A public debate this week saw five scientists putting their case for saving one endangered species. Alison Benjamin on why the audience were right to save the bees
Bees were last night declared the most invaluable species on the planet at the annual Earthwatch debate. The audience heard from five eminent scientists who battled it out for fungi, bats, plankton, primates and bees.
While of course all species are invaluable for our ecosystem, the debate is designed to raise awareness about conservation by asking the audience to vote for just one of the species to receive a fictitious cheque for one trillion pounds to be spent on their conservation.
It comes us no surprise that the audience voted to save the bees. Who would want a world without honey, flowers, and third of everything we eat including chocolate and coffee? Not me.
Some 250,000 species of flowering plants depend on bees for pollination. Many of these are crucial to world agriculture. Bees increase the yields of around 90 crops, such as apples, blueberries and cucumbers by up to 30%, so many fruits and vegetables would become scarce and prohibitively expensive.
In addition, many of our medicines, both conventional and alternative remedies, come from flowering plants. And cotton is another essential product pollinated by the bee, so we could say goodbye to cheap T-shirts and jeans.
But it’s not just the human race that would suffer. Spare a thought for the poor birds and small mammals that feed off the berries and seeds that rely on bee pollination. They would die of hunger and in turn their predators – the omnivores or carnivores that continue the food chain would also starve. We could survive on wind-pollinated grains and fish, but there would be wars for control of dwindling food supplies. South America’s ancient Mayan civilization is thought to have died of starvation.
Although other insects and animals do pollinate – such as bats, butterflies and even wasps – none is designed like the bee as a pollinator machine. There are 20,000 bee species around the world including solitary bees, bumblebees and honeybees. Many are monoletic – pollinate one plant – others like bumblebees and honeybees are polylectic. While bumblebees live in colonies of a few hundred, the sheer number of honeybees in a hive – up to 50,000 in the summer – and their ability to be managed, manipulated and transported by man makes them the most valuable pollinator.
Unfortunately all bees are already under serious Industrialised farming with its monocultures and pesticides has destroyed biodiversity and robbed the majority of bees of their habitat and food. While across the globe, the western honeybee – bred for its gentle nature and prolific honey making and pollination – is plagued by parasites and viruses, and also jeopardised by modern agricultural practices. More than a third of honeybees were wiped out in the US this year by Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease which is thought to be a combination of these assailants.
As Dr George McGavin, who was batting for the bees said: “Bee populations are in freefall. A world without bees would be totally catastrophic.”
The Earthwatch audience should be applauded for heading his call and voting to save them, and itself as well.
Did you know that if the bees disappeared, it would leave us with minimal food sources at skyrocketing prices? Bee statistics reveal that these creatures may be small, but they’re some of the most essential little workers in the world.
Before we begin, here are the top 10 statistics on the subject that you absolutely must know!
Top 10 Most Crucial Bee Statistics and Facts to Know
What bees do is the first step of a long process that results in food on our tables. Unfortunately, the data over the last couple of years is more than disturbing. Keep scrolling and see it for yourself!
General Bee Population Statistics and Facts
Many people don’t think about the little buzzers in their backyards. They simply don’t realize their tremendous importance not only in the farming industry but in nature in general.
The statistics below will help you dive into the true meaning of “working like a bee.”
1. On May 20th, 2018, the world celebrated the first World Bee Day.
Slovenia proposed May 20th be official World Bee Day in light of what is happening to the bees. It’s celebrated to draw attention to the importance of bees and other pollinators.
The day focuses on promoting actions by individuals, society, organizations, and governments for improving the diversity and abundance of their habitats—all while showing support for beekeeping.
The date chosen was the birthday of Anton Jansa, a modern apiculture pioneer from Slovenia.
2. There’s been a 2.96 million decline in honey bee colonies over the years in the US.
The bee population decline in the US has been happening for a long time. In the 1940s, close to 5.7 million honey bee colonies were managed in the country. However, by 2015, that number had dropped to just 2.74 million.
In 1987 and 2006, when Varroa destructor (a parasitic mite that feeds on honey bees) was introduced, there were sharp colony declines. We observed the first reports of colony collapse disorder.
3. US beekeepers lost an average of 40% of their honey bee colonies in 2018.
A survey of about 4,700 beekeepers managing some 320,000 hives reveals that this is the highest reported hive loss during the winter.
Moreover, honey bee population data from 2019 reveals one more fact. While the winter loss was very high, the total annual loss was only slightly higher than the average.
4. Utah beekeepers lost 49.1% of their colonies over the winter of 2019.
Utah beekeepers may not have the most many bee colonies, but they have undoubtedly suffered the most significant loss. New Hampshire beekeepers also lost almost half of their colonies—47.7%.Highest bee colony loss in winter 2019PercentageUtahNew HampshireMassachusettsMexicoIowa44454647484950
The data on honey bee population in 2019 also shows Massachusetts and Mexico beekeepers lost 47% of colonies, while Iowa lost 44.5% of colonies.
2019/2020 proved to be one of the harshest winters over the past few years, with some of the highest losses.
5. The EU is the second-biggest producer of honey globally.
Bee statistics from 2019 revealed that the European Union produces approximately 230,000 tons of honey yearly from 17.5 million beehives managed by 650,000 beekeepers.
Meanwhile, China is the leading producer of honey worldwide.
In fact, the European Union isn’t 100% self-sufficient in its honey (60%). China is the leading importer covering 40% of all the EU’s honey imports, while Ukraine covers 20%.
6. There are 81 million western honey bee hives globally.
Bee decline facts reveal the western honeybee is the most commonly managed pollinator globally. It provides approximately 1.6 million tons of honey yearly.
Other managed bee species are bumblebees, the eastern honey bee, stingless bees, and some solitary bees.
Still, most pollinators are wild and include more than just bees. Besides about 20,000 species of bees, other pollinators include some species of vertebrates, bats, birds, beetles, wasps, moths, butterflies, and flies.
7. You can help through a save the bees charity.
This doesn’t mean donating. Different charities offer crucial information, sources, and a means to join other concerned people.
Other ways you can help include finding your local beekeeping society and volunteering.
You can also build bee habitats or raise money for charities to help conduct research and spread the word. Other options include starting a garden and planting the flowers.
Or, supporting your local agriculture by shopping at farmer’s markets for produce are other options.
8. Canada’s honey production in 2018 was 15.4% higher than in 2019.
Honey bee statistics show that in 2019, Canada’s bees produced 80.4 million pounds of honey. This was a dramatic drop from the year prior.
This is primarily due to a wet and cold spring and summer that affected the prairies where most bees are located.
Worse, this was the lowest honey production for Canada in seven years. Alberta’s largest honey-producing province saw a drop to 25.1 million pounds, a dramatic 35% decrease to the lowest it’s been since 2000.
Other provinces with reduced production are Manitoba (a drop of 1.9%) and Saskatchewan (a decline of 1.4%).
9. Honey bee population concerns started in the winter of 2006–2007.
Beekeepers started reporting significant losses in hives beginning in 2006. These losses were anywhere between 30% and 90%.
Additional reports reveal that as much as 50% of the affected colonies and hives showed sudden disappearance symptoms (later established as death) of the worker bee populations.
This occurred away from the colony, leaving the young and the queen behind, still with strong pollen and honey reserves. The symptoms at the time were inconsistent with any of the commonly known causes of bee decline.
US Bee Population Statistics
It’s unfortunate, but the US has done a lot to harm their bees over the years. Urbanization, the excessive use of pesticides, and simply overlooking their importance all impact these little buggers’ health.
Fortunately, people have realized their mistakes and are taking measures to find and implement solutions. Whether you are allergic to bee stings or honey, these are some serious numbers that should concern you.
10. In the case of bee population decline, statistics reveal that in 2019 colony collapse disorder symptoms were down 26% for operations covering at least five colonies.
The number of honeybee colonies lost to colony collapse disorder was 59,900 from January to March 2019. According to the bee population data set, this is a 26% decrease from the same quarter of 2018.
By January 1st, 2019, operations with five or more colonies counted 2.67 million colonies total in the US. This is 1% more than the same period in 2018 when bee colonies were 2.64 million.
11. Varroa mites were the biggest problem in operations managing five or more colonies in 2018.
The USDA’s bee population chart shows this was the case throughout 2018, with April through June seeing the most significant portion of colonies affected by varroa mites (56.4%).
Varroa mites affected 45.6% of these colonies from January through March 2019.
These mites still pose the greatest risk for bee colonies, causing significant damage and high death rates throughout the year.
12. The bee population in the US decreased by 30.7% between October 2017 and April 2018.
This is an increase of 9.5 percentage points from the previous year, according to an annual survey of nearly 5,000 beekeepers.
Aside from producing honey, the current bee population is crucial to supporting our food supply by pollinating crops, fruits, and grains.
The most recent major round of bee losses happened in 2006. This was a repeat of the first significant drop-off in population in 1987, the year the varroa mite appeared in the country.
13. Nevada lost the highest portion of its colonies in 2018–2019.
Nearly all states experience dramatic bee losses yearly. But, Nevada is the leader. According to the data on bee population from 2020, the state lost 65.5% of its colonies during the winter of 2019.Highest bee colony loss in 2018/2019PercentageNevadaIowaIllinoisDelawareLouisiana020406080
The remaining top five states in bee losses were Louisiana with a 32.8% loss, Iowa with a 61.8% loss, Illinois with a 54.6% loss, and Delaware with a 46.8% loss.
The states that experienced the lowest portion of losses were Indiana and South Carolina, with an 11.8% loss, and Nebraska, with a 13.6% loss.
14. The bee population graph shows a 20.5% loss for the summer of 2018, up from the previous year.
The summer bee colony loss in 2017 was 17.1%. Although 2018 is slightly higher, it isn’t above average. The 20.5% summer bee colony loss has been a standard average in reports since 2010, when the first records of summer losses started being recorded.
15. North Dakota has the highest honey production with over 38 million pounds.
Bee statistics from 2020 also show that Montana, too, is one of the leading honey-producing states. Its honey production has more than doubled over the last 40 years. The state produces over 14,000 pounds of honey a year.
Right behind are California with over 13,000 and South Dakota with close to 12,000. Florida follows with just a little over 11,500 pounds of honey a year.
16. The honey bee population decline has led to 2.6 million colonies being brought cross-country to pollinate US crops.
During peak flowering season, 18-wheelers transport millions of colonies to aid farmers with crop pollination. About 60% of all managed colonies start a long cross-country trip in February.
They begin in California for almond production, then go to Florida for the citrus crops. After that, the bumblebee population travels to the Southeast to aid in cherry, blueberry, and other specialty vegetable and fruit pollination.
Apple pollination starts in the Northeast in June, and in late June or early July, they go to Maine to help with lowbush blueberries. They return to a set location to take a break for several months before it all starts again.
17. Historical honey bee population data reveals that the bee decline has been happening for decades in the US.
Bee decline isn’t something new. In the 1940s, there were about 5.7 million managed bee colonies in the US, which dropped dramatically to 2.74 million in 2015. The sharp declines took place after introducing the varroa destructor mite in 1987.
It was then reintroduced in 2006 when colony collapse disorder was first reported. Although there’s been some stabilization recently, it was made possible because of the beekeeping industry’s dramatically increased efforts.
World Bee Population Statistics
The world did little to manage the population decline until recently. Perhaps it seemed like a fluke at first. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and the numbers continued to drop over the years.
It wasn’t until recent years that actual changes were made to help at least stabilize their numbers. Here are the most important statistics about the current global bee situation.
18. The global bee population is currently between 80 million and 100 million managed beehives.
Although this seems impressive—with each of the hives having between 10,000 and 60,000 bees in them, the numbers drop dramatically. Over the last decade, the United Kingdom alone saw a significant disappearance of its bee population.
Each crop has different pollination requirements from bees. They range from needing minimal contribution to providing most of the pollination process.
Regardless, wild pollinators have proven to be twice as effective as managed honey bees in producing fruit and seeds for crops.
20. While the honey bee population statistics are frightening, in fact, 9.2% of all bee species in Europe are near extinction.
Not only that, but 5% of Europe’s bee species are near threatened. Findings reveal that 150 bee species’ populations are declining (7.7%), 244 are stable (12.6%), and 13 are increasing (0.7%).
However, the population trend for 79% of bee species (1,535) is unknown.
These numbers reveal that more research on the bee population and its decline is urgent.
21. Covid-19 pandemic has brought on a dramatic decrease in the bee population in New Zealand.
Statistics report millions of bees have starved to death in New Zealand alone. Officials estimate about 2.5 million bees have died because beekeepers were in lockdown and unable to feed them.
22. Bee decline statistics reveal that 71 of the 100 crop species that make up most of the global food supply depend on bee pollination.
Crop pollination is crucial for crop survival and, thus, feeding the world population.
The value of the US food crops that depend on pollination by bees alone is estimated at $16 billion. Combining this with general insect pollinators, the number jumps to $29 billion.
23. It’s difficult to use bee-breeding programs to estimate accurate and on-point bee statistics for 2021.
Commercial enterprises run most bee-breeding programs. Their numbers are constantly changing because as some companies shut down, others are just becoming established.
There are around 100 commercial enterprises breeding bees worldwide. A few of them have been around for over 20 years. They have focused on breeding honey bees that are tolerant to the virus transmitted by Varroa destructor.
These enterprises are primarily in the United States and Europe.
24. Honey production in Queensland, Australia, has declined by 90% during the 2019/2020 bushfire season.
The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIS) estimates that about 300,000 hectares of forest used by beekeepers were affected by fires during the 2019/2020 bushfire season.
Additionally, the prolonged drought season also had a severe impact on bees and the industry.
25. Wild bumblebee populations are disappearing at a rate that seems to be following the domestic honey bee decline, statistics reveal.
A study by Mark Brown of Royal Holloway University in London stated that one in five wild bees had the deformed wing virus associated with the parasitic varroa mite. 88% of the honey bees covering 26 field sites confirmed this finding.
Although managed honey bees are responsible for the global honey industry, wild bees are crucial for plant pollination worldwide.
26. Alongside the decline, some bee species in the UK have, in fact, become entirely extinct.
Grim data on bee population decline in 2020 shows many causes are responsible for these dramatic losses.
27. ApisProtect can monitor bee population data and health through high-end technology.
ApisProtect has designed technology that tracks the problems bees are experiencing and ensures their overall health.
This type of monitoring will ensure beekeepers are proactive about bee protection and their overall hive health. All while finding the sources and causes of the issues they become aware of.
It’s expected that the use of this new technology will double soon, meaning that over 20 million honey bees will be monitored worldwide.
28. The bee population recovering is crucial for spreading a crop-saving organism to sunflower crops.
Sunflower crops suffer from a fungus called sclerotia. Researchers found an alternative solution in a fungicide that suppresses it by 40%.
With honeybees and bumblebees’ help to spread the fungicide Clonostachys Rosea CR-7 over multiple crops, researchers see positive results in reducing the fungicide spores on the plants the bees travel to.
Once absorbed, CR-7 also blocks botrytis in strawberries, the most common disease impacting California’s fruit.
29. Canada has recently launched a $10 million project to fight the bee population decline effects.
A new genomics project at York University in UBC suspects that solutions to the dramatic bee decline in Canada could be hiding in the bees’ DNA.
Funded by several genomics and conservation organizations, the project researching bee DNA started in October 2019 and will be completed by 2023.
Beekeepers will be able to send live bees to diagnostic centers where DNA can be gathered from them and analyzed for clues.
30. Pulling products containing pesticides from the market is one of the solutions against bee population decline.
(The Washington Post)
The Environmental Protection Agency has released the most important positive news for bees. Instead of just wondering how to help the bee population, they’re removing 12 products that contain pesticides from the market.
The products they’re pulling off the shelves are those with compounds falling into a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids. These chemicals harm bees and are proven to be part of the global problem with massive bee loss.
31. Neonicotinoids can only be used in closed greenhouses in the EU.
One of the principal reasons for the decline of the bee population is neonicotinoids and their effects on bees.
In 2013, the EU banned its use on any flowering crops that could attract bees. But in the latest win for bees, the EU has banned the use of neonicotinoids entirely.
They can now be used only in greenhouses that are closed. The widespread use of various pesticides is one of the biggest culprits in the dramatic decline of wild and managed bees.
32. By 2025, 20% of farmland in Bavaria will be bee-friendly to help increase their population.
Germans have the answer on how to increase the bee population.
A petition signed by 7.5 million Bavarians is being passed as the latest bee-saving law. In Bavaria, Germany, the governor announced a new law guaranteeing that 20% of all farmland will be bee-friendly within six years.
