I see a lot of hoopla about focusing on native bees and not worrying about honey bees because they are not native to North America. This is something that is worth discussing because there are some specific and very good reasons to ensure the good health and longevity of honey bees in North America.
First of all, honey bees were brought to North America with the European immigrants who were looking to build a new life. This was at a time where agriculture was THE dominant economical force. Honey bees were packed onto ocean going vessels along with horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock to make cash crop farming more possible.
The impact of honey bee pollination over other types of bees on crops goes back thousands of years in history. The ancient Egyptians used honey bees in clay vessel hives stacked on river barges to pollinate farm crops alongside the rivers as they made their way up and down the rivers during the crop bloom season. That’s how long honey bee specific crop pollination has been going on.
Why is honey bee crop pollination such an important impact on farming? A couple of good reasons, the primary being that due to selective foraging behaviors, honey bees are ridiculously much more effective pollinators than most local bees.
The pro local pollinator crowd will point out that many local bees are much more effective pollinators and they are correct. Bumblebees, for example, are similarly ridiculously effective pollinators. However, they are not crop selective foragers thus making them much less efficient. though it might require more honey bee colonies to pollinate some crops as effectively as bumble bees or other native bees.
Honey bees will usually produce a greater crop set during bloom because they focus on the crop flowers that they have been placed on to the exclusion of other blooms that may be competing at the same time. If the growers and beekeepers are careful in trying to make sure that there is little to no competing bloom in the vicinity or less attractive forage if it is competing, then the honey bees will do an excellent job at achieving the target pollination goals quickly and efficiently.
The second main reason honey bees are the preferred large crop pollinator is because they can be managed much better than other types of bees due to their social nature of living in a colony as a super-organism.
Honey bees are relied upon to provide the desired results in commercial crop for over 100 different crops in the U.S. If there was no honey bee pollination, those crops would be reduced dramatically, reducing the volume of those harvests, increasing the prices of those crops and having a meaningful impact on any products made from those crops. Fruits, nuts, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers and other cucurbits as well as all products that use those crops as ingredients like cereals, ice cream, pies, and many others will be less available and cost much more. Less production results in less employment by those companies that make those products.
Those are just the repercussions of pollination. Think of all the products that honey bees are directly responsible for that would be greatly diminished and much more expensive. Honey, beeswax, propolis. If you think those are expensive now, imagine when they are less available than they are now and cost nearly double or more what they cost now.
There are many very good reasons people should want to keep honey bees healthy and abundant. This notion of pollinator isolationism is ignorant and illogical. Even taking the pollination facts out of the discussion, having honey, beeswax and other products we get only from honey bees is worth not discarding honey bees just because they are non native.
Honey bees, by and large, are not very aggressive, they are not predatory, they don’t “attack” without good cause such as colony defense. Beekeeping is even prescribed as a stress reducer to patients dealing with hypertension and high stress issues. Beeswax candles burn slowly, cleanly and even ionize the air where they are burned. