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Bee-aware of honey bees this spring!

By Luke Harlow UF/IFAS Agriculture & Natural Resources Agent
Posted 2/20/19

Pollen and allergies have finally hit our area: eyes are puffy, noses are raw, and cars are yellow from all the tree pollen. You also might have noticed an increase in pollinator activity as this is …

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Bee-aware of honey bees this spring!


Pollen and allergies have finally hit our area: eyes are puffy, noses are raw, and cars are yellow from all the tree pollen. You also might have noticed an increase in pollinator activity as this is the start of pollination season for honey bees!

What is so important about honey bees?

Beekeeping, both commercial and backyard, are extremely important to the pollination of our ornamental plants, flowers and the crops we consume every day. About one-third of our U.S. diet results from insect-pollinated plants with honey bees being responsible for 80 percent of that amount. Honey bees contribute nearly $20 billion to the U.S crop industry, sustaining crops such as such as almonds, squash, melons, apples, cherries and broccoli. Bee hives also give us bee’s wax, which is manufactured to produce not just candles, but other products such as lip balm, sun screen and wood polish.

Why do I see bee hives hanging from trees in the spring?
Normally bees prefer to build their hives in protected and enclosed areas, such as tree hollows. If you are seeing a group of bees clustered together hanging from a tree, what you are probably seeing is a natural phenomenon called swarming. We typically see this in the springtime, but it can happen through the summer and even fall months. Swarming happens at a time when the bee hive is extremely healthy and bee populations in the hive are too great.
The queen bee decides to correct this problem by taking a portion of the hive and relocating to start a new hive, effectively creating two bee colonies out of one. The bee swarm will be looking for someplace quiet, dry and enclosed (tree hollow, electrical junction box, inside home walls). If the swarm is hanging from a tree limb, they are most likely taking a short rest to scout for these locations until they find a suitable spot to set up a new hive.

Honey bees are an endangered species! Are they? Really?
You may have read somewhere or heard someone mention that honey bees are endangered and are dying! There have been eight different species of bees that have been placed on the endangered species list in the last couple of years, but none of these are the Apis mellifera, the European honey bee.
The reality is that honey bee populations are thriving. This boom in honey bee populations can be linked, in part, to the increased number of beekeepers, which in 2006 was about 600. By 2018, there were about 5,000 beekeepers, maintaining over 366,000 honey bee colonies in the United States. However, it is also not uncommon that beekeepers are seeing colony losses due to many impacts. Introduced pests such as the varroa mite and American Foul Brood disease have caused significant problems for the commercial beekeeper and backyarder alike. Environmental factors such as habitat loss and natural disasters have played roles in colony failures as well. But our friend the honey bee is far from being on the endangered species list.

What should residents know about bees?
Bees are not inherently aggressive unless provoked, swatted at, or need to defend their hive. Africanized honey bees, however, show signs of increased aggressive and defensiveness towards their hives, which is why they are nicknamed ‘killer bees.’ Thankfully these honey bees are not currently located in Northeast Florida. There have been isolated cases of them, but generally these bees were transported into the area from other places. If you do suspect bees are being aggressive in nature, leave the area as quickly as possible and report the incident.

If you have questions about bee swarms, want to learn about beekeeping, or have questions regarding honey bees, contact the UF/IFAS Clay County Extension office at (904) 284-6355.