Record Colony Numbers, Neonics, & the Single Largest Threat to Bees

Contrary to what some headlines and marketing campaigns would lead us to believe, honey bee numbers in Canada are at record highs and trending higher.

At the end of 2016, there were a record 750 thousand colonies in the country, according to Statistics Canada.

“The state of the bee industry is quite strong right now,” says Gregory Sekulic, agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada, in this interview.

Bees Matter

Bees Matter, a partnership of ag organizations with a vested interest in pollinator health, will once again be offering free “Buzzing Gardens” wildflower seed packages in 2017. Stay tuned to beesmatter.ca

So honeybee numbers in Canada are strong, but what about wild bee species? What are the main threats today? How have neonicotinoid insecticides affected bee populations?

These are some of the questions Sekulic was asked by a crowd of food bloggers, dietitians, and chefs from across Canada at the recent Canola Community Summit held near Winnipeg.

We sat down on the sidelines of the event to discuss the single largest threat to bees, whether steps farmers have taken to protect bees are working, trends in bee populations and more (watch the video or listen via podcast links below):


Some highlights and did-you-knows about bees:

  • There were 750,000 honey bee colonies in Canada at the end of 2016, up from 726,000 in 2015, according to Statistics Canada.

    Honey bee colonies in Canada since Statistics Canada started tracking in 1924.

  • What about neonics? Neonicotinoids are targeted seed-applied insecticides that are very effective at low doses. As Sekulic explains, an “escape” due to a combination of factors, including equipment design changes, contributed to a spike in bee deaths in part of Ontario in 2012. Producers and crop input companies responded by taking steps (i.e. equipment modification, using fluency agent) to prevent it from happening again. “It was a horrible thing, but as an industry and as producers, we did a really good job of identifying the issue and then fixing it.”
  • About 80 percent of honey in Canada comes from canola.
  • Canola seed companies are the single largest contract users of pollination services in Canada? Around 1 out of every 8 bee hives in Canada will be in southern Alberta in early summer pollinating hybrid seed production, says Sekulic.
  • The number of beekeepers in Canada spiked to a record high during World War II when sugar was rationed.
  • Researchers have recently identified nearly 400 native bee species in Canada, but are still working on establishing baseline data for tracking populations. Declines in population are usually associated with loss of habitat, notes Sekulic.
  • And what is the single largest threat to bees? Bears, of course (*groan*). There are 250,000 bears in Canada, or about 1 for every 3 colonies. Also bears are LARGE. But on a serious note, Sekulic explains when bears invade bee hives, they’re not actually going for the honey. They want the brood — the larvae are a nutritious source of protein.

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Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin

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