Washington • Nearly one out of four American honeybee colonies died this winter — a loss that's not quite as bad as recent years, says a new U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of beekeepers.
Under siege from parasites, disease, pesticide use, nutrition problems and a mysterious sudden die-off, 23 percent of bee colonies failed and experts say that's considerably less than the previous year or the eight-year average of 30 percent losses.
"It's better news than it could have been," said Dennis van Engelsdorp, a University of Maryland entomology professor who led the survey. "It's not good news."
Before a parasitic mite — just one of a handful of problems attacking the crucial-for-pollination honeybees — started killing bees in 1987, beekeepers would be embarrassed if they lost more than 5 or 10 percent of their colonies over the winter. Now they see a 23 percent loss as a bit of a break, said survey co-author Jeff Pettis, USDA's bee research chief.