By Sarah Meyer, Food Systems Program Manager at the Finger Lakes Institute, and Marion Marsh, William Smith College ’17
Sarah A. Meyer
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, approximately 80 percent of all flowering plant species are specialized for pollination by animals, mostly insects, and they affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing the output of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide. This global significance raises concern for our reliance on pollinators, such as honey bees, for food production, the global economy, and our livelihood. Interest in sustaining pollination and our reliance on pollinators for agricultural and natural ecological systems has grown in momentum on the Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ campus as students, staff and professors pursue coursework and implementation in supporting the globally significant natural process. Hobart and William Smith Colleges hosts two honey bee hives on the HWS Fribolin Farm in hopes of supporting student and faculty research interests in entomology, pollination, beekeeping, and potential direct market goods, like honey. The two hives, installed in May 2015, survived their first winter and are now thriving this spring with a newly added honey super atop each of them (see video). There have been many actions taken prior to these hive installations that motivated taking campus action for pollinator awareness. With these many initiatives taken and an eventual HWS Beekeeping Club soon to be established, HWS is a hopeful BeeCampus USA designee.
CHECK OUT a VIDEO of our hives: https://www.facebook.com/hwsfribolinfarm/videos/1038888926181428/
- In fall 2013, students in HWS Environmental Studies Prof. Kristen Brubaker’s Senior Integrative Experience course proposed a Beekeeping 101 Readers College which would include readings, lectures, and discussions focused on the ecological, social, and human aspects of beekeeping and pollination.
- In fall 2014, Finger Lakes Institute Food Systems Program Manager Sarah Meyer began to compile a list of campus students, staff, and faculty and alumni that keep bees as an indication of the campus’ social capital related to food and farming of the Finger Lakes.
- HWS Environmental Studies Prof. Tom Drennen and Beth Kinne Senior Integrative Experience course (spring 2014) investigated the feasibility of installing an apiary at the HWS Fribolin Farm, which included planning for pollinator plantings and housing for solitary bees as well.
- HWS Mathematics Prof. John Vauhgn has an ongoing project of beehive data logging in which his Embedded Computing course students are adding various sensors to beehives (temperature, humidity, sound level, etc.) to analyze data.
- Finger Lakes Institute’s Wake the Farm Workshops utilized Day of Service volunteers in March 2015 to construct two complete hives, which were then hand painted by Geneva children of Roots and Shoots and Discovery Playground, and later installed at HWS Fribolin Farm.
- In spring 2015, Andrew Thompson ’15 pursued research in honeybee hive design as part of an independent study project guided by HWS Geoscience Prof. Nan Arens, which led to the purchase of two bee colonies for the campus farm.
- Profs. Susan Cushman and Brielle Frichman will offer the introductory Biology class, “The Secret Life of Bees” in spring 2017.
- Marion Marsh ’17 worked towards an Independent Study Project throughout spring 2016, titled, “Beesearch”, which included this article as a representation of the global scale bees have on our ecosystem and the impact humans have on their management:
The Africanized Honeybee by Marion Marsh ’17
Marion Marsh ’17
To many people, a misunderstanding of what a killer bee is, can result in a fear and
prejudice towards any bee, when in fact they actually represent a small minority of the United States of America bee population, and the very title of ‘killer’ might not even be accurate (sciencedirect). When it comes down to it, in the United States of America, the highest bee population is the European honey bee, split up into different subspecies through years of selection breeding (Stanford). The Western or European honey bee, Apis mellifera, is a hardworking and gentle natured bee ideal for the word ‘bumbling’ and picked by humans to be interbred for the ideal bee type. Yet, the European Honey bee has quite the hotheaded-cousin, a species titled the ‘killer bee’ for only somewhat clear reasons. The killer bee often described is a human-bred subspecies of the Africanized honey bee, known for aggression and effective attack tactics. Still, it would be untruthful to label a single species as ‘killer’ without any real background data.
Apis mellifera scutellata lepeletier, also known as the Africanized honey bee or killer bee, is a subspecies of the western honeybee, Apis mellifera (Ellis). Africanized honeybees (AHB) originated from Southern Sub Saharan Africa, and were brought to South America in 1956 by biologist, Warwick Estevam Kerr. The Brazilian Agriculture Ministry had hired Kerr to interbreed European bees, known for their gentle nature and intense work ethic, with AHB, known for their aggression but acclimated to warm climates (Animal Review). The idea was to create a bee that was able to successfully produce honey in the tropics, but wouldn’t be too dangerous to be around. Kerr kept this new breed of bees in a Brazilian apiary. However, just one year later, in October of 1957, twenty six of the queen bees escaped from the apiary- a small mistake that would have a huge impact on the future of beekeeping and agriculture. Some believe this blunder was actually committed by a visiting beekeeper who viewed the queen excluder screen as inhibiting the queen from working, so they removed it, allowing the queens to go rogue (Stanford).
This resulted in the sudden and overwhelming spread of this species throughout the Americas. By the 1990’s, these bees had spread into the southern and western parts of the United States of America (Rabe 309). One possible reason for this spread is due to the aggressive nature of these bees. Such aggression allows them to swarm hives, either killing the inhabitants fully, or simply the queen and replacing the population that way (Stanford). Another possible cause is the abundance of man-made water sources available, a huge advantage to this breed of bee which can often be found nesting or working around water sources. In fact, this allowed AHB to live year round and survive environmental changes that once would have killed them, such as drought (Rabe 310). Since the initial spread through Mexico, these bees have been observed in states including: New Mexico, Arizona, California, Louisiana, and Alabama, to name a few (Ellis). And their arrival has been anything but unnoticed.
The influence of the AHB in the southern part of the United States of America has, in fact, had multiple and direct effects to the beekeeping community. One example is their attitude towards beekeepers. One of the biologists, Dr. Spivak, who was involved in the original experiment noted, “In all regions, there were beekeepers who were unwilling to modify their practices to adapt to new circumstances. They soon experienced extreme stinging responses and high incidences of swarming and absconding. Ultimately, these beekeepers abandoned their colonies.” (Stanford). And those colonies weren’t the only affected, as beekeepers have described the added annoyance of AHB populations means around 1/4 increase in work and 1/4 increase in stings received (Stanford). One unfortunate, and the most prominent, case involved the death of a local farmer in Rio De Janeiro in 1966, whose perceived cause of death was over 1,000 stings from AHB (Arkus). The release of the movie The Swarm during the same time period only lead to increased panic, frenzy, misunderstanding, and the eventual knowledge most have today that bees are, well, killer ( Animal Review ).
Now, before you panic, it is important to note that firstly, these bees are unlikely to be
seen in the Northern parts of the United States of America. Their placement in southern states is result of these bees inability to adapt to specific environmental changes, such as low temperature and high latitudes (mountains). In fact, it is unlikely the AHB will be seen anywhere below the 32° latitude in the Southern Hemisphere, and are just as unlikely to be seen anywhere above the 34° latitude in the Northern Hemisphere, due to similar climate restrictions (Ellis). Secondly, another reason not to panic is the simple truth behind all of this; which is, that even though AHB’s are dangerous, their population size is smaller than other bee species in the United States of America and the majority of people won’t be attacked. Any death caused by a bee is normally due to an allergic reaction and/or mistreatment of the sting, such as putting off medical attention. According to research done by the United States Department of Agriculture, only 12 people out of 1,000 is allergic to bees, and though a child might need medical attention immediately after excessive stings, the average adult can survive around 1,100 stings at once (USDA).
In conclusion, killer bees have been dealt a bad hand, with a rough beginning, and
misunderstood through falsified evidence and exaggeration. Unless one lives in the Southern parts of the United States of America, it is unlikely they will even be exposed to AHB. Those who may be exposed, perhaps if a large grouping of bees is seen near a body of water, turn around. Personally, I highly recommend not standing directly in front of the hive, quickly running in a straight line, and covering the face (Animal Review ). If you believe you might have a nest near you, call local beekeepers and if you experience a bad sting, be sure to seek medical attention. So, be sure to remember this next time you spot a small, bumbling insect pollinating a flower, and simply mind your own beesiness.
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