Huntington County Master Gardener Susan Miller inspects a milkweed plant for Monarch butterfly eggs. Staff photo by Lucas Bechtol
Huntington County Master Gardener Susan Miller inspects a milkweed plant for Monarch butterfly eggs. Staff photo by Lucas Bechtol
Indiana and the nation as a whole are still seeing some loss in honeybees. The problem is so prevalent President Barack Obama issued a memorandum directing government agencies to take additional steps to protect and restore domestic populations of pollinators, including honey bees, butterflies, native bees, birds and bats, according to a release on www.whitehouse.gov.

According to a factsheet accompanying the release, the honey bee population has been decreasing for the past 60 years, going from around six million beehives in 1947 to two and a half million today.

Since 2006, the average hive loss over winter for honeybees has been 30 percent, up from historic loss rates of 10 to 15 percent, according to the factsheet.

The factsheet states this past winter’s loss is down to around 23 percent, but local beekeepers saw a bigger overwinter loss.

“It was just too hard a winter on the bees, too cold for too long,” said Dave Shenefield, a beekeeper and owner of Clover Blossom Honey in LaFontaine. “We probably lost around 60 percent of the colonies to winter loss this year.”

He said the average loss nationally was lower, but everyone he’s talked to in Indiana and the Midwest have seen bigger losses because of the harsh winter.

“Usually you have a January thaw, you might call it, where it gets up to 40 degrees a day in January,” Shenefield said. “The sun’s shining, the bees can fly, use the restroom and move stuff around in the hive but it was just severe cold through January and February.”

Shenefield has been working to increase his numbers and said he will be short just 5 or 10 percent of his normal number.

Bees, Shenefield said, are used to pollinate a variety of different crops, including almonds, blueberries, cucumbers, pumpkins, apples and even melons.

Bees aren’t the only pollinators which are short on population, according to the factsheet. Monarch butterflies have also declined greatly in population, with “iconic” Monarch butterfly migration sinking to the lowest levels this winter with a risk of failure, according to the factsheet.

Pollinators, including butterflies, are important, Huntington County Master Gardener Susan Miller said.

“A lot of (plants) need to be pollinated to get a flower or a fruit,” she said.

People can attract pollinators with plants, she added.

Butterflies are attracted to a variety of plants, including butterfly weed, Miller said.

Milkweed attracts Monarch butterflies, too, she said and is very important for Monarchs as Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed. In addition, it is the only thing the caterpillars eat before they turn into butterflies.

“They used to grow along the road, wild, but most of them have been killed off,” Miller said.

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