Beekeeper looks for answers after 1.2 million bees suddenly drop dead in Lively, Ont.

Two weeks ago, Dawn Lalonde of Mikkola Family Farm & Apiary in Lively, Ont., was doing a routine checkup on one of her bee yards when she noticed something was off. 

She usually hears the millions of bees in her 40 or so colonies buzzing around and about. But on that day, there was only silence.

“The only way to describe it is apocalyptically eerie,” she said. 

According to Lalonde, there were no signs of disease or pests. What’s more, an inspection conducted by Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture in late May concluded her hives and bees were in good health. 

Dawn Lalonde of Lively in northeastern Ontario was hoping to grow her bee colonies this year, but is now facing the sudden and unexpected loss of 50 per cent of her operation. (Aya Dufour/CBC)

But on that day, piles of dead bees were scattered around property, some still alive but suffering and barely moving. In total, 50 per cent of her colonies had died, amounting to about 1.2 million bees.

“I kept beating myself up, thinking it was my fault, something I had done wrong,” said Lalonde. 

But the abrupt and violent nature of the deaths, combined with discussions with other local beekeepers, led her to conclude something in the environment could be to blame.

“It was an acute kill, which is most likely from some type of chemical used in the area,” she said.

A woman looking into her beehive.
Lalonde has been keeping bees for about a decade and says she’s never experienced such a dramatic loss. (Aya Dufour/CBC)

What that chemical could be and where it comes from are questions that can only be answered through autopsies and the testing of samples in labs. 

Lalonde plans to do exactly that as soon as she raises enough money through her GoFundMe campaign. 

“There’s many different chemicals and products currently on the market,” she said, adding she hopes the results of the tests could help identify and eliminate the source of the problem. 

A woman looking at dead bees in the palm of her hand.
Lalonde hopes lab tests will provide the answers she’s looking for and it will help keep other pollinators safe. (Aya Dufour/CBC)

‘The canary in the coal mine’

Doug Tompsett of Douglas Apiaries in the neighbouring northeastern Ontario community of Whitefish is concerned about what happened to his fellow beekeeper and her creatures. 

His 80 or so beehives were inspected a day before Lalonde’s were earlier in May and both received a clean bill of health.

A man posing for a picture.
With more than 80 hives, Doug Tompsett’s beekeeping operation in neighbouring Whitefish is one of the bigger ones in the Greater Sudbury area. (Aya Dufour/CBC)

“And here we are two weeks later, my hives are progressively growing and hers have dwindled to almost nothing,” he said. “It’s definitely something concentrated in her area.”

Tompsett said that if this had happened to other types of livestock, it would have alarmed the general public. 

“If you were to post a picture of a field full of dead cows, it would start a conversation, but a bunch of empty boxes doesn’t get the same kind of response,” he said. 

In his view, what happened at the Mikkola Family Farm & Apiary should worry everyone in the province and beyond  as he feels it signals something could be off in the environment.

“The bees are the canary in the coal mine,” said Tompsett. “We have this unique view on the world… because we see what’s happening to them, we’re constantly monitoring them.” 

Beekeeping association cites year of heavy losses

Ian Grant, president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association, said the mortality rates in beekeepers have been particularly high coming out of the winter. 

“Unfortunately, this year we have been hearing about large losses in the beekeeping community and we can’t attribute it to any particular issue,” he said. 

He also added it’s unfortunate the testing can only happen through a user-pay system. 

Grant believes education plays an important role in preventing bee deaths caused by chemicals used in agriculture or other purposes.

“We all have a part to play by reducing our reliance on those chemicals, because we’re putting something into the environment that does affect other species.”

See also  Ski jumper Abigail Strate getting a buzz out of working with bees

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