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Bees in America; nuisance or necessary?

You’ve probably seen the warning videos littered across social media warning you about the serious decline in the honey bee population across the U.S. Well, that decline may be less about bees and more about beekeepers. 

According to Jeffery Harris, Assistant Professor of Entomology at Mississippi State University bee populations have declined, but not as much as their keepers have.

“Honey bees as a species are not disappearing from the planet as some have implied. Instead, beekeeping as a professional way of life is what is disappearing,” said Harris.

Over the last 30 years there has been a devastating decline in honey bee populations. This is primarily due to two parasitic mites, a fungal disease and a beetle pest. These threats make it hard for beekeepers to keep the bees alive. The worst of all of them is a parasite called a Varroa mite, it is the number one killer of bees in the world.

You might be asking, “What about all those insecticides, aren’t they bad for bees?” The answer is yes, but according to Harris there is no data or evidence that supports the idea that large region-wide losses of honey bees are associated with the use of any particular pesticide.

“There are almost always instances of bees being killed at a local level, and beekeepers and farmers can always do more things to protect bees from insecticides, but it is wrong to say that insecticides area major killer of bees,” said Harris.

When you hear a buzzing above your head, your fist instinct might be to flail about, but next time remember this: Honey bees provide about $19 billion dollars of pollination service to the U.S. agriculture alone. This buzzing insects pollinate dozens of crops and make honey and wax.

But don’t be too careful, a honey bee can pack a punch when it stings.

“10 stings per pound of human body weight (in a short period of time) is enough to kill a typical mammal (humans included),” said Harris.

So if you do discover a new hive somewhere, the best thing to do is leave it alone.

“Swarms are bees that are looking for a new home. They have left their overcrowded home to find a new one. They hang on an object for 3-5 days and send out scouts to look for a new cavity to live,” said Harris.

Even though honey bees have been good for U.S. agriculture, they aren’t originally from here. These bees originated in Asia and Africa and were brought over by English colonists in the 1600’s.

“Honey bees were brought here because at the time, honey was a prized sweetener in many European cultures,” said Harris.

In recent years the demand for domestic honey has gone up about 40 percent, and that is good news for Mississippi producers.

These days their primary function on an agricultural scale is for pollination. Everyone knows that bees collect nectar that is then turned into honey, but you might not have known that pollen is also essential for bees.

“Pollen is bee nutrients, it has everything they need to survive. It’s food for them,” said Harris.

 

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