Honeybees Are Recovering in the U.S.

This graph shows the number of honeybee colonies in the U.S. each year.  (click for source)

This graph shows the number of honeybee colonies in the U.S. each year. (click for source)

Have you seen the headlines? “Beekeepers Feel the Sting of Climate Change,” “Climate change crushes bee populations,” and “Bees Are Losing Their Habitat Because of Climate Change.” Yes, the world is running out of bees and “climate change” aka “global warming” is to blame. Of course, the science behind the entire concept of human-induced, catastrophic climate change is shaky at best, so it is hard to understand how anyone can take such headlines seriously. Nevertheless, there are those who think that bees are on their way to extinction, and human-induced climate change is to blame. Of course, like most of the statements made by global warming alarmists, the facts tell us something completely different.

An excellent article published in the journal Science, for example, tells us that the main reason honeybee colonies have struggled recently is because of the spread of a virus called the deformed wing virus. It is carried by a mite called Varroa destructor, which has been infesting Asian honeybee colonies since at least the 1960s. When European honeybees were introduced to Asia, the mite was able to jump to the European species, and as a result, it began spreading around the world.1

Why should we care about bees dying off? Because they are very important pollinators. In order for a flowering plant to produce fruit, pollen from one flower must travel to another flower and fertilize the egg cells found there. While wind can carry pollen, insects are much more efficient at the job. Bees are especially important when it comes to pollination. They are the main pollinators of 130 crop species in the United States and 400 crop species worldwide.2 Bees are so important that a French periodical for beekeepers reported:3

Professor Einstein, the learned scientist, once calculated that if all bees disappeared off the earth, four years later all humans would also have disappeared.

In fact, Einstein made no such calculation, and although a version of that quote is attributed to Einstein, there is no evidence he actually said or wrote anything of the kind. Nevertheless, bees are very important to humanity.

So, of course, if the number of bee colonies was decreasing, there would be great cause for alarm. Fortunately, it is not. Because they are so important to agriculture, the USDA tracks the number of bee colonies in the United States each year. The graph shown at the top of this post illustrates what the USDA has found. While the number of bee colonies in the U.S. decreased steadily from 1989 to 2008, they have recovered since. Their 2014 numbers are roughly equivalent to their 1994 numbers. So while bee colonies haven’t completely recovered from their decline, they are certainly doing better than they have done in the past decade or so.

Like most of the nonsense that global warming alarmists try to promote, the idea that honeybee populations are on the verge of collapsing simply cannot be supported by the scientific data.


1. Ethel M. Villalobos, “The Mite That Jumped, the Bee That Traveled, The Disease That Followed,” Science 351:554-556, 2016.
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2. Bee Pollination in Agricultural Ecosystems, Rosalind James (Ed.), Oxford University press 2008, p. 145
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3. As cited in The Irish Beekeeper, 19-20:74, 1965-66
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  1. John says:

    Also, the regular honey bee isn’t a native pollinator to the US, or the only pollinator.

  2. Tony says:

    With respect Dr Wile, I accept what you say about the lack of reliable data for global warming (I read your article “When it Comes to Temperature, You Might Not Be Able to Trust the Data!”) but does that really matter? Even if the data doesn’t exist to confirm global warming, why WOULDN’T we be causing climate change? 300+ billion tonnes of atmospheric carbon from our use of fossil fuels. Three billion hectares of forest cleared.

    Wouldn’t you agree that the situation is: we have a plausible hypothesis that human activities of fossil fuel mining and burning, and forest clearing, would be contributing, via a greenhouse effect, to global warming and thence to catastrophic climatic events? OK it’s just a hypothesis, it’s not proven, but it is plausible, surely it makes sense and warrants consideration.

    We don’t have time to wait for the sort of data you would accept as confirmation that global warming is happening. If the hypothesis turns out to be true, the world needs to act now to save millions of human lives. What possible objection could anyone have to phasing out fossil fuels asap and replacing them with sustainable energy options? And to preserving what’s left of the planet’s forests, starting now?

