All Kinds of Bees
Most bees do not have black-and-yellow stripes.
Bees are orange, brown, green and blue and some are yellow or black. Native and imported. Social bees and solitary bees, bumble bees, mason bees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees, cuckoo bees, orchid bees, nocturnal bees and… at least 20,000 identified and catalogued species of bees across the globe.
Honey Bees (Apis Mellifera)
There are more books about honey bees than about any other insect.
Apis is Latin for “bee” and mellifera is Latin for “honey-bearing”. In North America, apis mellifera live in trees or in human-made structures in communities of 40-100,000 bees. They produce and store their honey in their very large nests, which they build from their own wax. Commercial api-culturists (beekeepers) raise apis mellifera for their value as honey and wax producers, and because they are efficient and easy to manage as pollinators.
A People’s History of Apis North America
Where do honey bees come from?
The earliest apis bee fossils, millions of years old, have been found in South and Southeast Asia.
Many studies claim that the apis first arrived in what is now called North America in the early 1600s. Before that bumblebees and other native pollinators lived in sync with native crops like pumpkins, cranberries and crab apples. Indigenous peoples recognized that the flight of the honey bee pressaged the westward expansion of the European settlers.
A few years ago, a paleological entomologist dated a fossil found in Nevada to 14 million years ago. So were there other species of apis on the continent in previous eons? What does this tell us about species and climate change?
“Bees” That Are Not Bees
Same Same But Different
Once upon a time honeybees were wasps, but that was millions of years ago before they evolved specialized traits to efficiently pollinate flowers. So don’t be fooled: wasps (including yellow jackets) and hornets also pollinate flowers but are not bees! Wasps prey on other insects’ larva, so it’s actually handy to have them around to keep down populations of insects that we might like even less.
Because most people (professional beekeepers too) don’t like wasps, we don’t talk much about their valuable role in our ecosystem. We need wasps, and we need to know more about them!
Pollinating Our Food
No food for bees. No food for us.
Over a third of the human food supply is pollinated by insects, most by honey bees. When the environment is hostile to bees, we need to protect them along with all pollinators: bumble and other native bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies and bats.
We are glad to be hearing widespread concern about “saving bees” because we find some of the alternatives rather odd. Having humans pollinating fruit with paint brushes? Building robotic bees? For us, these “solutions” all beg the question: what is happening to our environment and what steps can we take to make it healthier for bees and for ourselves?
Bee Products for People
What’s good for the bees is good for us
Bees are the consumate DIY foragers. They collect plant nectar and pollen, propolis (tree resin) and water. This is all they need for food, housing and medicine.
In addition to using honey and beeswax, humans have found benefit from other bee products. For at least two thousand years people in many cultures have used propolis to fight infection, and researchers are now testing its use in cancer therapy. Bee pollen, bee venom and royal jelly have all been used as health and nutrition supplements or for medical treatment.
Where Have All the Honeybees Gone, Long Time Passing?
Climate change, pesticide use, monoculture farming and human destruction of their natural habitat in fields and forests has led to the death and disappearance of many species of bees over the past 40 years. Migratory beekeepers have attempted to make up for bee losses by trucking honeybees to high-demand seasonal crops, but this practice has led to further loss.
Common insecticides toxic to bees are widely used on all major grains, eg, wheat, corn and soy. And similar insecticides are sold over-the-counter at home and garden stores. Several European countries have taken the lead in banning systemic bee-killing pesticides (“neonicotinoids”) over the last decade. 1999: France bans Imidacloprid. 2008: Germany bans clothianidin. 2013: the EU announces restrictions on three neo-nicotinoids. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has so far taken no stand against the neonicotinoids, other than promising to continue studying them until 2018.
You and the Bees
Did You Know the Bees Are Dying?
Gardeners and farmers who ask us to provide pollination services know they need bees for their flowers and crops to bloom. Our farmers market customers are also concerned about the threats to our pollinators. We often hear this: “did you know the bees are dying?” Yes, we know. But what are we all going to do about it?
Ask the Beekeepers: