The sad fact is that many pollinators are disappearing before our eyes — especially honeybees and bumble bees. Why are bees dying? Unfortunately, pollinator health points to a few factors including one major one we cannot ignore — pesticides. These toxic chemicals are killing bees outright, weakening bees’ immune systems and harming their ability to gather food and reproduce. Add in parasites and diseases and it’s no wonder bees are facing alarming declines.
Bee health is vital to a healthy food system. They are responsible for pollinating one out of every three bites of food we eat. Can you imagine a world where you cannot run to the store to grab some apples for a Thanksgiving pie? Or where there would be no watermelons for a summer picnic? It could be the world we live in if something isn’t done to save the bees quickly!
Why are honey bees dying?
Beekeepers across the country are reporting extreme honey bee colony losses. For two years in a row, they have seen the highest annual losses! In 2019, beekeepers lost 40% of their colonies. In 2020, that number increased to a little over 45%. These startling statistics show that even pollinators that are managed by professional beekeepers are at risk!
It’s important to remember that honeybee loss each winter is normal. But over the last 15 years, beekeepers began seeing a substantially increased number of mortalities — inconsistent with typical honeybee loss.
Threats to honey bees
Honeybees play an important role in our food system. They’re instrumental in the pollination of over 100 crops. This includes fruits and vegetables like pumpkins, apples, and blueberries. But honeybees are also important for spices, nuts, and herbs — and plants needed for medicines. They contribute nearly $34 billion each year to the United States economy alone.
But these pollinators are under attack from pesticides used on farms and agricultural lands throughout the country. Some of these toxic chemicals can be absorbed by the plants. Their presence in nectar or pollen can be a threat to the bees.
Some pesticides, like neonics, can also stay in the soil for years after being applied! Scientists have found that untreated plants can absorb these chemicals from the soil — so even if they are not directly sprayed, they can still impact bees! These chemicals can alter bees’ brains and can ultimately lead to paralysis and death.
Pollinator decline statistics
Honeybees aren’t the only pollinators facing declines. Scientists have warned we are nearing an insect apocalypse. If we lose pollinators and other insects from the food chain, it would be catastrophic not only for humans but for wildlife as well.
Below you will find the bee population decline statistics in the United States. But we’d be remiss if we did not include other vital pollinators — like the monarch butterfly — to this list as well.
Honey bee decline statistics
When beekeepers began noticing increased honey bee declines in 2006, they began to track the decline through Bee Informed Partnership. This national survey keeps track of the annual losses to understand how widespread the problem is.
Between April 2020 and April 2021 beekeepers lost 45.5% of their honey bee colonies. This is the second highest rate of loss since the scientific survey began.
Bumblebee decline statistics
In the last two decades, the western bumblebee population has declined by nearly 93%.
Four of the five bumblebee species are now classified as endangered.
Monarch butterfly decline statistics
Eastern monarchs have declined by over 80% in the last two decades.
Western monarchs — which use to have populations in the millions — have declines by 99%. The latest count found fewer than 2,000 butterflies in California.
Hawaiian yellow-faced bee decline statistics
Seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faces bees are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species List.
The bees warranted being listed in 2011 but were not listed as federally endangered until 2016 because of “higher priorities.”
How to save the bees
Are you concerned with bee population decline? If so, you’re not alone. At Friends of the Earth, we work day in and day out to save our vital pollinators. But we need help from concerned people like you. Here are a few ways that you can help save the bees.
Make a donation or host a fundraiser
Friends of the Earth works on multiple campaigns to help save the bees — but without funds, we cannot create the lasting impact. With your generosity, we are able to continue our work to save bees and other pollinators. You can make a one-time donation, a recurring monthly gift, or even host a fundraiser to get your friends involved alongside you.
Support Friends of the Earth
When you sign up to join Friends of the Earth, you will receive email notifications on ways to get connected to help save the bees. We petition the EPA to ban bee-killing pesticides. We fight Lowe’s and Home Depot to get bee-toxic chemicals like glyphosate (the main ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s Roundup) off store shelves. And we fight grocery suppliers like Kroger to get toxic pesticides out of their supply chains. But we cannot do it alone. We need an outpouring of concerned voices to come together to make change — including yours!
Plant a bee garden
Bees’ habitats are dwindling. They need a safe place to call home and have a variety of food sources. When you plant a garden rich in pollen and nectar, you are providing a safe space for bees.
We know that pesticides harm and kill bees. If you avoid treating your lawn and garden with pollinator-toxic chemicals, you can provide them with a place to thrive.
Provide homes for native bees
There are many bee species that are ground-dwelling solitary bees. They live in wood, stems, and in the ground. Offer sunny soil, wooden blocks, and bundles of bamboo in your garden for the solitary bees that need a healthy place to call home.
Support pollinator-friendly retailers and shop organic
Do you shop at pollinator-friendly retailers? If you’re unsure, check out Friends of the Earth’s Bee-Friendly Retailer Scorecard. You can see if your preferred retailer makes the grade, or if they are contributing to the rapid decline of bees and butterflies. If they fail, consider finding a pollinator-friendly retail to take your business to instead. We found that independent grocery stores are leading the way on bee-friendly food. And buy organic when you can — organic food is grown without 900 some pesticides that are otherwise allowed in agriculture, and research shows that it helps support pollinator populations.