There seems to be a slight trend building in response to the problems facing bees that is actually working against the overall goal of improving conditions and health of bees everywhere.
The news that honey bees were facing a mysterious mortal crisis really hit it’s stride back in the early 2,000’s. Colony Collapse Disorder was a thing on the mainstream media and the world began to pay attention to the situation facing honey bees.
With all of the attention focused sharply and intently on honey bees, enthusiasts of more than just Apis mellifera began to get perturbed that other types of bees were feeling the heat of environmental calamities but not getting their own 15 minutes of fame. So these focused fans began to work harder to bring the details of environmental crisis to native bees to light.
It started well enough, the #beetoo movement. We saw that bumblebees like the Rusty Patch bumblebee was placed onto the Endangered Species list soon followed by another bumblebee species in Hawaii. Grim tidings to bee sure.
Yet, it doesn’t seem enough to some people to get some attention. To these more radical few, it’s not good enough until you have ALL of the attention. So began the ramp up in rhetoric to make honey bees not only less-victims, but perhaps even villains.
They make the point that honey bees aren’t native to North America and that as occupational immigrants, they aren’t deserving of prioritizing related to research and protection.
They say that honey bees aren’t as effective pollinators as most native bee species. Which is true. What is also true is that honey bees are efficient, partly due to their ability to focus on a flower crop and not be very likely to stop focusing on say, alfalfa, to just hop over to some thistle or other flower type. Honey bees stay focused on a flower type until they have worked all of those flowers in the area before focusing on a different nectar source. This makes them more desirable to farmers working to maximize an entire crop.
These hyper-fans also tell us that many native bees make more efficient use of bee population numbers to accomplish more. For example, fewer Mason bees can pollinate more area than a much larger population of honey bees.
This is also true. However, by and large, honey bees are THE champs at being able to be managed by people in large numbers and transported to a variety of crops over a larger part if the growing season. Many native bees are simply not manageable or as available over the same period.
“Only” seven species of honey bees are around to produce honey out of the more than 24,000 plus species of bees in the world. Native bees outnumber honey bees. Yet again, true. Honey though, is a highly sought commodity. It brings millions, if not billions of dollars into the market beyond pollination services.
My point is this…We do not need to throw honey bees under the bus in order to see awareness for native bees increase and improve. As a matter of fact, honey bees help bring more awareness to the overall conditions and situation of all bees.
I love all bees. I teach about honey bees and provide beekeeping hands-on training. I also teach classes about native bee identification, and conservation. I am providing not just classes but a creative, interactive way to get more people actively looking for native bees bees and improving habitat and environmental conditions for them.
Being divisive about bees and throwing the spotlight species under the bus only serves to lessen overall bee conservation efforts, not improve them. We can increase positive awareness for honey bees and native bees alike at the same time and appreciate what each species brings to the table.
That’s what the Bee Smart beekeeping project is working toward.