Honey bees are very interesting creatures. Their buzzing around always brings back memories to everyone, some of them pleasant, and for others intimidating. I personally like honeybees and never had any bad experiences around them. But I have never been stung by one either. Learning how to respect honey bees and keep a safe distant from their activities to me is very important to have a safe experience while interacting with honey bees. When referring to honey bees, Dr. Mike Merchant, extension entomologist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension wrote: What could present a more peaceful, bucolic image than the scene of beekeepers tending their bee hives? Beekeepers are traditionally seen as the gentlest of agriculturalists, not killing for food but merely reaping the labor of an industrious insect in exchange for nurture and protection. Yet there is little peaceful about the verbal and political battle swirling about beekeepers and honey bees at the moment.You may have seen the headlines in recent years proclaiming the doom of the honey bee. The domestic bee industry in the U.S. and in other countries around the world was hit hard in 2006 with puzzling bee and colony losses, since referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In a typical year beekeepers expect to lose 10-15% of their colonies to disease and various stresses. Since CCD arrived, colony losses have averaged 30% each winter, a significant increase. Despite dire headlines warning of the doom of agriculture, according to one 2012 report, the costs of CCD to consumers so far seem to be minimal and honey bee colony losses have been compensated for effectively by beekeepers themselves. Nevertheless, something seems wrong with the world if bees are dying. Initially all sorts of crazy ideas were promoted about the cause of CCD, including radio waves from cell phone towers. Since then the theories have narrowed to other, more reasonable suspects. In the past few months some researchers and advocates have claimed that pesticides are the principle cause. And whenever pesticides are mentioned, the debate is sure to get lively. The USDA, university researchers and EPA have been mostly united for several years in the position that CCD is the result of multiple causes including parasites, lack of nectar source diversity, diseases, and overworked bees. However some recent research on neonicotinoid insecticides has raised alarm bells for critics, and has even led to a temporary ban on this group of insecticides in Europe. The research in question includes laboratory studies with bees and field studies with bumblebees, thought to be more sensitive to insecticides than honey bees because of their smaller colony size.The smoking gun for environmentalists opposed to neonicotinoids came in the form of studies reported last year that show that one of the sub-lethal effects of low exposure to neonicotinoids include loss of the bees’ sophisticated ability to find their way back home. This loss of homing ability would account for one of the more distinctive symptoms of CCD, namely colonies that slowly decline with no signs of dead bees around the hive. Other forms of colony decline typically include dead bees around the colony entrance.While there is no doubt that neonicotinoids are toxic to bees at high enough doses, scientists are still divided on the question of whether bees that forage on neonicotinoid-treated crops are exposed to high enough levels of toxicant to suffer from flight disorientation, and whether there is even a correlation between CCD and neonicotinoid use. Indeed, in some parts of the world where neonicotinoids are extensively used, such as Australia, CCD is not reported to be a problem .If you’re a gardener, chances are that you’ve heard the dire warnings about these insecticides and are wondering if you should avoid their use. After all, no one wants to be a bee killer.
To learn about honey beekeeping, our Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office has organized the program: Bees in Texas, scheduled for September 25, 2014 at 7:00 PM. The program is free and we will be offering ice cream and cake. During this program, Shannon Pickering, a local honey bee producer will share his experiences keeping bees in Hopkins County. If you are interested, come and join us. We will be having a good opportunity to talk about honey bees and learn about their care. We can even start a local club for beekeepers if there is enough interest in our community!. For more information on this or any other agricultural topic please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 or email me at [email protected].
Mario Villarino DVM, Ph.D.
Hopkins County Extension Agent for Ag and NR
1200B Houston Street
Sulphur Springs, Texas 75482