Beekeepers search for answers as thousands of bees die in Lee County

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Backyard beekeepers are searching for the reason thousands of their bees have been dying for the past two weeks. 

Alva resident Ashley More has been a backyard beekeeper for the past two years. She was doing her morning routine of checking her hives when she noticed a problem in mid-December. 

“I noticed there were two hives not as busy as they should,” said More. “I saw bees that were moving erratically, falling, kind of flip-flopping.” 

She quickly called her mentor and the President of the Beekeepers Association of Southwest Florida Dennis Riggs. 

He said the bees appeared to have damage to their nervous system. 

“They were spinning around on their back, and they were twitching,” said Riggs.

He called the state inspector who said the bees appeared to be poisoned. More wasn’t the only beekeeper in the Alva area who had the majority of their hives die out as recently as Christmas, according to Riggs. 

“A day or so later when the other beekeeper got home from his vacation all three of his hives were dead from the same symptoms,” Riggs said. “We’re talking 60,000 times 3 hives of dead bees that he came home to.” 

Others in that area also reported similar hive mortality. The beekeepers said although they believe the hives were poisoned in some way, they don’t believe it was intentional. 

They said pesticides sprayed on a nearby orange grove could be responsible, or maybe a neighbor spraying fruits and vegetables in their own yards nearby. 

With bees often foraging away from their hives in yards and dumpsters, Riggs warned anyone using pesticides to be mindful of what they’re using and when. 

“Warning people to be careful with spraying their yards, use of insecticides-especially using insecticides against what the label says,” he said “Most people would never know that what they’re doing is potentially killing 10’s of thousands of honey bees.” 

Dying bees could have a negative impact on farmers because fewer bees mean less crop pollination, which could be taking food off your table if the problems continue. 

Riggs said if you’re a beekeeper and find dying hives, leave them intact so investigators can find the root cause of the hive mortality and what specific pesticides were used to inadvertently kill the bees. 

They plan on discussing the issue further with a state inspector and other beekeepers around southwest Florida at an upcoming January meeting. 

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