This chapter presents a basic overview of the honey bee as an insect, the subspecies of honey bees that are most known in North America, and its eusocial characteristics as reflected in colony behavior. Having a good understanding of the attributes of the Family to which the honey bee belongs helps to understand its behavior and how it interacts naturally with its environment. Recognizing normal behavior helps to highlight when something isn’t normal.
The honey bee body is divided into three body sections: the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head of the bee contains many of the sensing organs, mouthparts, two antennae that provide their sense of smell, and two large compound eyes that are used to detect motion and color. These are just a small part of the honey bee anatomy that will be covered in this section.
How much and what kind of protective clothing you need is up to you. In this section, you learn about the different types of protective clothing. Although some beekeepers work the bees without protective clothing, as a new beekeeper you should wear as much protective clothing as you need to make you feel comfortable and safe while working your bees, especially as you are learning.
There is a balance between over management of a colony and lack of management, and it does take experience to recognize the right balance for both you and each of your colonies. As enthusiastic beginning beekeepers the tendency is to open the hive more than is necessary. On the other hand, knowing when it is necessary and doing what needs to be done to monitor the health of the colony is critical to the survival of the colony.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the integration of appropriate control techniques to curtail pest infestations while using pesticides and other control methods at an acceptable economic level while minimizing risk to humans and the environment. IPM includes environmental, physical, mechanical, biological, chemical, and genetic methods. The theories applied by IPM to beekeeping are some of the same theories applied throughout agriculture. IPM procedures should become second nature to the beekeeper.
Pesticides include herbicides, miticides, insecticides, and fungicides and are found in almost every home for use either inside or outside. Schools, businesses, farms, and hospitals all use chemicals to control disease-causing organisms, insects, weeds, and other kinds of pests. Because of their purpose – to kill living organisms - these chemicals usually carry a risk to humans and other mammals. Regardless of the intended purpose, it is very important to always follow the directions for use, using the minimum amount required to be effective.
The honey bee is used for crop pollination and honey production and is considered agricultural livestock. As such honey bees are critical to our economy. Pollination is the process of transferring pollen from the anther to the stigma of the plant to cause fertilization resulting in seeds. It can happen through wind blowing pollen or through transporting pollen manually via insects, birds, and bats. Over 80% of the world’s flowering plants require a pollinator to reproduce. Crops non-reliant on animal pollination are wheat, corn, rice, and most grasses.
There are approximately 4,000 native bee species in the U.S. and over 600 in Washington state. Native bees include the native leaf-cutters, masons, and bumblebees, and many other bee families. Native bees are the most important pollinators of native wild plants, helping to maintain ecosystem diversity. Solitary bees gather both nectar and pollen in a single trip, while honey bees usually concentrate on one or the other. Understanding the role that other pollinators play in pollination service is important. Raising or encouraging native bee populations may provide sufficient pollination for small or backyard orchards and berry patches but is not considered effective for larger fields. Having both native bees and honey bees have been shown to greatly increase yields for some crops.
Honey bees will always elect to go to the flowers that produce the best nectar - that which is highest in glucose. They will travel up to 3 miles for a good nectar source and have been known to go 5 miles if necessary. Attempting to have good nectar-producing flowers near their hive is really helpful but bees view the whole neighborhood as “theirs” so having hives in a city environment in which bees can forage in other gardens and flowerbeds is an advantage.
The best plants provide a good supply of both nectars (carbohydrates) and pollen (protein).
The loss of biodiversity, destruction of habitat, and lack of variety in forage due to monocultures, in addition to the effects of pesticides, are all factors in the threat to pollinators. Recognizing the steps that individuals can take to mitigate the impact these factors have on both honey bees and native pollinators is important.