Are Honey Bees Endangered?

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You often read about a declining bee population world-wide. But, what about one of our favorites, are honey bees endangered? One of the most important insects to modern agriculture, the honey bee receives a lot of media attention. And, well they should because they are wonderful pollinators of many plants we depend on for food. Is all the media hype on point? Are we really in danger of losing our bees?

Honey bee graphic on extinct species background.

First, we must consider that media attention is not always exactly on point. Yes, honey bee pollination is very important to our lifestyle. However, they are not the only important pollinators – moths, birds and butterflies and others do their part too.  

Endangered Bees

With a word like “danger” in the middle, we can safely assume that “endangered” is something to be approached with caution. It implies that there is a problem – and this is certainly true for many insects.

In general conversation, animal and plants (or insects) that are considered endangered are at risk of extinction. In other words, their kind might eventually die out and be on the earth no longer.

Turtle from threatened species list.

In the United States, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was established to monitor those plants and wildlife at risk. The program works to educate the public and establish legal protections where needed.

Several types of bees are listed, including some species of the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee and the Rusty Patched bumblebee. But, honey bees are not on the endangered species list and they never have been.

Plight of the Honey Bee

Not native to North America, German black honey bees were brought over by early colonists. The hives provided honey, beeswax and pollination of vegetable gardens for increased crop yield.

We continue to enjoy these beekeeping benefits today. It is a wonderful hobby that sees many beginner beekeepers each year. However, it is a way of making a living for commercial beekeepers.

Beekeepers have always faced challenges and having colonies die is common. Losses over Winter are generally expected in most regions.

Colony Collapse Disorder Frenzy

But, in the years just before and after 2006 – the beekeeping industry faced a strange wave of losses. In this situation the majority of worker bees in the hive were suddenly gone. 

This phenomenon became known as Colony collapse disorder (CCD). The event continued for the next 5-6 years and the biggest problem is that no one really knows exactly why it happened. 

Everything has been blamed for this decline of the colonies. From pesticides to cell phone towers and even UFOs but, no reliable research has been able to verify a single cause.

What CCD did do was put the plight of the honey bee on the public radar. And, that’s not a bad thing – we need honey bees. And, putting CCD aside – it is getting harder to keep beehives alive and productive.

Just as importantly, many of the issues that affect honey bee health also hurt other types of pollinators: habitat loss, climate change, pests, diseases, etc.

Native bumble bee on pink flower.

Native Bees vs Honey Bees

Some people think that you have to be pro native bees or pro honey bees. I don’t feel that way at all. Yes, there can be some situations of conflict. 

An apiary of honey bees with a large number of hives may outcompete natives for the food supply. But, most of the beekeepers in the United States are small-scale hobbyists with only a few hives. This is not likely to cause a crisis in most situations.

Bumblebees, for instance, are at increasing risk of low population. We need them because they pollinate some plants that honey bees do not. This increases the diversity of the ecosystem.

Two beekeepers managing a hive of honey bees.

Is Beekeeping Conservation?

Beekeeping itself is not really conservation because at this time – honey bees are not endangered from an extinction point of view.

But, the loss of bee habitat, climate and environmental problems etc – causes harm to other species of bees too.

So, as long as we remember that “honey bees are not the only important ones” – we can do things that help native species too.

  • planting more nectar and pollen rich plants
  • limiting the use of pesticides
  • protect against loss of habitats

Providing food and clean drinking water for honey bees also provides it for the other important insects in your area.

FAQs

Are honey bees endangered now?

No, honey bees (Apis mellifera) are not in danger of becoming extinct at this time.

Are honey bees protected?

There are no federal laws that protect honey bees. But, the Pollinator Protection Act was formed to promote research and the study of all pollinators.

Can the Earth survive without honey bees?

Yes, honey bees are important but even without them – humans could survive on wind pollinated plants – rice, corn etc. Also, the many native pollinators would be able to pollinate wild trees and plants.

Are bees going extinct?

Some bee species are at risk of going extinct but honey bees are not on that list.

Final Thoughts

As a species, honey bees are not endangered or in special need of saving.  However, they are not as healthy and vital as colonies were in years past. We must take strides to do what we can to protect our ecosystems so that honey bees and other bee species are not added to the endangered list. Let’s try to save them all.

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