Squint and you might see it. This little bug grows to about 1.1 millimeters long. It looks like a hairy jellyfish. It’s kind of cute.
Don’t be fooled.
You just met the Varroa destructor. This parasitic mite lives up to the name. It’s the number one destroyer of honeybees.
But there are many threats. Last year, the United States saw the second-highest honeybee death rate on record. Some sources estimate that nearly half of bee colonies died off.
What are the biggest threats to America’s hives?
Parasites such as the varroa mite feed on honeybees. They make it easy for viruses to spread. Sometimes the mites infest just one percent of a colony. But the diseases they bring can kill the whole hive.
Farmers use chemicals to keep away destructive bugs. These pesticides can make honeybees vulnerable to sickness. They can also make bees less likely to look for food.
Honeybees need nectar and pollen from wildflowers and other plants. But human development often destroys these resources. Plus, crops such as soybeans and corn don’t offer much bee nutrition. When cornfields replace wildflowers, bees might go hungry.
In January, Washington, D.C., witnessed weirdly warm winter weather. (Say that five times fast!) Temperatures reached 80 degrees. Honeybees emerged as if springtime had come. Then the weather turned cold.
The dangers are many. But beekeepers help to keep honeybee populations stable.
Nathalie Steinhauer researches bees at the University of Maryland. “The situation is not really getting worse, but it’s also not really getting better,” she says. “It is not a bee apocalypse.”
Beekeepers have seen worse years. They’ve learned new ways to come back from losses. Their work protects important pollinators—and the world’s food supply.