A few days ago, we received a call from a local police department, relaying a citizen’s concern of a large hornet nest. Upon arriving on the scene, we quickly determined that the situation did not involve hornets and was no cause for concern. Instead, what we found was quite exciting—the first reported honeybee swarm of the season!
What’s happening in this situation is just one of the many fascinating qualities of the European honeybee species. The bees in this swarm represent roughly half of a colony, and recently left their nest to make a new home where they can expand their population. While scouts seek the new location, the others have formed a temporary nest around this tree. Their queen is somewhere in the middle, and the exterior layer of honeybees beat their wings continuously to keep the interior bees warm. As the cold air kills off the outside layer, the next bees in line take over the job. Within a few days, the swarm will be off to build their new nest.
Ever since they escaped from their early colonist hives, European honeybees have played a vital role in both natural and agricultural ecosystems. As one of 3,600 bee species in North America, the work they do to gather nectar (their favorite food) also helps spread pollen among wild plant species. But of all of those other species, European honeybees are most helpful to farmers, pollinating roughly one-third of the food eaten by Americans. Also, let’s not forget the many useful benefits of the honey and beeswax that they produce—the two reasons why colonists brought them to America.
Sadly, honeybee populations are facing several threats, as studies show that U.S. beekeeper colonies declined by 44% between 2015 and 2016, and wild populations declined across 23% of the U.S. land area between 2008 and 2013. Scientists attribute some of the losses to pesticides, climate change, habitat loss, the mysterious colony collapse disorder. The most significant threat may be Varroa destructor, the Asian mite that invaded the U.S. about three decades ago and has since proven resistant to many eradication efforts. As if that’s not enough, scientists now hope to prevent the next potential threat following the discovery of Asian giant hornets in the Pacific northwest.
In response to these many threats, efforts are forming across the U.S. to restore wild bee habitats, improve domestic beekeeping methods, reduce pesticides and increase awareness of their role in the ecosystem. While experts work to save these friends to farmers and Mother Nature alike, we hope you’ll find new appreciation for this phenomenal species.