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What's the Buzz on Tennessee Bee Population Decline?

PHOTO: The University of Tennessee Extension estimates Tennessee's bee population has declined by as much as 50 percent in recent years. Photo credit: Butkovicdub/Morguefile.
PHOTO: The University of Tennessee Extension estimates Tennessee's bee population has declined by as much as 50 percent in recent years. Photo credit: Butkovicdub/Morguefile.
April 28, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee honey bees are feeling the sting of a variety of environmental factors.

According to estimates from the University of Tennessee Extension, bees have seen as much as 50 percent of their population decline in recent years.

Professor John Skinner, an apiculturist at the University of Tennessee, says recent rain and cold snaps this spring are making things more difficult.

"They have a lot more mouths to feed, and if we get hit by weather patterns that are rainy for a solid week or 10 days, the bees can consume all of their additional food in the colony and starve to death," he says. "And it's at a time when you think 'Hey the flowers are blooming. It's springtime. Everything is wonderful.'"

In addition to weather patterns, Skinner says parasitic mites, viruses, fungal diseases and pesticides are also impacting the honey bee population. A study released this month by Newcastle University in England finds some bees are "addicted" to nectar that contains pesticides. Pesticides are known to scramble a bee's memory and navigation functions.

Charles Foutch, member of the Jackson Area Beekeepers Association, has kept bees for the last 60 years.

"I often say it's easier to find a four-leaf clover than it is a honey bee," he says. "So unless you have a colony of bees close by, you're not going to see any bees in this neighborhood."

Foutch says the increasing price of honey is also tempting beekeepers to over-harvest, leaving bees without enough nourishment to survive.

"They think they leave enough for the bees to survive through the winter," says Foutch. "But if you have a hard winter you find out next spring you've lost some of them, so they've starved to death."

You can help bees by choosing plants for your yard that attract bees like wildflowers, flowering herbs, berries, sunflowers and more. Grouping similar plants together is also helpful to the insect.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN