“The Witch, No. 3” circa 1892 Feb. 29. by Baker, Joseph E., ca. 1837-1914, artist.
I’m calling journalistic foul on the spate of recent articles I have seen placing the honey bees at odds with native bees.
So, who’s today’s scapegoat in the blame game on bee decline. Today’s top scape goat is apis mellifera. Seems like the latest press release being picked up by several publications is a report that honey bees are severely impacting native bee species. The researchers imply that honey bees, in the numbers kept by beekeepers, are so thoroughly diminishing the nectar and food sources that the native bees are having a hard time surviving. They admit that as a society we need and demand foods requiring pollination but add that the honey bee is to blame for the troubles of native bees. One article I read says the solution may be to eliminate feral honey bees. (After all we don’t want to step too hard on the toes of those ensuring we have our almond milk.)
I had to laugh as, for the most part, feral honey bees have already been decimated due to the Varroa mite. If reducing feral honey bees was a solution then it should have been offered as a solution 30 or 40 years ago when we actually had populations of ferals. I’m involved in a local study of feral honey bees and I can tell you that, even in the countryside of the largely undeveloped rural areas we are studying, even finding feral honeybees is a challenge. I believe the truth of the matter is these authors aren’t looking for a solution but rather 1) a step towards a general acceptance that non-native honey bees are to blame and perhaps 2) an angle to obtain research funding using the honey bee as “a problem” to be studied. Or perhaps it’s just a quick fix and human nature to point the finger at someone or something for every issue nowadays. I say Hogwash.
Do I think we can overpopulate areas with honey bees? Well, yes in some instances honeybees are overwintered and at other times placed in stock yards awaiting pollination contracts. But I can also offer an instance not considered by the native bee enthusiasts. An instance probably a thousand fold more frequently encountered. I have lived on poor, sandy land for the past 16 years. When I moved here the foliage was scant. So scant in fact that even insects and wildlife were equally scant. After introducing honey bees I have visibly seen an increase in both quantity of nectar producing plants as well as an increase in native bees. How? Keeping honey bees has greatly increased the pollination of the local nectar producing plants which in turn has increased their seed production and reproduction. Now, the area foraged on my the bees has become much more attractive and productive to all species of bees. It is not uncommon for me to now see dozens of flowering plant species in the nearby fields that were not present or minimally present even 5 years ago. And nowadays there are many more native bees on flowers during the day when the honey bees are home bearding on the hive or working a brief nectar flow on a flowering tree.
My take on this is that as humans we simply find it of some psychological benefit to play the blame game in this matter – someone or something must be at fault. And Apis Mellifera, that newcomer, non-native must be at fault. Yes, forage is at a premium these days and yes, all bees need forage. But I’m not buying the implication that the decline of native bees is largely to be blamed on honey bees. Apis mellifera mellifera was introduced to North America in 1622 – that’s 396 years ago. Since 1622, many changes to our environmental landscape have occurred, largely due to man. But now, apparently ignoring history but with an overabundance of historical shortsightedness, some journalists are misreading the scientific studies and placing the blame of a lack of forage on honey bees? There is a lengthy list of reasons we have gotten us to our current state of affairs with regard to habitat and lack of forage. Journalists need to look a little more to the obvious if the intent is to truly find solutions to native bee declines.