Starving bees are robbing hives as their keepers try everything to save them
By Bill Weir, CNN Chief Climate Correspondent
Arcadia, FloridaCNN —
Their busy, buzzing business partners pollinate everything from almonds in California to blueberries in Maine, so few people understand the state of American agriculture quite like Florida beekeepers.
But colliding climate crises have left few as sad and worried.
The storms and droughts of ’22 had already taken their toll on crop yields and a drying Mississippi was clogging harvest shipments when Hurricane Ian blasted into the nation’s apiary epicenter in central Florida. The storm drowned or crushed hundreds of thousands of hives, killing bees by the hundreds of millions – and those that survived are starving.
“Our entire ecosystem is flipped upside down and twisted up like a blender,” Keith Councell told CNN as he picked through piles of shattered and sodden hives on his farm near Arcadia, a little north and inland from Fort Myers.
“This was really bad because we were in the prime Brazilian pepper bloom,” he explained. “That’s our main source of nectar in the fall.”
Much of the American beekeeping industry winters in the Sunshine State to catch the dependable bloom of the Brazilian pepper tree before shipping fresh bees to California for the February almond crop and then onwards to some 130 fruit and vegetable seasons across the country.
But just as hives were filling with honey and young bees in late September, the Category 4 storm raked ashore, not only tossing and flooding tens of thousands of bee boxes but ripping the flowers and leaves off of hundreds of square miles of forage. “Some of those trees have been sandblasted,” Councell said. And in another cruel twist, some trees are putting out “stress blooms” as they die, which attract the hungry bees but carry no nutrition.
Emergency rations started to be trucked in when starving bees began robbing from other hives.
Councell tapped a plastic jug the size of a garden shed containing sugar water, nearby another full of corn syrup. The hope is that putting out jars of these sweet stuffs will be enough to keep bees alive for now.
“Ideally, they would be collecting different pollens from different plants, for all their amino acids and nutrition,” Councell said. “You can’t give bees one candy bar and expect them to survive on it. They need that full meal but right now, our environment…” He pointed at the shattered pepper trees and orange groves. “There’s nothing there.”
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