There’s been some bold claims made in various publications about bee population numbers.
In this guide, we summarise where bees are actually endangered, at risk of extinction, and what the real truth about bee population numbers might be.
Summary – The Truth About Bee Population Numbers, Being Endangered & Extinction
Are bees in danger of going extinct in the future?
The positive news it that it’s very unlikely (for majority of species of bees) … despite what you might have read that says otherwise.
Endangered species warnings for bee species in the past have not been issued for US honeybee populations (the ones that pollinate majority of US crops).
In addition to that, the decrease in US bee population numbers due to Colony Collapse Disorder that you might have heard about recently was a short term trend that only lasted a few years (about 3-5 years, between 2006 to 2011), and bee colony numbers have actually increased in the years since that time.
Are Bees Endangered?
- [On 30 September 2016] Seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees were recently added to the endangered species list
- … it is the first time any bee species from the United States has been listed as an endangered species
- [it is believed endangerment was caused by] a wide variety of threats, including habitat destruction because of urbanization or non-native animals, the introduction of nonnative plant species, wildfires, nonnative predators and natural events such as hurricanes, tsunamis and drought.
- [But] … Bees as a class of insect have not been added to the endangered species list.
agdaily.com also notes that recently, in addition to the Hawaiian yellow-faced bees, the Rusty patched bumble bee has been placed on the endangered list too. They note ‘habitat loss, natural disasters, and invasive species [are believed to be the causes].’
So, what is clear is that only a small number of species of bees (8) have been placed as endangered.
In reality, there are around 25,000 species of bees in the world, and around 400 species in the US alone (buzzaboutbees.net)
The US honey bee has not been placed [yet] on the endangered list.
This is important to note from an agricultural perspective:
- One out of every three bites of food Americans consume comes from a plant pollinated by bees or other pollinators. Economically, it’s estimated that $15 billion crops annually are pollinated in the U.S., with bees doing almost 80 percent of the work. (siouxhoney.com)
- [there are other pollinators that pollinate crops and plant life apart from bees too though]
Will Bees Go Extinct In The Future?
Whether or not Hawaiian yellow-faced bees go extinct will depend on how those species’ populations are managed and helped by humans, but also relies on natural factors too (the possible threats to the population numbers are listed in the above section).
In terms of honey bee population numbers – they don’t appear to be in any threat of extinction or even endangerment right now.
US, Canadian and Global honey bee colony numbers have either increased, or stayed stable, over time, and especially recently. Numbers and graphs can be found at:
Here are some quick numbers on the US honey population:
- [a report in] 2017 show bee numbers sitting at a 20-year high. The research showed that since 2006, when CCD [colony collapse disorder] was identified, the number of honeybee colonies has risen, from 2.4 million that year to 2.7 million in 2014.
- [furthermore] CCD, which lasted for about 3-5 years, is a sudden phenomenon in which the majority of worker bees mysteriously disappear. That problem, which showed up most dramatically in California, abated by 2011
The Truth About Bee Population Numbers, & The Factors That Impact Those Numbers
From the above information, we can summarise:
- only a select number of species of bees were placed on the endangered list
- honey bees have not been placed on the endangered list
- only the bees placed on the endangered list could face a likely extinction at some point in the future if effort is not made to minimise risks to their well being
Ultimately, bee species differ from country to country (there’s even sub species of a main species).
To say bees in general are endangered or at risk of going extinct is not enough – it should be specified the species and country that is being discussed (instead of making general claims and statements about bees as a whole).
The threats and solutions to eliminating or minimising threats of bee species differ from place to place as well.
It is not always possible to say for sure what the main threat/s are to bee populations – sometimes only an educated guess can be made with research, observation and real time studies or tests.
Other Notes About Bees & Honey Bees
- Honey bee loss is expected over the winter months
- There’s different types of beekeepers – large commercial, intermediate, and backyard amateur beekeepers – all with different levels of expertise and resources
- We can only get a measure on numbers of bees from colonies and hives of beekeepers – it’s impossible to measure wild bee numbers accurately
- US, and global numbers of honey bees have stayed stable or increased over the long term
- Honey bees are not actually native to the US – they were introduced from Europe
- Honey bees are bred for agriculture in a similar way as livestock. They are bred for honey, and to provide an agricultural services to pollinate farmers’ crops. Almonds are the major crop they pollinate in the US
- Varrora mites, one of the main causes of bee death and decline (when numbers start to dip), can become very resistant to miticides – so, there can be significant problems trying to control them and eliminate them
- Globally, bees pollinate 70 of the around 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world. Honey bees are responsible for $30 billion a year in crops. (bbc.com)
- In the US, In 1988, honey sales accounted for 52 percent of beekeeper revenue while pollinator service fees made up less than 11 percent. Today, pollination service fees make up over 41 percent, the largest source of beekeeper revenue. Of that, 82 percent comes from almonds. (acsh.org)
- There are other pollinator species other than bees – but, only a small number have hives that we can count numbers from
- Different pollinators might be far better suited to pollinating certain plant and crop types than others – this is why when pollinators are forced to migrate to other habitats (because of threats or temperature change), both plant life and the bees themselves can suffer
- The process of pollination involves bees flying to a plant or crop, collecting nectar, and fertilizing the plant of crop, and returning to the hive
Alternatives To Bees As Pollinators
- According to theverge.com, robotic drone pollinators have been made – but have only been tested in laboratories so far. They are a long way off being ready for in field pollination
- According to geneticliteracyproject.org, human pollination (by humans) is another option – whereby the pollinating is intentional