Policy Update

First in Science: Honey Bees Suffer Record Winter Losses



NCEL Point of Contact

Ruth Musgrave
Conservation Senior Advisor

Study Finds Highest Winter Losses of Honey Bees on Record

For the past 13 years, the University of Maryland-led nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership has released a nationwide survey of the status of honey bee colonies in the United States. This year’s findings continued the negative trend for honey bees.

The Study: From April 2018 to April 2019, Bee Informed Partnership asked commercial and backyard beekeeping operations to track the survival rates of their honey bee colonies. Almost 4,700 beekeepers managing 319,787 colonies from across the country participated in this year’s survey.

The Findings: 

  • From April 2018 to April 2019, there was an annual loss of 40.7% of honey bee colonies in the United States (higher than annual average of 38.7%).
  • The winter losses of 37.7% were the highest winter loss reported since the survey began (8.9 percentage points higher than the survey average).
  • The main contributor to winter colony losses is varroa mites, lethal parasites that can spread from colony to colony. 
  • In addition, overall colony losses are caused by land-use changes, pesticide exposures, environmental factors, and beekeeping practices.

Pollinators are responsible for one of every three bites of food we eat. Honey bees alone pollinate $15 billion worth of food crops in the United States each year. There continued declines have serious implications for agriculture and food production. Learn more about how to protect bee populations through NCEL’s Pollinator webpage