New peril and hope for honey bees

The brains of honeybees, a study finds, allow them to create vibrations which generate enough heat to kill an intruder. (AP)

WASHINGTON — One out of three bites of food you eat is either directly or indirectly pollinated by honey bees. And bees are in trouble.

The latest numbers are out, and it turns out that so many honey bees are dying each year that commercial beekeepers who pollinate food crops are in danger of going out of business.

“On average, we’ve lost one in three colonies every winter for the last six winters,” says entomologist Dennis VanEngelsdorp of the University of Maryland, who directed a nationwide survey.

And while bee-colony losses used to be mostly restricted to the winter months, he says that it’s becoming a year-round problem.

But the survey identified “a key player” in the losses of bee colonies, VanEngelsdorp says.

He says that beekeepers who treated their colonies for the varroa mite “very aggressively” — four times a year — are losing many fewer bees.

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