At a time when the importance of bees is more apparent than ever — and raising them is getting more and more difficult — the state’s beekeepers and others with a stake in the game are working to train new generations of beekeepers to help increase their likelihood of success.

One goal is to reduce Connecticut honeybee colony mortality rate, which in recent years has been around 37 percent each winter — and sometimes as high as 50 percent.

The good news is that Connecticut honeybee colonies are adept at regenerating themselves — and there is no shortage of new beekeepers willing to learn, according to Steve Dinsmore of East Lyme, president of the Connecticut Beekeepers Association.

“If it was cows and we lost 37 percent of the cows in the country, we’d be at a tipping point,” he said.

Insects — and pollinators, in particular — are among the keys to a healthy environment and, many say, the planet’s very survival. The Earthwatch Institute, at a meeting last July of the Royal Geographical Society of London, declared bees the most important species on earth.

The Connecticut Beekeepers Association, one of three associations of beekeepers in the state, offers two beekeeping schools each winter, this year’s scheduled to take place Jan. 18 at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven and Feb. 8 at Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village.

“We’ve already sold out the New Haven class,” Dinsmore said. “We’re at capacity — 110 people have already signed up.

“It’s really amazing that there’s that many people who want to learn about bees,” said Dinsmore, who works at Electric Boat in New London.

For anyone else who wants to learn, he urged them to consider driving up to Falls Village. The school’s hours are 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the fee is $50. Registration and more information is available on the association’s website at http://ctbees.org/bee-school.

“Tell people it’s worth the trip to Fall’s Village,” Dinsmore said. “It’s an hour-and-a-half drive for me from East Lyme, but it’s worth it.”

There are two other beekeeper associations that also offer classes.

The Eastern Connecticut Beekeepers Association offers classes in late January and February in both Haddam and Storrs; and the Backyard Beekeepers Association in Weston offers smaller schools, which began this past Tuesday.

“We continue to see interest grow in beekeeping in Connecticut and this course provides an excellent opportunity for those who are interested in getting started to learn from experienced beekeepers how to successfully raise bees,” said Dinsmore.

“It is the responsiblity of the organization to educate people about the care of honeybees,” he said. “It’s not all about the honey. It’s more about the bees themselves, and making sure that the bees are sustainable.”

Dinsmore also is involved in the Connecticut Queen Breeders Cooperative.

The cooperative is working to develop queen bees that will give the colonies a higher chance of survivability against threats from pesticides — and especially the dreaded Varroa destructor, or Varroa mite, a parasitic mite that originated in Asia, which attacks and feeds on honeybees and has been a growing problem since the 1990s.

“They have to learn how to adapt and thrive” in order to “make them more robust and give them more of a fighting chance,” he said.

“Compared to nationally, we’re probably doing worse” when it comes to combating the Varroa mite and sustaining area bee colonies over the winter, he said.

That’s “because the majority of our beekeepers are not professional beekeepers. They’re backyard beekeepers,” Dinsmore said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons why we’re having these beekeeping courses.”

There are about 350 species of bees here in Connecticut, said Kim Stoner, an entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

“I think it’s great that so many people are concerned” about the health of bees, Stoner said.

The Connecticut Beekeepers Association is working with scientists from the CAES and elsewhere to ensure the health of the state’s bees, said Dinsmore.

Mark Creighton, a CAES staffer and master beekeeper who is Connecticut’s apiary inspector — known popularly as “the bee doctor” — said a lot of bees die over the winter all across the United States and “Connecticut is no exception to the rule.

“We have a number of different things that cause bee mortality in the winter,” including the fact that “we have so many people who are new to beekeeping, and “a steep learning curve,” as well as “this infestation by the parasitic mites.”

“Bee losses due to mites are very high in Connecticut,” Creighton said. There also are viruses, such as deformed wing virus, more than 18 of which are transmitted by the Varroa mite alone.

In a yearlong survey that Creighton did, involving 240 samples that he submitted to a laboratory, he found that 60 percent of all the hives in Connecticut “had some level of infestation.”

“I don’t think it’s getting any worse” as time goes on, he said. But “it’s not getting any better.”

The bees used to populate Connecticut hives generally come from two principal areas of the country: Georgia and California, although some also come from Florida, Louisiana or Texas, Creighton said.

One of the biggest challenges that beekeepers face today is to control the Varroa mite. Last year was the first year of a three-year federal grant Creighton obtained “to provide a Varroa mite education program and share the latest information on managing” mites.

During a survey from January to December of last year, Creighton found that “only 11 percent of the hives that we looked at were clean of Varroa mites.”

Varroa mites long ago evolved to coexist with Asian honeybees. But they are a threat to Western varieties of honeybees, he said.

“Honeybees have been on this planet for millions of years — 90 to 100 million years,” Creighton said. “”Mites became a problem, generally speaking, in the 1990s” when the Varroa mites found their way into other honeybee subspecies, he said.

The varieties of honeybee most commonly used in this country are Italian honeybees, Carniolans honeybees and Russian honeybees, Creighton said.

The Western honey bee or European honey bee, Apis mellifera, “did not have the millions of years of evolution” to achieve the ability to adapt and coexist with the mites and “is not able to survive with this mite at this time,” he said.

To control the mites, “we have to be aggressive in our management” and officials and beekeepers are “looking for infestation levels below 3 percent,” Creighton said. “When it gets above that, we have to institute measures to address it, including the use of various miticides.”

Stoner, as part of her research, collects pollen from honeybees and tests it for the presence of pesticides. She has found that many of the pollens in Connecticut are contaminated with pesticide.

“The insecticides that people mostly have been concerned with, neonicotinoids ... we find those but at relatively low levels” that generally are not high enough to threaten colonies, Stoner said.

Through her research, Stoner has become more concerned about possible effects on other bees — such as bumble bees — rather than honeybees.

“There are reasons to think that those pesticides are more likely to affect the bumble bees than the honeybees,” she said.

While bumble bees don’t make honey, they play a strong role in pollination, she said.

The Connecticut Beekeepers Association has worked with Connecticut beekeepers since 1891. Its mission is to increase public awareness of the importance of honeybees for Connecticut agricultural crops and the environment and to promote and support all beekeepers and their local organizations.

Among the topics covered in its classes are beekeeping terminology and basic equipment, a description of bee colonies and their organization — including workers, drones and the queen — how to hive a package of bees and where to locate your apiary.

Other topics include colony management in all seasons, bee diseases and colony registration, honey production and processing, and a hands-on presentation on how to light a smoker, which is used when handling bees to keep them calm.

Connecticut Media Group