Pollinator Week: The Wrong Bee

For National Pollinator Week, let’s talk about the wrong bee, the Honeybee, Apis mellifera.

This one is entangled with milkweed pollinia. A pollinium is a mass or packet of pollen; in this case, there’s one on each end of these wing-like U-shapes. Orchids and milkweeds flowers are where you’ll find these curious pollen-delivery systems. Unlike the loose pollen grains found in other flowers, these aren’t so edible. Pollinia are supposed to break off when bees visit other flowers, but this one was having trouble taking off with the things stuck to her feet. (A hedge-trimmer was approaching so I got out of the way. When I returned the bee was no longer there.)

In this study in a large urban park in Toronto, almost all (>99%) “of diurnal pollination of the field milkweed, A. syriaca was carried out by the nonindigenous Western Honey bee, Apis mellifera. Our findings suggest that A. syriaca is pollinated predominantly by honeybees in human‐impacted region, unlike in similar studies carried out in natural areas decades earlier in which bumblebees were the dominant visitor…”

We have turned Honeybees into domesticated animals. They’re “managed bees” now, no longer wild. They’re farm workers — even migrant farm workers, seeing how some are shipped from Maine to Florida and back again for the blueberry to citrus industries circuit. It is too much to call them industrial workers, proletarianized?

Q. But aren’t honeybees good for the environment?
A. No
.

Q. Are they bad for wild bees?
A. Yes.

Q. How bad?
A. This bad.

Q. How bad was that again?
A. This bad, especially in regards to pathogens.

Q. Wow! Anything else?
A. Yup.

From that last citation, a paper published in Nature in March: “Our results show that beekeeping reduces the diversity of wild pollinators and interaction links in the pollination networks. It disrupts their hierarchical structural organization causing the loss of interactions by generalist species, and also impairs pollination services by wild pollinators through reducing the reproductive success of those plant species highly visited by honeybees. High-density beekeeping in natural areas appears to have lasting, more serious negative impacts on biodiversity than was previously assumed.”The concern for honeybees has sparked a wave of do-somethingism, but I fear this wave will drown out the hundreds of other bee species, even when they are given nominal attention. The science is fast out-pacing human desires and institution-building (and profit-motive). These wild bee species are mostly solitary or, as in the case of bumblebees, in small colonies. Most are ground-nesters, so they aren’t even getting the attention of “bee hotels.” Many are far more efficient as pollinators than honeybees; some are quite specialized and do the pollination honeybees can’t do at all.

An organization called the Honeybee Conservancy, for instance, claims to dedicate 50% of its pollinator garden on Governor’s Island to managed bees and 50% to wild bees. There can be as many as 60,000 bees in a single hive… so I don’t think their math is particularly good.

The effort to get more honeybees in urban areas, an effort of good faith, is bad news.

More:
Conserving Bees Does Not Help Wildlife (Science)

Diversity of bee species are vital for the blueberry industry. (NC State Extension)

This one is really bad: managed honeybees are infecting Bombus (bumblebees) species with RNA viruses. “Our results corroborate the hypothesis that viruses are spilling over from managed honeybees to wild bumblebees and that flowers may be an important route for transmission.”

1 Response to “Pollinator Week: The Wrong Bee”



  1. 1 Butterfly Madness | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on July 29, 2019 at 7:25 am

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