It was World Bee Day last week and that’s a great time to talk about bees. Honey bees specifically.
Honey bees are an invasive species. These are sometimes referred to as the European honey bee, the western honey bee, but ESA states the common name is simply the “honey bee”. If you want to get scientific about it it’s Apis mellifera* which comes from the Latin of Apis meaning bee and mellifera meaning honey-bearing. There is still a little controversy, but most science points to them originating in Africa. Evidence shows human links with honey bees from over 9000 years ago! From there, they spread outwards, mostly with the help of people bringing them. Introduction into North America dates to 1622. Again, humans introducing a new species into the environment. It would be nice to say that this was harmless to the environment, but since it happened so long ago, we really can’t say if they outcompeted or even killed off other species. There is some evidence in some locations that honey bees could be detrimental to native bee populations.
Honey bees are a domesticated species. Like cows or sheep, honey bees are kept and managed. Just like cows, they could survive on their own, but they do a lot better with human help. Like the little pampered pets they are, they need extra food, medicines, homes, water, and more to ensure they are happy little worker bees. Like other domesticated animals, honey bees are often moved around to where they will be the most useful. You can see flatbed trucks piled with honey bee colonies going from one orchard or field to the next to pollinate those crops. This can cause stress on the colonies and result in more pampering. It means that honey bees are not as robustly healthy as native bees in many cases.
Honey bees are a pest. This is definitely where people will tell me to buzz off. I have advocated killing honey bee colonies. Let me be perfectly clear: this has happened when non-lethal means have not been possible. The CDC lumps deaths from bees, wasps, and hornets all together and there is an average of 100 human deaths per year in the US. (Cows are estimated to kill 20). Honey bees can even cause structural damage when they take up residence in wall voids, ceilings, and other areas around homes and businesses. Sometimes a local beekeeper can come out and collect them, sometimes not. I see lots of postings about “how could they!” and “why didn’t they save them?!?!” and more along those lines. It’s just not always possible. And when the bees are a threat to people, they have to go.
I like honey bees. I had more than twenty colonies I maintained and did research on as an undergrad. Honey bees are beneficial, and a potential pest. Being prepared with a plan for honey bees, native bees, and other stinging pests can help you respond quickly and effectively when there is a problem as well as preventing issues from even starting. Want some extra help with your stinging insect plans? Give us a shout here.
*Yes, there are numerous subspecies, no I am not going to get into that.