Don’t swat that honeybee

Published 9:25 pm Wednesday, February 5, 2014

To the editor:

I am a beekeeper, and in several weeks my girls will be taking wing to start the process of making me honey. You see, my bees are honeybees, imported to this country from Europe beginning in colonial times.

Honeybees allow us to eat more than just honey. Do you like fruit? Apples, avocados, blueberries, cherries, grapefruit, cranberries, kiwis, pears and plums all rely heavily on insect pollination. Chief among these pollinators is the honeybee.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

How about nuts? Almonds rely completely on honeybees for pollination. I do not eat nearly enough of them, but many vegetables rely on honeybees, as well. Asparagus, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, onions, pumpkins and squash all depend on honeybees as their primary pollinators.

We have cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon thanks to the efforts of the honeybee.

One of the reasons the honeybee plays such a large part in the production of the foods we eat is numbers.

Bees in America come in three general varieties. There are the solitary bees we know as carpenter, sweat and mason bees. They are, as the name implies, solitary, and single females produce small numbers of offspring. Bumblebees are more social and live in hives averaging 50 bees all from one queen.

Honeybees live in hives that at summer’s peak number 40,000 to 50,000 bees. It is these numbers, along with the generalist pollen habits of the honeybee that make them so important to the pollination of our food supplies.

Before you swat that bee, make sure it is not a honeybee. If you do swat a honeybee, you might as well go to your kitchen and throw out all of the items listed above.

As a side note, honeybees die when they sting, so they tend to sting only as a last resort. Given the opportunity, she (only females have stingers) would prefer to continue collecting nectar and pollen for her hive and, coincidentally, help make food for you.

Chris Dove

Suffolk