It seems nowhere is safe for bees these days. The superstar insects, which are critical natural pollinators of many of the world's crops, have experienced devastating population decline across the U.S. and Europe in recent years. One of the biggest threats has been a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which worker bees or honeybees mysteriously disappear from their hives. But now, a new threat faces bees in California and other parts of the country: almonds.
As NPR reports, up to 80,000 colonies have suffered losses on almond farms throughout California's San Joaquin Valley this year. "This is not normal," Eric Muston, a beekeeping researcher at UC Davis, told NPR. "We haven't been seeing this for years and years and years. We used to see a touch of it here and there, but it's becoming more frequent."
That's because many farmers have resorted to a new form of pesticide and insecticide use known as "tank mixing," where they combine different treatments to crops at the same time. "Growers don't want to go through the fields time after time after time putting on different pesticide materials," Muston explained, "so they basically tank mix them all together and put them on."
California isn't the only place where bees' numbers have been dropping; commercial beekeepers in Texas and Michigan are also hurting. According to Michigan Live, the reason for decline across the country isn't simply tank mixing, though:
The chemical that hurt the bees is not a new one... but this year's circumstances are a little different than usual. Some almond growers, bent on maximizing pollination of a crop hard hit by a prolonged drought in California, urged beekeepers to stay longer than usual, and those bees were vulnerable to chemicals sprayed in nearby crops that were farther along in the season.
Researchers and beekeeping advocates say there are plenty of things to be done about the population decline, but boosting bees' numbers will require some changes. Beekeeping groups recently petitioned the EPA for more thorough labeling on pesticides as well as restrictions on when such pesticides are sprayed, which the agency says it will consider. "Communication and balance needs to improve," Mike Hansen, a Michigan apiary inspector, told Michigan Live. "It's not a game show where you get to guess. [Beekeepers and growers] need to be careful about what decisions they make. "