Facts and Fiction about Honey Bees

honey-bees-326337_960_720As we continue our observance of National Pollinator Week, we thought it would be fun to share some facts and fiction about honey bees.

Facts

Honey bees help keep our grocery shelves stocked with nutritious food. It’s estimated that honey bees pollinate one out of every three bites of food that we eat. Honey bees play an important role in pollinating many of our fruits, nuts and vegetables, which contribute to a healthy, nutritious diet.

The number of honey bee colonies is increasing. Honey bee colonies actually increased by 45 percent worldwide over the past 50 years. And in the past five years, the number of colonies in the U.S. and Canada has increased by 13 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Annual surveys conducted by the USDA show that the number of honey bee colonies has risen steadily over the past 10 years.

Honey bee colony health should not be taken for granted. Despite the growth in honey bee numbers, colonies are exposed to many factors such as parasites, diseases, inadequate nutrition or lack of available forage, adverse weather, pesticides and hive management practices that can affect their overall health.

Neonicotinoid insecticides do not impact colony health when used according to the label. Large-scale studies in Europe and North America show that poor bee health correlates well with parasites and diseases, but not with pesticides, including neonicotinoids.

A tiny parasite is one of the biggest threats to honey bee health today. In the late-1980s a parasite called the Varroa mite invaded North American. The Varroa mite is the “single most detrimental pest of honey bees,” according to the USDA. This parasite weakens bees and helps transmit diseases that can wipe out entire colonies. Beekeepers try to control the mite with insecticides, but effective control is difficult to achieve.

Farmers and beekeepers have worked together for decades. Farmers and beekeepers depend on each other where bees are needed to help pollinate crops. The farmer gets greater crop productivity and the beekeeper earns a fee for pollination services (and increases the colony’s honey production).

Beekeeping is big business. Modern beekeeping is principally aimed at crop pollination, rather than honey production. Commercial beekeepers manage hundreds or thousands of hives, often packing them on tractor-trailers and transporting them thousands of miles to help pollinate various crops throughout the season. Because this can be stressful for the colonies, it is important for beekeepers to ensure the bees are well-fed and kept free of pests and diseases.

Facts researched by Bayer CropScience.

Common Misconceptions

Here are some of the most common “Urban Bee Legends” according to the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab:

All bees live in hives. Only 10% of the world’s 20,000 bee species are social, and only a small percentage of these construct hives.

All bees make honey. Only honey bees make enough honey to harvest, and native bees make no honey at all.

Honey is made from pollen. Honey is regurgitated nectar collected by worker honey bees. The nectar, which is 60-80% water, is mixed with enzymes inside the worker bee’s abdomen. Back at the hive, it is regurgitated and fanned with the workers’ wings until it becomes thick, syrupy honey. It is stored in comb cells sealed with wax cappings for use during the long winter months.

Bees die after they sting. Only honey bees die after stinging. Native solitary bees do not die after stinging, however, without a colony to defend, they are much less likely to utilize this defense mechanism.

Wasps are bees. Although they come from the same order of insects, wasps are not bees! Bees are vegetarians, intent on collecting pollen and nectar for their broods, while wasps are carnivorous. The yellow jacket, notorious for raiding picnics, is a wasp that has acquired the misleading name of “meat bee,” which adds to the confusion.

Small bees are baby bees that eventually grow into large bees. Bees belong to the order Hymenoptera, which undergo complete metamorphosis—a full reorganization of tissues between each life stage.