The Case Against Honeybees

No other exploited farm worker has gotten the attention Apis mellifera has. Our urge to “save the bees” and “save the pollinators” has concentrated on the photogenic and familiar honeybee. They are, after all, a species with the publicity machinery of industrial farming behind them, and the romance of DIY rooftop farming.

But we should have been thinking of the thousands of wild bee species, not this one domesticated species. The evidence is quite clear from around the world: honeybees are a big problem. They undermine wild pollinator species via competition and disease transmission. Perhaps most disturbingly, they also disrupt pollination itself.

And yet this news hasn’t gotten through to the general public. And it certainly hasn’t gotten through to honeybee fans. Honeybee hives dot NYC and many other cities. European cities have gone honeybee-hive mad.

People who still think they are doing good with honeybee hives are actually doing just the opposite. Most recently, I heard about community gardeners in the Bronx eager to get two hives. I know that excitement personally. I took part in the campaign to legalize hives here in the city. I was very nearly involved in setting up some hives in a community garden in Brooklyn when it was still illegal. But knowing what I know now, I look back on that effort with regret.

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Here’s bibliography of journal and news articles about the hazards of the invasive honeybee. Please share.

Science journal articles:

A study in Paris finds high-density honeybee colonies negatively impact wild pollinator species: Ropars L, Dajoz I, Fontaine C, Muratet A, Geslin B (2019) Wild pollinator activity negatively related to honey bee colony densities in urban context. PLoS ONE 14(9).

Honeybees spread pathogens to wild bees: Mallinger RE, Gaines-Day HR, Gratton C (2017) Do managed bees have negative effects on wild bees?: A systematic review of the literature. PLoS ONE 12(12).

More on disease transmission from honeybees to wild bumblebees: Alger SA, Burnham PA, Boncristiani HF, Brody AK (2019) RNA virus spillover from managed honeybees (Apis mellifera) to wild bumblebees (Bombus spp.). PLoS ONE 14(6).

Disrupting plant-pollination itself: Valido, Alfredo, C. Rodríguez-Rodríguez, Maria C., Pedro Jordano: Honeybees disrupt the structure and functionality of plant-pollinator networks. Scientific Reports volume 9, Article number: 4711 (2019).

In Toronto, honeybees are the dominant pollinator of native milkweed. JMacIvor, James Scott,corresponding author, Adriano N. Roberto, Darwin S. Sodhi, Thomas M. Onuferko, and Marc W. Cadotte.Ecology and Evolutino. 2017 Oct; 7(20): 8456–8462.

News items:

Honeybees help farmers, but not the environment. (NPR)

Three more studies… (JSTOR Daily)

Keeping honeybees doesn’t save bees or the environment. (Phys.org)

Conserving bees doesn’t help wildlife. (Science Magazine)

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

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And here you can learn all about “bee-washing,” in which “companies mislead consumers to buy products or subscribe to services under the pretense of helping bees. Bee-washing is also used to improve the public image of companies and has become an increasingly common marketing spin.”

1 Response to “The Case Against Honeybees”


  1. 1 NJUrbanForest October 22, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    Great insight on the honeybee. I hope it helps to educate some people on yet another non-native insect here in the states.


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