I consider myself both a good entomologist and an ever-evolving backyard beekeeper. So imagine my horror last fall when I lifted the covers off of my hives that previously had almost 30,000 bees (each) two weeks prior, and I suddenly saw only five bees in one and four in the other! Where did they all go? No queen was present in either. What had happened? When in the past two weeks had it occurred? These were the best hives I’d ever had in my 10 years of beekeeping, and they had produced the most honey. Had I finally experienced what has been called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)?
I have an unusual perspective on this topic, as I have two feet in this story: one in beekeeping, and, of course, one in structural pest management. I try to keep up with all angles of the bee story, especially as it relates to pest management. And, I was thrilled to have been recently invited by NPMA to represent the structural pest management industry (with others from my state) at the recent (Jan. 20) MP3 (the acronym stands for Managed Pollinator Protection Plan) Bee Summit held by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA).
The Popularity of Pollinators
Have you noticed that “pollinators” has been the buzzword in the news media for the last 5+ years? It’s time you did notice, if you haven’t already. The term “colony collapse disorder” (where bees suddenly leave a hive unexplained and never return) emerged about 5 to 10 years ago. It is now obsolete (I learned this at the summit) and new words are emerging to cover the vast reasons bees may disappear from hives.
Whatever it’s called, it is a complex of issues causing these sudden declines in numbers of bees — both honey bees and native bees — and other pollinators, too; many things have been blamed: from parasites (Varroa destructor primarily), a mite that carries more than 31 viruses that can infect bees with diseases; to invasive pests such as the small hive beetle; to diesel fumes from 18 wheelers that transport commercial bees for pollination across the country (mostly to almond fields in California in the spring); to poor commercial or backyard beekeeping practices; to poor nutrition and diet for the bees due to loss of habitat; to global warming; to monocultures and GMO crops; to genetics and inbreeding of queen bees; and, of course, the one that piques our interest as pest managers: pesticides. (Until recently, “pesticides” meant primarily neonicitinoids on the agricultural side; but the structural pesticide market is often lumped in with the agricultural market by the public and the media. Of course, our industry’s neonicitinoids are formulated differently [in gel baits and liquids mostly] and are not the broadcast or seed coat-type applications.)
Of course, homeowners can purchase over-the-counter (OTC) products in big box stores and then apply at will. That market does not undergo the scrutiny we face in our market, and most homeowners do not read labels religiously. Interestingly, in 2015, most of the big box stores began pulling neonicitinoid products from their shelves. Their actions appear not to have been based on science, but instead on the mounting public pressure about bees and pollinators.
The president has mandated that every federal agency work together to come up with an initiative to protect all pollinators; honey bees are just the poster child. Also, interagency task forces have been formed and have been working on these issues. At the MP3 summit I learned EPA, in conjunction with state regulatory officials, is pursuing a strategy in which each state would be responsible for developing, maintaining and administering their own managed pollinator protection plans (MP3s). SFIREG (State FIFRA Issues Research and Evaluation Group) and AAPCO (Association of American Pesticide Control Officials) are taking the lead in creating a model pollinator protection plan that states could then adopt and use as their own.
Every state is to have an MP3 approach. But, it is up to each individual state to draft their own individual MP3. They are all due this spring. Maryland’s MDA stakeholders participated in the drafting of their plan at the summit, and once written as a first draft, it will be open for public comment, hopefully in April 2016. (I encourage each of you to read your own state’s MP3 and comment as appropriate when that draft comes out. At this point, these state plans and recommendations coming out of them are entirely voluntary. But even state regulators suggested at the summit to use judiciousness in what we recommended for draft as we very well may later see it evolve into regulated policy. A broader approach is therefore preferred to a specific one to include all stakeholders.)
At our Maryland MP3 bee summit, I sat at a table with a diversity of stakeholder members. They came from representatives of the Right of Way/DOT/utilities, EPA, the landscaping associations, PMPs/NPMA and MDPMA and manufacturers, DNR and conservation groups like The Xerces society, local golf course managers, local and national beekeepers’ associations, a local HOA, local school systems, University of Maryland extension agents and entomology graduate students, and the Farm Bureau. Talk about a variety of opinions on the subject! And what a cross-section of stakeholders! But, it was an excellent first meeting and it was interesting to hear how the subject impacts each stakeholder differently. Communication and education took place, and I hope I was able to communicate the need we have in our industry to be able to take care of stinging pest public health emergencies, while also being judicious and following Best Management Practices (BMPs) to protect pollinators around structures.
And, the rest of the story with my beehives? Well, I learned that Varroa destructor (that nasty mite that carries the 31 different disease-causing viruses) population levels in my hives took off with the warm fall weather we experienced. (The mites suck blood [hemolymph] of adult bees and develop in the drone [male] brood cells.) At the MP3 summit, I learned I should have treated my hives with a miticide, when I saw an action threshold of three mites present per 100 bees. I was waiting for a higher threshold (traditionally, it has been 12 per 100), and I did not treat. The bees weakened and the hives were robbed by neighboring bees. My hives’ members either absconded or died. Sadly, those neighboring robber bees no doubt carried my bees’ mites to their hives.
I ordered new bees to start up again this spring, and I will be monitoring for mites regularly, when they start taking off in June. If I have three or more mites per 100 bees this summer, you can bet I will be treating with a miticide.
Dr. Kathy Heinsohn, B.C.E., is a technical and training entomologist for American Pest, Fulton, Md. Prior to that position, she was staff entomologist with NPMA and a regional entomologist with Western Pest Services. In all her positions, she has been responsible for developing and delivering training and technical programs for PMPs and their customers. She is currently a member of the Copesan Technical Committee and NPMA’s Technical Committee.
Copesan is an alliance of pest management companies with locations throughout North America. To learn more, visit www.copesan.com.