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 crop plants. They are not the only important pollinators though – moths, birds and butterflies do their part too. We often read about a declining bee population around the world. But, what about one of our favorites, are honey bees endangered?
Bees that are Endangered
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.
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.
Colony Collapse Disorder
Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby that sees many new beginner beekeepers each year. However, it is a way of making a living for commercial beekeepers. Hours of hard work and thousands of dollars are invested in honey bee hives.
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.
Throughout the years, beekeepers have faced challenges. Beekeeping is not always easy. Having colonies die is common and losses over Winter are generally expected in most regions.
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 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 them. And, many of the issues that affect honey bee health also hurt other types of pollinators: habitat loss, climate change, parasites (mites left untreated) etc.
The beekeeping industry contributes billions of dollars in value to our modern agriculture system. Many of the fruits, melons and vegetables that you enjoy are available because of honey bee pollination.
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 with a large number of hives in a location may outcompete natives for the food supply. But, most of the beekeepers in the United States are small-scale with only a few hives. This is not likely to cause a crisis in most situations.
They help support their local ecosystems. Some of them do things that honey bees can not replace – and we would not want them to.
Beekeeping as Conservation
Beekeeping itself is not really conservation because at this time – honey bees are not threatened. But, the climate and environmental problems that harm beehives – affects 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
As a species, honey bees are not endangered or in special need of saving. However, some of the pollinators and native species are in decline. Let’s try to save them all.
No, honey bees (Apis mellifera) are not in danger of becoming extinct at this time.
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.
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.
Some bee species are at risk of going extinct but honey bees are not on that list.