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Ultimate Buzz Kill: Honeybees Dying Off In Record Numbers

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Massive die-offs of honeybees that pollinate many of the crops we eat have taken a new turn.

Alex DeMetrick reports it's not for the better.

What's happening to honeybees is the ultimate buzz kill. During the past decade, they have been dying off in record numbers. It's called colony collapse.

WJZ has been following what local beekeepers have been going through.

"They were dropping like flies all through the fall. And two-thirds of my bees died last year. This is unprecedented," said Steve McDaniel, Carroll County beekeeper.

At the University of Maryland, entomologists have been tracking collapses from year to year.

In 2014, over 42 percent of the nation's hives were lost--the second highest rate in nine years.

"That's really a high level of loss," said Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland entomologist.

But as alarming as that number is, researchers say a new worry has surfaced.

"What's really surprising about this year's loss is that for the first time more colonies died in the summer than they died in the winter--and that's unheard of," said vanEngelsdorp.

A search on the Internet turns up one suspect--the varroa mite--a natural bee parasite, especially in winter.

"Like vampires, and they suck the blood out of bees and they add viruses to bees," said vanEngelsdorp.

But it's believed the colony collapses take more than just mites. Pesticides are believed to play a part, along with malnutrition, as more profitable grain crops replace flowering fruits and vegetable bees need for nectar and pollen.

In the end, this is more than a threat to honeybees.

"One in every three bites of food we eat are directly or indirectly pollinated by honeybees. So if we want to produce fruits and nuts in this country, we need to have a healthy bee supply," said vanEngelsdorp.

The University of Maryland surveyed 5,000 beekeepers across the country for its study. Maryland's die-off rate matches many of those other states.

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