Florida beekeeper Horace Bell said he believes someone is poisoning his honey bees after finding dead bees all over his property near DeLand.
When Horace Bell checks on his apiary on West Ridgewood Avenue near DeLand, he's usually greeted by a sweet smell and the hum from millions of honey bees buzzing.
But when Bell paid them a visit Sunday, the area didn't smell so sweet, it was quieter than usual and all around his feet were dead bees.
Bell, who has owned the property and worked in the industry for several decades, believes his bees were poisoned, and that millions of them could be threatened. He's offering a reward of $30,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is killing his bees.
"That's a lot of money, but they're costing me a lot of money," Bell said Monday afternoon.
Honey bee colony deaths are on the rise for a number of reasons, according to the Bee Informed Partnership, an organization that studies the survival rates of bees. Their decline can be attributed to several factors including pesticides, mites, loss of habitat, poor beekeeping practices and a decrease in the diversity of crops.
An inspector from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services paid the property at 1058 S. Ridgewood Ave. a visit Monday after Bell contacted the state agency about the dead bees.
Bell, who also plans on contacting local law enforcement, said not everyone in the area is a fan of the bees, part of the reason he believes they've been poisoned. He believes the same thing may have happened last year.
In addition to finding countless bee carcasses, Bell believes they've been poisoned because he's observed plenty of bees behaving abnormally, writhing on the ground like something is making them sick.
Bell, 73, estimates he's worked with honey bees for more than 60 years so he knows when they're well and when they're not.
"They're listless," he said. "We know what the hell is going on, we got some experience."
He's also noticed undertaker bees working harder than usual to move the dead or dying honey bees away from the hives.
While taking the inspector around the property, some of Bell's employees were loading up trucks with hives to be taken to Fort Pierce where he hopes they'll be safe.
Bell said he's got about 20,000 hives in the state and about 1,000 of them are at the Ridgewood property. He believes the death toll could be 7 million.
This isn't the first time his bees have encountered trouble. In 2002, about 80,000 bees were stolen as part of a senior prank at DeLand High School.
Patricia Koile, whose property abuts Bell's, said she's a huge fan of the bees.
"I get bee poop on my car, but big deal," she said when reached by phone Monday.
Koile said she doesn't use pesticides on her property because she runs a parrot sanctuary called Patty's Parrot Palace, 1065 S. Beresford Road.
Bell's business used to be selling honey, but these days it's hives he's got for sale.
"We feed 'em, we baby 'em, we spend money on 'em," he said of his bees.
Honey bees are responsible for pollinating a number of crops such as almonds, blueberries and cherries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pollinators, usually honey bees, "are responsible for one in every three bites of food we take and increase our nation's crop values each year by more than $15 billion," per the Department of Agriculture.
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