There is a lot of fascination about honey bees, for obvious reasons. Colony Collapse Disorder is now a household term and bees have become a poster child for the fragility of our ecosystem, food supply, and economy.
There are real issues around our favorite fuzzy flying friends, but there are also some misconceptions that I think increase our anxiety about honey bees unnecessarily.
I attended a lecture on back by the great University of Florida entomologist and beekeeper Dr. Jamie Ellis that schooled me on a few things I didn’t know about honey bees.
Did you know these?
1. Honey bees are not native to North America.
Honey bees have become such a part of our culture, I thought they had always been here. Nuh-uh. Europeans brought them over in the early 1600’s.
There is evidence that honey bees existed in the Americas millions of years ago, but they went extinct. The adorable bumblers that make our honey today are relative carpetbaggers.
2. Honey bees are domesticated animals.
Like cows, chickens, dogs, and cats, honey bees have been domesticated by humans to exhibit certain traits, like docility and strong queens. In other words, we’ve engineered them just as much as we have our purse dogs.
A “wild” hive in America is simply an escaped hive from someone’s apiary.
3. Even if we lost honey bees (heavens forbid), humans would survive.
Check out this cool map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It shows all the American crops that honey bees pollinate.
Check that pattern. All of the fruits and veggies that we love are grown largely on the perimeter of the country. These are the crops that would be most affected should we lose the bees altogether (and we won’t).
But why don’t bees pollinate crops in the middle of the country?
Because that is where the grains are grown, wheat especially. And grains are wind pollinated. They don’t require bugs, including honey bees, to reproduce.
Wheat = bread = what humans lived on for thousands of years before we developed cantaloupes.
If we lost all pollinators (honey bees aren’t the only ones by far), we would survive, because we could make bread. Our variety of flavorful food would suck and our agriculture economy would be a shambles, but we wouldn’t go extinct.
Bonus: It’s honey bee, not honeybee.
Dr. Ellis explains why: