Posts Tagged 'honey bees'

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.


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. (

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

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


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.”

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.

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.”

For the Pollinators

I recently attended a pollinator working group meeting here in Brooklyn sponsored by the City Parks Foundation and the National Wildlife Federation.* I’d like to share some of the things I came away with.

Honeybees are ever in the news, but there are over two hundred other species of bees found in New York City. There are many more species found across North America. And these are just the bees. Butterflies and moths, as well as some wasps, ants, flies, and beetles also do the work of pollination. As do birds and bats. In general, though, most people would probably point to bees, and maybe butterflies, as the preeminent pollinators around here.

And all insect populations are falling. So what can we do? Education, education, education, for one. But also work towards making more habitat for plants and the animals that pollinate them.

Rather like us, these animals need food, water, and shelter. More flowering trees and plants, please. Even some wasps, who feed other insects to their young, eat nectar themselves. And make these plants regionally-native species, since that’s what these animals have spent millions of years evolving alongside with. (Some non-native species provide plenty of nectar, but this is less rich in lipids than that of native species, so it tastes great, but is less filling.)

Shelter. Have you heard about “bee condos”? Here are plans for a simple one. Here are some even better looking ones.

Excellent! But guess what? Most local bees (indeed, most of the world’s bees) are ground-nesters. So let’s not forget about them. Patches of different kinds of soils, free of mulch, with minimal plant cover, are a good place to start. Ah, but yellow jacket wasps also live underground, meaning it’s a good idea to be able to make a distinction between bees and wasps; the quickest is that bees are hairy and wasps are not. And once you know that, be cool: let the wasps live. You leave them alone, they leave you alone. Frankly, as hard as it is for some people to imagine, insects don’t seem to care much about us at all.

Aesthetics: the average garden is orderly, pretty, and rather sterile from the perspective of planet Earth. Indeed, “garden” has long been the antithesis of “nature.” This aesthetic/philosophical perspective is not an easy one to transform. Yet the planet is in crisis, largely of our doing, so habitat really needs to come before our egocentric concerns about pretty flowers and charming borders.

For instance, we need more disorder, more mess, more clutter. Did you know that some bees nest inside stems? Lawn and clean-edge lovers, like the Parks Department and your average gardener, don’t like “dead” stems. But you should, and you should evangelize your love for habitat wherever you can.

Three more strategies:

1. Avoid pesticides.
2. Don’t use pesticides.
3. Stop using pesticides.

Some resources:

Greenbelt Native Planet Center.
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.
Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.
More on how to attract native bee species.

*I have done some elementary and middle school outdoor/indoor presentations for a NWF project in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. An enjoyable time was had by all, and nobody got stung. The fact that (some) bees (rarely) sting is the one thing just about everybody knows about bees. So that’s where I usually start when I talk about bees.

Megachile on Asclepias

Pitza Bee

Last Saturday was ridiculously warm. We spotted a dragonfly flying over the Halloweeened dogs and children of Fort Green, and when we ate outdoors, a honeybee kept visiting. The weather was fine, but there’s damn little nectar and pollen to be had this late in the year.The pickle on Cathy’s plate was also calling to this bee.

N.B.: a “pitza” is made with pita bread.

Pollination Nation


Honey Bee

ApisSpotted my first Honey Bee of the year on the sidewalk by the bus stop, on the sunny side of the street. (Shadow provided by me for better definition in the photo.)

Crocuses are out and willows have cracked open their buds to reveal the fur within. You don’t need a Farmer’s Almanac to tell it’s an early spring.

Some Pollinators

p1p2p3p4It’s National Pollinator Week, but we should be thanking the bees — and other pollinators — every day for the work that they do. And fighting like the dickens the exterminationists of the agribusiness/pesticide complex.

Time bees

hiveIn August of 2010 I found a feral honeybee hive here. In 2011 and 2012, I didn’t notice any activity here at all, although I have to say my checking in was sporadic at best — Green-Wood is a big place and my routes didn’t always go past this tree — but still, I don’t think that original colony made it. But there’s a colony here now.

Central Park Entire

central_park_fold_mapI was given a copy of Ken Chaya and Edward S. Barnard’s Central Park Entire: The Definitive Illustrated Folding May for my birthday, and part of the gift included a card for a tour with Chaya. I finally cashed in this past weekend. But first, the map. Sheer madness! But of a glorious kind. There are 19,933 trees mapped on this sheet, the result of a two-year survey by Chaya. (Superstorm Sandy demands a revision, having blasted hundreds of trees in the park.) The map is available in two versions, check out the link above.chaya1On the tour. Chaya with the only Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra) he is aware of in the park. This had some serious gall action. (It was, indeed, a day for galls of all sorts; spring’s arboreal growth spurt is utilized by the gall-forcing agents with a vengeance.)chaya2A third of the way up a big American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) or Buttonwood (to you capitalists), is some honeycomb. This was made last year when a honeybee swarm tried to colonize this not-deep-enough hole in the tree.chaya3A rare instance of exterior comb; a colony is unlikely to survive a winter like this, and this one did not.chaya4The ruins of a massive Pin Oak in the Loch that was at least 150 years old. A lot of destruction was visible in the North Woods, but that’s nature, allowing saplings to rise up into the voids made in the canopy. Of course, in a heavily used and often abused park, things like fences, paths, and some natural common sense (an unleashed dog was swimming in The Pool was chasing ducks and freaking out a Great Egret) go a long way to helping, too.chaya5This caused some puzzlement. Similar stuff was underneath the bark of a decapitated, dead Tulip Tree in the North Woods. Chaya thought it might be the vascular cambium of the tree, which is the (live) tree’s circulation system (water up, nutrients down).UPDATE: On second thought, after further research, he now thinks this is a fungus.chaya7In the Loch, this maple toppled, but retained enough of a roothold at its base to carry on. And the top, which landed on the ground, rooted there. Branches shoot straight up from the now horizontal bole as if they were separate trees, seeking solar power. Takes a lot to kill a tree….

Chaya’s tours don’t seem to be noted on his website. They cost $10 and are well-worth it. Email him at

First Honeybees

cherry and beeYesterday, I came upon the first honeybees I’ve seen this year. They were working the ornamental cherries at the Grand Army Plaza entrance to Prospect Park. honey beeOne landed on my shirt. Remember, bees are not aggressive unless you go after them, or their hive. So don’t panic. Close your eyes and think of England if you’re afraid… but you shouldn’t be. I just let her crawl around me for a bit before she was satisfied my linen was long past its flowering stage. honey beeNote those pollen bundles on her rear legs. She packs pollen — and a perhaps a little regurgitated honey to moisten it — into these little bundles which she sticks on her pollen baskets, or corbicula. The pollen, which collects on her hairs via static, is combed together before packing. Some of it nonetheless gets transfered to other flowers, of course, and thus the bee is a little vector of plant genetics, or, as the poets would have it — and where better to be a poet then under a flowering cherry tree in the spring? — a messenger of love…


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