caught some people off guard.

    Are there any theories as to why the total annual loss has started to gain momentum
    during the last 5 years?

  11. Native pollinators are also in decline like bumble bees which are not susceptible to Varroa mites; it has nothing to do with neglect!

  12. Native pollinators could very well be in declined because farmed-bees are taking over their habitat.

  13. This graph speaks more to the resilience of beekeepers and their ability to replace losses. It doe NOT show the financial toll on a business forced to replace almost 100% of its assets every 2 or 3 years.

  14. Replace almost 100% of its assets every 2 or 3 years? A queen’s productive life span is 2-3 years. Of course you need to replace it every 2-3 years. Durrr …

  15. From your own report last year… The Winter lost of backyard beekeepers was TWICE as high as commercial operations. 45% vs 23%. despite commercial bees suffer more stress from traveling cross country. How is that not a sign of lack of experience or commitment?

    Quote from your own Y2014 report …”In addition, backyard beekeepers may be less willing to treat their bees for V. destructor, which could result in high winter losses”

  16. You obviously aren’t a beekeeper. Beekeepers will re-queen every year or two, or the colony will do it itself, but the colony will live forever under the right conditions, because they constantly renew the members. Your human analogy is wrong anyway. You would have to think about it as losing 50% of the small towns in an area, rather than individuals. How long do you think the economy would hold up if that happened year after year?
    There’s a huge difference between the cost of replacing a queen every couple of years and replacing a whole colony. Don’t forget, it the colony is gone, you not only have the cost of replacing it, but the lost income for that year as well.

  17. You did read their report from last year right? Which said that commercial beekeeper’s winter and summer losses were both at at 19-20%, which is what the average is, and is everyone was expecting. the backyard bee keepers on the other hand were losing bees at TWICE as high as the pros at 45%.

    Quote from their own Y2014 report …”In addition, backyard beekeepers
    may be less willing to treat their bees for V. Destructor, which could
    result in high winter losses”

    Yes, I am aware of re-queening, and splitting colonies…it’s just normal operating process. There is a reason that honey prices had been pretty damn stable, it is because the commercial operators were doing a good job what they had always been doing. It is all the new backyard bee keepers that are not doing their job of killing the mites.

  18. There is more to this issue than meets the eye and there are more variables than anyone can keep up with.
    So, look at the macro and try not to dissect. Over all beekeepers are increasing but bees and pollinators are decreasing.
    I wonder about other countries where massive chemicals aren’t used.

  19. I live just on the edge of the city limits of Pittsburgh and have yet to see one single honeybee in my yard. I have plenty of clover on my lawn and am concerned that there are no bees at all.

  20. There are plenty of bees, commercial bees though for pollinating crops are at a 20 year high, despite the losses. As for wild bees not sure there are many of them left

  21. The numbers of bees are not decreasing they are currently at a 20 year high for beekeeper kept bees

  22. Are all of the losses accounted for only by responses to BIP surveys? Or are other resources used too? It wasn’t obvious to me.

  23. In NY, if you do beekeeping enough to call it a business you can file a Schedule F, Profit or Loss From Farming. Otherwise, I’m not sure what you mean by “don’t consider it legitimate farming”. Any buildings built for the use of the beekeeping operation qualify for the STAR program which reduces Property Taxes for 10 years.

  24. “Native pollinators could very well be in declined because there are so many farmed-bees” We went from declining bee populations which you don’t believe is happening to having too many managed bee colonies and we are starving out the native bees. This is nonsense?

  25. I would bee interested in seeing data on losses split into two categories. Those that treat and those that don’t treat. Michael Bush states that 60% of the beekeepers don’t treat their hives and their losses are comparable to those that do treat. I can’t seem to find where he has gotten his data from. He does not treat his 200 hives and he does not have a Varoa problem. He has his inspections since 2006 online.

  26. That’s true, George. In fact, I can speak to this personally. I used to be a commercial beekeeper, in partnership with my brother-in-law. It was a second job for me, but one I knew well as I’d done it prior to getting accepted into law school, and it helped pay my way through law school.

    In any event, we pollinated blueberry and raspberry crops. Our colonies were hit HARD in 2000-1 with varroa mites, and in subsequent years the apistan strips & antibiotics we relied on to control AFB/EFB began rapidly losing their effect as the mites & bacteria had developed resistance to it. Through a combination of varroa (and any virus that piggybacked along with them – a separate plague) … we rapidly lost colonies. I’d been beekeeping since 1989, and never seen anything like these losses. from 2000-1 to 2005-6 we lost over 80% of our colonies, despite our best efforts to manage the various pests & bee diseases. Over a 5 year period we went from having just over 500 healthy hives, to 90 hives (and some of those were barely hanging on). We decided to exit the bee business in 2006, selling off our remaining hives and equipment, and taking a huge financial “haircut” in the process.

