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As many as 60,500 honeybees killed in Rehoboth

A layer of dead bees two inches thick could be seen in a Rehoboth hive where tens of thousands of bees died. Eric Hamel

Beekeepers are trying to determine the cause of an apparent contamination that has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of honeybees at a pair of Rehoboth hives.

As many as 60,500 bees had so far been killed, said Wayne Andrews, vice president of the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association, who was on hand to examine the hives shortly after the first reports of trouble. The bees began dying last week.

“It’s the biggest [kill] I’ve ever seen,” he said Monday. “Quite frankly, I was taken aback.”

Eric Pilotte, president of the Bristol County Beekeepers Association, said it wasn’t clear what caused the massive kill. He added, however, that in most similar cases it’s an issue related to pesticide contamination.


The association, he said, is waiting to hear from the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources, a representative of which was in Rehoboth over the weekend, taking samples that will be tested to determine what caused the deaths.

Late last week, the population of a large hive began showing signs of contamination. Soon, thousands of bees were dropping dead, leading to what Pilotte called “a complete loss.”

On Monday, bees in a second, much smaller hive began showing the same symptoms. By mid-afternoon, Andrews said, roughly 400 to 500 bees from that hive had died.

Honeybees typically follow a strict daily routine.

In the morning, scout bees leave the hive to identify a source of nectar and pollen. Once they locate a promising source, they return to the hive and alert the other bees, and a much larger group then goes out to collect.

If their source is contaminated, however, it can quickly lead to destruction such as in Rehoboth.

“The fact they made it back [to the hive] and spread it to the other bees indicates it was close by,” Pilotte said.


The full impact, he added, is almost certainly much larger than what occurred at the single hivem because other native pollinatorsm such as butterflies and bumblebees, have also probably been affected.

There’s also an economic toll.

“On a strong hive, you could easily harvest 80 to 100 pounds of honey in one hive,” Pilotte said. “Honey’s going $12 a pound, on average, so you have that loss, as well as the time that the beekeeper took to raise the honeybees.”

A Department of Agricultural Resources spokeswoman said it’s investigating, but declined to comment further.

Pilotte said the bee deaths serve as a reminder for those using pesticides to always follow the instructions.

“A big takeaway is everybody has to be cognizant if they’re using chemicals — how they use and when they use it, and what the impacts are,” Pilotte said. “There’s a level of responsibility there, and something like this is really unacceptable — and it should be to a lot of people.”

Dugan Arnett can be reached at dugan.arnett@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.