Bee whisperer works to reverse die-off

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GRANT, Minn. (AP) - In Jerry Linser’s apiary rehab clinic, he holds one of his clients between his fingers.

“I know where you’ve been,” murmurs Linser to a honeybee, as he gently lifts it to the bee screen around his face. “You have a honey-tummy full of stuff, I can see it.”

Linser was tending to one of the 150,000 residents of his Bee Ranch in Grant, checking to see how they survived the harsh winter. In an effort to reverse declines in bee populations, Linser is among the hundreds of Minnesotans who have jumped onto the beekeeping bandwagon.

One sign of the buzz around beekeeping is the success of the Stillwater Honey Bee Club, which has jumped from four members to 160 in 14 months.

The University of Minnesota Extension Service has seen an increase in beekeeping interest, and Bob Sitko, who teaches at Century College, said his beekeeping classes are “overflowing.”

Their mission: saving mankind’s best friend in the insect world.

In the past, Linser said, about 10 percent to 15 percent of bee hives in the U.S. died over the winter. In the past several years, the die-off has soared to 40 percent to 80 percent.

Why all the buzz kill?

Bee mites, pesticides and lack of food are three big reasons.

The mites, tiny parasites that attack bees, are widespread. “It’s the wood tick of honeybees,” Linser told the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1nH2U8a).

Common pesticides are suspect, including neonicotinoids. These are among the most popular insecticides in the world, spread widely on commodity crops and available in garden centers.

Linser said the neonicotinoids appear in pollen, where bees can pick it up and take it back to their hives.

Bees’ food sources are disappearing. Bees depend on nectar from flowers, but as suburbia sprawls into natural areas, another source of pollen vanishes.

A neatly mowed lawn? “That is like the Sahara Desert to a honeybee,” Linser said.

The so-called bee-pocalypse is alarming because bees are natural gardeners. As they fly from flower to flower, they transfer pollen - which fertilizes plants and allows them to reproduce.

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