Bee Die-Offs Second-Highest Ever in Past Year

In the United States, 42.1 percent of bee colonies were lost in the past year, the second-highest ever recorded.

The number of bee colonies that died in the year since April 2014 reached levels only ever seen once before, reported the Bee Informed Partnership.

Of the total number of colonies managed over the past 12 months, U.S. beekeepers said 42.1 percent were lost. It was the second-highest annual loss recorded.

Annual beehive losses varied across the nation, with the highest in Oklahoma at 63.4 percent and the lowest in Hawaii, with 14 percent.

During this past winter season, the Bee Informed Partnership gathered data from 6,128 beekeepers in the United States who managed 398,247 colonies as of October 2014. That represents about 14.5 percent of the estimated 2.74 million managed honey bee colonies in the country.

Winter die-offs were reported to be 18.7 percent, which is quite a bit lower than the nine-year average total loss of 28.7 percent, the partnership noted. But bees don't just die in the winter; they perish in the summer too.

From April to October 2014, the summer colony mortality eclipsed winter numbers, with beekeepers reporting 27.4 percent of colonies gone, compared with summer losses of 19.8 percent in 2013.

"Importantly, commercial beekeepers appear to consistently lose greater numbers of colonies over the summer months than over the winter months, whereas the opposite seems true for smaller-scale beekeepers," the Bee Informed Partnership said in its press release.

The Bee Informed Partnership gets most of its funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA.

While the cause of ongoing bee colony failure hasn't been fully pinned down, it's widely accepted that pesticides - specifically neonicotinoids - are one of the biggest reasons that bees are dying, threatening the national food supply. Other causes are bad nutrition and pests.

"These dire honey bee numbers add to the consistent pattern of unsustainable bee losses in recent years that threatens our food system. The science is clear - we must take action now to protect these essential pollinators from bee-toxic pesticides." said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth, in a press release.

The U.S. government is starting to do just that. On April 2, the Environmental Protection Agency put a freeze on new or further uses of neonics while it evaluates the risks for all pollinators.

And last October, federal facilities and federal lands were instructed to buy seeds and plants from nurseries that don't treat them with base-level insecticides like neonics.

Perhaps most importantly, home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe's are starting to take measures to remove neonics from their stores.

Study co-author Keith Delaplane at the University of Georgia told the AP that the honeybees, which are very visible, are basically canaries in a coalmine, a sign that there are "bad things happening with our ago-ecosystems."

"The solution to the bee crisis is to shift to sustainable agriculture systems that are not dependent on monoculture crops saturated in pesticides. It's time to reimagine the way we farm in the United States and incentivize organic agriculture practices that are better for bees and for all of us," Finck-Haynes said.

Over 40 percent of U.S. bee colonies died over the year through April, the second-highest number ever reported.

The U.S. Geological Survey is posting photos of insects on its

Flickr page

, offering a macro look at this hidden world. First up, this Festive Tiger Beetle (

Cicindela scutellaris

) was found on top of a butte in Badlands National Park that had ancient windblown sand at its crest. Here, this sand specialist can build its long burrows.

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This Agapostemon bee species is one of the most common native bees in the eastern United States. In almost any field there can be hundreds, if not thousands, of these bees visiting a wide variety of blooming plants. One of the largest of the sweat bees, it still goes undetected if you don't get down on your knees, face close, among the flowers. This one was collected at Colorado National Monument, Mesa County, Colo.

Animals and Bugs That Look Like Flowers

This wild bee (

Hoplitis fulgida

), a female from Grand Tetons National Park, was collected as part of a study of climate change. Most species in this genus are black , but a few, like this one, are as the Latin in name implies, glittering jewels.

Bugs Make Art: Photos

This unknown wasp was collected in Cecil County, Md.

This is an unknown species of Robber Fly from Charles County, Md. Robber flies, a very large and widespread type of fly, feed on many different kinds of insects, making them a key player in maintaining the insect balance in different environments.

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One species of the rarely seen leafcutting bee, this is

Megachile integrella

from the sandhills of North Carolina. Leafcutter bees are so called because they cut plant leaves to create the cells in their nests. The bees tend to build their homes in rotted wood or in the strong stems of plants.

Cockroaches: The Ultimate Survivors: Photos

Phidippus clarus

is a type of jumping spider. This one was found in Beltsville, Md., but

Phidippus clarus

lives in fields and prairies across North America. It feeds on seasonal plants.

Animal Superpower -- The Eyes Have It: Photos

Eggplant Tortoise Beetles like eggplants (go figure), eating holes in the plants' leaves. From the underside, the insects look quite queenly, with their ruffled collars. This one was gathered at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, in Anne Arundel County, Md.

Grab-and-Go Beetle Hoards Poo and Gallops

The Karner blue butterfly,

Lycaeides melissa samuelis

, is endangered. Karner blue butterflies feed on nectar from many different types of flowers, but their larvae can survive on the leaves of only one specific plant, which has been decimated by habitat loss or change.

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Deer flies like this one, despite their groovy eyes, deliver a ferocious bite. And no wonder: when the female bites (males don't bite), she lacerates the skin and when the blood flows, sponges it up with her mouth. There are over 110 species of deer fly.

Caterpillar to Butterfly in 3D: Photos

Centris bees, like this one, make their homes in holes, either in trees or in the ground.

The biggest visual difference between damselflies and dragonflies are their wing positions when resting. Dragonflies hold their wings open, while damselflies close them above their backs. This Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly (

Calopteryx maculata

) was found on a Beltsville, Md. stream.