By 2030, this portion will increase to 30%. Farmers will get financial support to make the necessary changes to reverse flora and fauna decline.
33. The decline in bee population inspired Low Carbon to install 25 beehives on five of its solar farms.
Low Carbon partnered with Plan Bee to do their part in helping the bees by getting beehives onto their solar farms.
Each of their sites contains over 300,000 managed bees. They provide homes for about 2 million bees total—and will be carefully taken care of and pampered by their tenant beekeepers.
Everything from hive weight, temperature, humidity, and outside weather will be monitored to ensure their bees are healthy and thriving.
34. Although we won’t see the bee population rising just yet, it’s essential to acknowledge the most active bee-friendly country.
Slovenia is not only home to World Bee Day, but it’s also a leader in the overall love for bees. The country has over 10,000 beekeepers for its relatively small population of just over 2 million.
This means that there are five beekeepers for every 1,000 people. Slovenia’s attitude, history, and love are all tied to beekeeping. In its bee-friendly capital, residents may plant only nectar-producing plants.
35. What is the current state of the bee population?
It’s difficult to determine the exact number of bees in the world. Mainly because their numbers are constantly fluctuating—especially with wild bees. With that in mind, the FDA estimates there are at the very least 2 trillion managed bees.
Of course, these are only the beehives reported to the United Nations, so this figure may be quite different in reality.
The fertilizers and pesticides used on crops, and even in your backyard, may kill other harmful pests, but they’re also killing bees.
37. How do you save a dying bee?
If you find a tired, dying bee, mix water and sugar in a tablespoon to give it an energy boost. However, don’t leave sugar water outside of your home, hoping to save the bees as this has a long-term adverse effect on the bee colony.
For the bee population decline effects to take a positive turn, do your part by planting nectar-rich plants to help your local bees.
38. How long would humans survive without bees?
Technically, humans can survive without bees—there are other ways to pollinate crops aside from bees. Some crops even pollinate by the wind. Still, the effects of bee decline will lead to the diversity of food options being reduced.
This will lead to the prices of food skyrocketing as pollination will have to be done manually or through advanced technologies.
39. What foods would be gone without bees?
One of the most prominent bee decline effects would be the inevitable loss of honey. Other losses will include beans and nuts. Or at least they’ll be challenging to grow without them. It will reduce our choice of vegetables and fruits to half.
Other animals will suffer too. Many small mammals and birds could disappear. The meat will be scarce because most of the animals we eat highly depend on the plants that bees pollinate.
40. Will humans die without bees?
Yes. If all the bees died, we’d die, too. Bees are responsible for most of the food we eat. They pollinate most of the crops we eat, so we’d have almost no food without them.
This would inevitably lead to higher fruit and vegetable prices and, ultimately, the human species’ utter demise.
41. Do bees starve if we take their honey?
Essentially — yes. Bees feed on honey. It provides them with nourishment.
This is why beekeepers feed their bees sugary syrups and subpar nutrients after taking their honey. The combination servers as a honey substitute and keeps the bees nourished and alive.
42. What chemicals kill honey bees?
Pesticides are the primary cause of the honey bee population decline. They’re added either to the seeds, entire plants, or the soil of plants that bees pollinate. Although effective in killing insects harmful to the crops, they are also deadly to bees.
Research has proven that pesticides are the leading cause of colony collapse disorder.
43. How can I help the bees?
There are many ways you can help the bee population increase. Most of them you may already be doing—they just require minor tweaking. Other ways require a bit more effort. Here are the most popular ones:
Sign one of the many petitions supporting the bees
As you can see, the bees need our help! It’s time each and every one of us does whatever we can to improve their numbers. The more they suffer, the more we will in the future.
Don’t let the current bee statistics determine their (and our) future. Share these sad statistics and inform as many people as possible to help end the current pattern of bee deaths and build a better future for them and us.
Boriana is a lifelong pet lover with many years of experience working with a variety of domestic and exotic animals. Petpedia became her outlet to share her love for animals and what she has learned over the years. When she’s not writing she’s diving to new depths to explore marine life, playing fetch with her buds Zara and Roxy, or volunteering at pounds, rescue centers, and sanctuaries. Boriana is always ready to share her knowledge and experience, and will gladly lend a helping hand to any pet owner or animal in need.