The honey bee has been a silent helper of our ecosystem for decades. Honey bees are furry animals, just smaller than most furry animals. The fur is what distinguishes them from hornets and wasps. This fur acts as a magnet for pollen collection. Contrary to popular belief, the honey bee is not native to the Americas but rather from Africa, which, in terms of climate, can make sustaining these creatures a bit difficult. Naturally, honey bees will colonize in hollow areas and will generally build in a vertical fashion. These creatures are extremely social and the colony is seen as a super-organism as opposed to multiple individual organisms. The colony communicates with many different types of pheromones and dances as well as being able to see a wide variety of colors, including ultraviolet light. Darker colors indicate danger, being the colour of most predators that will destroy a hive to get the honey.
The honey bee is the only bee that produces enough honey, to not only feed themselves but also have pounds left over for people to extract, in comparison to the bumble bee which will only produce enough honey for their colony to consume. Not only can the honey being produced be sold, but so can the wax, pollen, propolis, and royal jelly.
Economically, the most important role of bees is not honey production, but crop pollination. About 35% of the global volume of food we produce comes from crops that depend on pollinators, which means a total loss of pollinators would mean a 35% loss of global food production.
“In Ontario, honey bees and bumble bees are responsible for pollinating $897 million of the $6.7 billion worth of agricultural crops annually. Furthermore, Ontario beekeepers transport honey bee colonies outside of the province to pollinate about $71 million worth of blueberry and cranberry crops in eastern Canada.” (Ontario Beekeepers Association: Media Release, July 25, 2018)
There are many pests, toxins/poisons, diseases, and weather conditions which affect the honey bee; and as beekeepers our knowledge is crucial for their survival. With the increase in hobbyist beekeepers, there also comes an increase in diseases. These diseases can easily spread between local colonies which in the long term can hurt the honey bee population which can lead to a snowball effect. Proper testing and preventative measures should be taken to help reduce the risk of disease spread. For Ontario beekeepers, weather was ranked as the number one possible cause of colony loss over the 2017-2018 winter, followed by poor queens, weak colonies in the fall, and ineffective Varroa mite control. In total, Ontario beekeepers exhibited 45.7% colony loss, greater than any other province in Canada (Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists Statement on Honey Bee Wintering Losses in Canada, 2018).
Overall, honey bee survival is at great risk. Given the rise of antibiotic resistance, authorities are placing strict regulations on how to obtain antibiotics. Veterinarians and beekeepers will have to collaborate in order to save this vital agricultural species. Get involved with your local community and join organizations that help spread information and help educate the community on honey bee health. We would like to thank Huronia Beekeepers Association and Brian Scott from Innisfil Creek Honey for all the help and wonderful photos.
Helpful Tips: Wear bright colored clothing to minimize the risk or being mistaken for a predator. When having multiple hives consider color coding each hive so the bees can recognize which one they belong to. On average, a beekeeper should be checking their colonies every 2 weeks. Checking too frequently can disrupt the colony and not checking enough means early signs of disease can be missed.
*photos from Innisfil Creek Honey*