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Algae Starting to Affect Honey Bees in Florida

September 21, 2018

Honey Bees

For those who live in Southwest Florida, it’s likely you know about the region’s algae problem, and it turns out more than just the wildlife in the Gulf are being affected by it. According to local bee experts, honey bees are experiencing problems in areas with blue-green and red tide algae.

Keith Councell, the vice president for Lee County Farm Bureau and owner of 5,000 hives, says the algae has "weakened [the bees], more than anything." This weakening has come nearly a year following Hurricane Irma, the flooding from which destroyed hives by the hundreds. Given honey bees have already been losing significant numbers in recent years, red tide and hurricanes are only adding to the bees’ struggles, prompting beekeeping experts to pursue funds to nail down the bee-algae connection.

When identifying areas that indicate an algae problem, Councell pointed out areas in Bokeelia, Florida where several of his hives showed no signs of activity—a solid indicator of a problem. "One side, near the canal, the bees are lethargic," Councell said. However, just two feet away from the lethargic bees on the other end of a flatbed trailer, other honey bees in other hives were acting normal—considering these hives are right next to a canal infested with red tide, Councell is fairly certain the Bokeelia hives are lethargic because of the algae.

After Councell removed honeycombs from his Bokeelia hives and shook off the bees, the poor insects crawled off rather than flew off. "There's something wrong when bees don't fly," he said. Also, Councell’s bees along Cape Coral’s canals have thrown their honey out. "If bees perceive any contaminant, they'll throw it out.” Some honey bees even intentionally die in their fervor to remove bad honey and other dead bees. "They’re trying to protect the hive," Councell said.

As stated previously, bee experts like Councell are working to secure funds for a study on the effect of algae on Florida’s bees, which could reveal a solution as easy as wafting air over the bee hives closest to the canals. "It could be [the algae]; we're not really sure," says Councell. "We need to test air and water quality and test active hives and bees. Until testing is actually done on this, there's no way to tell."

Florida Gulf Coast University is among those searching for funding for a study, with one of its potential researchers including Serge Thomas, an FGCU professor and aquatic ecologist. "There have been suggestions, in papers, that there is a connection," Thomas said, adding toxins in the blue-green algae called microcystins are the main concern.

Photo By KonstantinKolosov

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