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THE PLIGHT OF THE HONEYBEE
by Marge Trocki, Naturalist
June 7, 2014


Photo by Valerie Spale

One out of every three bites of food we eat are from crops pollinated by honeybees, native bees and other pollinators. Our nation's food system depends upon it. In addition, 75% of the world's flowering plants rely on pollinators to set seed.

Examples of crops which require pollinating insects to set fruit include fruit trees, blueberries, strawberries, almonds and coffee plants. Honeybees play a critical role in maintaining our diverse food supply.

Honeybees gather nectar to produce honey. Honey is a delicate and nutritious product that never spoils and has been used by humans as a natural sweetener for countless centuries. Honey found in old tombs is still edible. Honey is an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial product. Honey can help alleviate allergies as well as benefit a variety of other health needs.


Photo by Shannon Forsythe

Bees can fly as far as a three mile radius from their hives to forage. They rely upon flowering plants, trees and shrubs as sources for a balanced diet. In spring, dandelions and white clover are favorite nectar sources. In autumn, goldenrod is a staple nectar source.

Bees also gather pollen and produce wax. These are natural products of the hive that can be harvested. Pollen is high in nutrition and beeswax burns clean and does not emit toxins as other candles do.

Queen bees can live two to five years and are constantly laying eggs during the spring and summer months. They are much larger than workers or drones because their abdomen is much longer. Worker bees live about six weeks and are responsible for taking care of the queen and maintaining the hive. Drone bees mate with the queen and live only about six weeks.

Sometimes a colony of bees will decide to swarm if it is congested. If so, the bees will make plans to raise a new queen, and the old queen will leave the hive with about half the bees to find another home. Bees will always return to their colony because they are attracted to their particular queen's pheromones.


Photo by Dave Spier

Bees go through a metamorphosis stage similar to butterflies. Bees bring nectar back to the hive when it is available. Bees produce wax in their abdomens to create the cells where honey is stored. Honeybees can live through the winter.

In recent years, the mysterious outbreak of disappearing bees, termed Colony Collapse Disorder, has many deeply concerned. Commercial beekeepers from Main to California report losses of from 40 to 90 percent of their bees.

Mortality Challenges Facing Honeybees
Parasitic mite infestation
Virus infections
Pesticides
Fungi
Decreased plant diversity
Malnutrition
Colony Collapse Disorder
Virus infection brought in by mites

The threat to bee populations extends across much of Europe and the United States to Asia, South America and the Middle East, experts say.

Plant Traits that May Attract Bees

Flower color - bright white, yellow, blue or UV
Flower shape - shallow, have a landing platform, tubular, single flower top
Nectar guides present - guides the bees into the plant
Nectar is present - usually fresh, mild and pleasant smell
Pollen - often sticky and scented

How to Help Honeybees Survive
Plant bee friendly flowers
Select plants for bloom succession
Select plants that provide nectar as well as pollen
Avoid using pesticides which kill beneficial insects
Avoid using herbicides which kill plants bees depend upon for nectar and pollen
Keep some dandelions and white clover in your lawn as favorites for bees in spring
Save open space and wildflowers
Study relationships pollinating insects have had with plants over millions of years
Buy locally produced honey and produce
Promote beekeeping in your community
Protect swarms. Call a beekeeper to rescue the swarm and queen
Start your own bee hive
Join a beekeeping group
Support HR-4790 which reduces mowing along roadsides as forage sites for bees
Support eliminating dangerous chemicals used in agriculture and landscaping

Widespread use of toxic pesticides, neonicotinoids, is killing bees. Even low levels of dangerous pesticides impairs bees' ability to learn, to find their way back to the hive, to collect food, to produce new queens and to mount an effective immune response to their health and well being.

Already, 15 countries have imposed restrictions on using these dangerous chemicals. Now is the time for the US to do the same.

According to ecologist, Laura Burkle. wild pollinators are among nature's first responders, when forests burn, and are key to speeding up the process by which burned forests bounce back from barrenness to fecundity." Wild pollinators spread pollen to help recolonize plants and vegetation more quickly across land damaged by fire.

For more information on plants for bees and wildflowers: Gardening for Native Bees in North America: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=12050 Illinois Wildflower: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/ Marge Trocki: mtrocki@dgparks.org

Reference:
Pellett, Frank C. (1947) American Honey Plants. New York: Orange Judd Publishing Company

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