    Honestly, I don’t know how the beekeepers today can financially make ends meet. The colony losses are so staggeringly high that you can barely keep your nose above the water, even when making “splits” from your strong & relatively healthy hives. It seems like one step forward, two steps backwards in beekeeping nowadays. It does NOT bode well for the future.

  27. As I said, you obviously aren’t a beekeeper. Properly managed colonies can live for 40-50 years. Your math is just stupid, because bees, like humans renew their populations all the time. Only if the death rate is greater than the birth rate does a population decline and disappear.
    I have seen apologists like you all over the internet, but in spite of your ranting, colonies continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Of course, quoting average figures is erroneous, because some segments of the beekeeper population are being hit harder than others, and it’s not only backyard beekeepers that are to blame, either.

  28. Once again, your math is stupid, because 45% losses among backyard beekeepers is only a very small fraction of the total number of hives. Of course, 20% is still higher than the traditional average, plus the added cost of treatment adds to the overhead, so it’s money going out the back door.
    The largest beekeeper in the US runs about 72,000 hives, so a 20% loss would be about 14,400 colonies. Every 1% above or below that is 720 colonies. Apistan treatment for that many colonies would cost over $120,000, plus labour, and right now, mites are fast becoming resistant to the control medications.
    I’m obviously not going to change your mind, but if you aren’t a beekeeper, you should keep your mouth shut.

  29. Hi Pete –
    I think this guy must work for Monsanto or Bayer. In regard to native pollinators, we have to look at the insect population as a whole.
    Before the early 90s, if you drove anywhere, you had to stop and clean your windshield every couple of hours. Now, you can drive all day and still see well. The other night, I let the dog out after dark, and turned to look at my kitchen window. There was not one single night insect attracted to the light. I remember as a kid, if you walked under a streetlight, you kept your mouth shut of you would eat a bug. It’s not only insects. Bird counts show declines in species that depend on insects for a living, as do reptile and amphibian surveys.
    There is something very wrong with the environment that we keep our bees in, and until we can fix this, we are going to continue to have problems.

  30. I am so sorry for your loss, and the tragic part is that your story is only one of thousands that are similar. For me, keeping bees adds far more to my life than just a monetary return, so I hope you can return to it as a hobbyist some day.
    IMHO, it will be the smaller operations that are able to manage their colonies more intensively that will eventually put the industry back on its feet. I believe the key to recovery lies in developing stock that can deal with Varroa, and is resistant to the various viruses and diseases that are fatal to them now. I’m hoping that people such as yourself can return one day, and maybe use your experience to help the recovery.

  31. Michael Bush also doesn’t believe in evolution. His small cell theories have been disproved scientifically by Delaplane and others. Don’t believe everything he says.
    What Michael Bush does works for him, and that’s great, but you had better be monitoring mite levels and have a treatment plan in hand, or it will bite you sooner or later. Read Randy Oliver on scientificbeekeeping .com, and develop an Integrated Pest Management strategy.

  32. Just like other species, Varroa populations vary from year to year. You can go for a number of years without a significant problem, and then they will explode for unknown reasons. It doesn’t pay to get too cocky.

  33. Could I please ask for a clarification? Your writeup speaks of “average self-reported acceptable winter mortality rate of 18.7%,” which is shown by the grey bar on the chart. The chart legend labels it “acceptable level,” which would seem to indicate an acceptable total loss level.
    If in fact the 18.7% is an acceptable Winter loss rate, what would beekeepers expect as a sustainable overall loss rate?

  34. That speaks more to the resilience of beekeepers than it does to the financial aspect of losing 30-45% of colonies each year.

  35. I can see myself returning to beekeeping as a hobbyist, once I retire. I’ve never lost my love for it, and still try to follow industry news & scientific articles, as time permits. Once you get beekeeping in your blood, you never really lose your interest for it.

    I totally agree with your points about the “small” beekeepers keeping the industry alive through this rough patch, and the long-term “cure” for the various ailments & pests being done on a genetic / breeding level. God bless the beekeepers, large & small. They are a vital link in the nations food chain.

  36. The stress the commercial bees have to deal with are not natural. The hives driven to locations, pull off the trucks, at night left to feed on one food source and not having time for the natural life cycle to happen. No wonder they are stressed out. IMO we need to re examine how we grow our food and focus on how we actually are forcing the commercial bees abide by our rules not the rules of nature. One only needs to look at the cattle and poultry industry to see the similar issues that are starting to effect them Salmonella for instance. ITs not natural…it causes stresses. We need to stop making natural living breathing organisms to live in environments that are not natural to them.

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