    I ask these questions in all sincerity Dr Wile, thanks for taking the time to answer.

    1. jlwile says:

      Thanks for your questions Tony. I appreciate your concern, but I am afraid you aren’t looking at the entire picture. Yes, we are putting lots of carbon dioxide into the air. However, the earth has lots of negative feedback systems that tend to counteract the effects of rising carbon dioxide (see here, here, here, and here, for example). Thus, it is not at all clear that we can cause significant global climate change by putting 300+ billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is the main problem. Yes, the global warming hypothesis is plausible. However, it has not been borne out by the data. As a scientist, I can therefore conclude that the situation is significantly more complex than the simple hypothesis.

      But as you say, why shouldn’t we act anyway? After all, if the doomsayers are right, we have to act now to save the future. Here are the problems with that reasoning:

      1) There are real environmental problems that we know exist and we have some reasonable ideas on how to mitigate. Like all solutions, however, they cost time and money. Should we spend our time and money fixing a problem we don’t even know is real, or should we spend our time and money fixing the problems we know are real? I am for the latter.

      2) By acting now, people will die. It’s that simple. Every “act now” scenario that has been proposed involves replacing inexpensive carbon-dioxide-producing energy with expensive alternatives. This means that by acting now, we drive up energy costs. Energy saves lives. The more it costs, the less people will use it, and the more people will die. We know, for example, that lots of people (especially the poor and elderly) die in the winter due to inadequate heating. The more energy costs, the less the poor and elderly will heat their homes, and as a result, more will die. And what about the people in developing nations? Producing energy in developing nations saves lives. Are we to say that they can’t produce the energy they need because of some unconfirmed hypothesis?

      I am all for trying to reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, I am not for killing people to do so, unless there is solid evidence that more lives will be saved in the long run. Thus, we should continue to investigate the global warming hypothesis, and we should continue to develop alternative energies that are as or more inexpensive as current technologies. We should also spend more research effort in carbon sequestration. However, the time and money spent on these issues should be allocated with the knowledge that there are environmental problems which we know are real, and because we know they are real, the lion’s share of time and money should be devoted to them.

      1. Tony says:

        OK that information about the negative feedback systems is interesting Dr J, but does that mean we can keep on digging up coal and oil to continue pumping carbon into the atmosphere? I believe in God and design too but it doesn’t lead me to the same conclusion. Nor do I accept that taking action now, before we know all there is to know about how the planet deals initially with excess carbon exhumation, has to cause a world electricity shortage with large numbers freezing to death or dying from malnutrition because they aren’t able to cook their meals.
        But thanks for your reply, we can agree to disagree on this one. I’m impressed you are brave enough to be going against the mainstream view – a side of the fence I usually find myself on 🙂

        1. jlwile says:

          You might not believe that acting now will cause deaths, Tony, but that doesn’t make it any less true. We already know that when energy costs rise, people die. Once again, if we can transition from carbon-based fuels without killing people, I am all for it. However, if we are going to have to kill people to make the transition (and right now, that is the only option), then we better be really sure that we will be saving more lives in the long run. I can’t think of any responsible scientist who can make that argument right now.

  3. Kenyatta says:

    Dr. Wile.

    I don’t mean to seem like a nut-job, but some people have suggested that bees are dying off because of the chemicals used in insecticides. Is it possible that the insecticides can make bees more susceptible to deformed wing virus? I also read that scientist have found large amounts of aluminum in bees causing dementia. What are you thoughts?

    1. jlwile says:

      I am not sure why you think questions like those make you seem like a nut-job. They are legitimate questions. Indeed, the scientific community has been looking into insecticides as a possible cause of bee decline for quite some time. Early on, there were studies that seemed to implicate insecticides as a major cause. However, more careful studies seem to indicate that insecticides are probably a factor, but not a major one. You are also correct that high levels of aluminum have been found wild bees in the UK. While it is thought that aluminum might impair cognitive function in people, it hasn’t been specifically linked to the decline of bees. It might, indeed, be a factor, but at this point, we simply do not know.