Honeybees Help Farmers, But They Don’t Help the Environment

ENVIRONMENT

Honeybee hives aren’t natural, and they don’t help the environment. In fact, they may harm it. (NPR)

Help wild bees! Build your own bee hotel!

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

In North America, honeybees are raised and managed by beekeepers in order to make honey or to pollinate crops like almonds.
Photograph by Maria Stenzel, National Geographic

 

Discussion Ideas

  • The NPR article says honeybees are not native species in the U.S. So, where did they come from? How did they get to North America? (Hint: They didn’t fly.)
    • All extant species of honeybees are indigenous to Eurasia, although a fossil proves that at least one honeybee species (now extinct) lived in North America 14 million years ago.
    • The honeybees we know and love in the United States (Apis mellifera) are an introduced species. Their journey across the continent largely followed European settlement. Follow this amazing geographic story with our outline map of the U.S.:
      • European settlers brought honeybee hives “to Virginia in 1622. By 1639 colonies of honey bees were found throughout the woods in Massachusetts … [M]igrating swarms brought honey bees to Connecticut and Pennsylvania by the mid-1650s. Honey bees had swarmed their way into Michigan by 1776 and Missouri, Indiana, Iowa and Illinois by 1800. In the next 20 years or so, bees had made their way to Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as Wisconsin … Mormons arrived in Utah, and the first bees were taken there on the back of a wagon in 1848. … By 1852 the swarms had reached Nevada. … Bees were finally introduced into the Pacific Coast states by using a sea route along the East Coast and crossing Panama, before using the Pacific Ocean for the final part of the journey. It was in 1853 that botanist C. A. Shelton used this route to introduce the first honey bees into California.”

 

 

  • Are honeybees a harmful invasive species?
    • They can be, when they outcompete native bees for food. “When flowers are abundant, there is plenty of pollen for both honeybees and their wild cousins. But in many landscapes, or when an orchard stops blooming, farmed honeybees can compete with wild bees for food, making it harder for wild species to survive.”

 

  • How are wild bee species different from honeybees? Read through our fun activity for some help.
    • Well, they don’t produce honey …
    • Honeybees are social animals, meaning they interact intensely with other members of their species. Honeybees live together, raise young together, work together. Bumblebees, native to North America, are also social insects. Most bee species, however, are solitary bees, meaning they live alone and not in hives.
      • Solitary bees live in the ground, tree trunks, or the hollow stems of plants.
      • Solitary bees do not swarm.
      • Solitary bees are much less likely to sting than honeybees because they aren’t defending a hive.
    • Wild bees can be yellow, but some species are brown, blue, or even metallic green.
    • Wild bees include bumblebees, leafcutter bees, mason bees, and carpenter bees.
    • Many gardeners assume wild bees are meddlesome flies. They may be swatting a potential pollinator! Here’s a nice guide to knowing your bees, wasps, and flies.
    • Learn more about solitary wild bees here.

 

  • How can consumers support native bee species?
    • Support conservation! Both wild bees and honeybees need green spaces filled with trees, grasses, and flowers.
    • Build a bee hotel! Bees lay their eggs in small holes. Our activity provides three projects that provide safe, healthy nesting space using inexpensive materials like bamboo, PVC pipe, or wooden blocks.

 

All bees, like this big, beautiful bumblebee, are pollinators.
Photograph by Enrique Dans, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-2.0

 

Click here to build your own bee hotel.

 

Hardworking bees make great guests—pretty flowers and no loud parties!
Photograph by FaBio C, courtesy Flickr. CC-BY-2.0

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

NPR: Honeybees Help Farmers, But They Don’t Help The Environment

Nat Geo: Build Your Own Bee Hotel

Purdue Extension: Honey Bees Not Native to North America

Nat Geo: 9 Ways to Be a Bee BFF

Grow Wild: About solitary bees

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