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Why the changing Pa. weather could hurt pollinators

An unseasonably-warm February day tricked pollinators into thinking spring had sprung, but the winter cold isn't over. It could hurt the bee population and crops.

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. — It's a short walk from Brian Wentz's home to the hives on the hill at Walnut Farm Bees in Lower Frankford Township, Cumberland County, where thousands of Carniolan honey bees were on the fly.

On a normal cold February Thursday, the bees would be still, in clusters inside of their homes. Thursday's warmth and sunny skies brought back the buzz.

"The normal as we know it and as we planned for it in the past, is pretty much gone. The bees basically think this is spring," said Wentz, the farm's owner. "It really can create some stresses as far as the bees and what they think is happening versus what we can see in the long-range forecast is happening."

Wentz said sudden weather changes could sting. 

Honey bees are hard workers and typically only live between six and eight weeks during the summer. In the winter, bees can live as long as six months if they remain in the hive, but a random warm day could shorten that lifespan.

"Now we have a day like this, they're burning energy and it's not yet spring," he said. "It does put them at risk for that reason and also food resources later on."

It means Wentz will likely spend more to keep these bees healthy and productive. 

The fluctuating temperatures could hurt the honey bee population and the farmers who bring them in to pollinate their crops, but it may also impact pollinators in the wild.

"Especially if we're thinking about the native pollinators, it would be more of a concern for the crops in the area," Wentz said.

That's why Wentz is making sure his bees have what they need to thrive.

"I can be proactive by making sure that my bees have enough food for the winter and even through a strange winter like this, so that they're not putting undue stress on native pollinators," Wentz added.

He's encouraging other beekeepers to do the same, hoping these bugs don't buzz off too soon.

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