A few years ago I decided to learn more about honey bees and beekeeping. I thought that knowing more about those two areas might help me to gain a better understanding of the then-new phenomenon of colony collapse disorder. I’d read a lot of information on the subject by the time I went – enough to have me pretty much convinced that pesticides were the root cause even though that didn’t explain everything in all cases. Off I went to a nearby Intro to Beekeeping class. I learned a lot about bees, that’s for sure. The most astounding thing I learned was that bees are routinely trucked all over the United States to be used as pollinators on a variety of crops.
The image of millions of bees riding around the interstates has never been one that brings me peace. I figure since I’m allergic to just about everything else, what are the odds that I’m not allergic to bee stings? Still, I guess bees have the right to ride the road. I’m certain the beekeepers have the right to truck their hives wherever and whenever it suits them. But it’s bothered me since I first learned of this practice. I’m not being facetious here. I’m serious when I say this. It seems like a lot of pressure to put on those bees.
Sources of Honey Bee Stress
By pressure I mean stress – that emotional and physical duress that puts us at our worst and renders us least capable of a robust defense. For honey bees, one obvious source of that stress is being trucked from one climate and time zone to another, only to pollinate first one and then another crop. I’m not saying you’re left with neurotic bees who have more in common with latte-guzzling, chain smoking, hyperventilating Type A’s run amok. I am saying you’ve got bees who are not capable of their normal levels of resilience. Introduce one more stress to those hives on the brink and you’ve got – a species in major trouble.
Current hive management techniques that put the needs of the beekeeper above the needs of the bee are another form of stress. The box hives in use today put the bees in an artificial hive. They have frames inside for the bees to fill in lieu of the honeycombs the bees would naturally build. They are uninsulated and square, unlike the natural nooks the bees would instinctively fill. The entrance to the hive is also not located in the optimal bee location. And forget about air flow throughout the box; it’s nothing like the airflow through a conventional hive.
What all that means is that even if the bees were left in place, they would still not be in a place that is truly equivalent to the conditions they would seek if left on their own. There are a host of other factors that stress the honey bee. You can read more in this article by Erick H. Erickson on Bee Source.
More on Honey Bees and Stress on Wednesday!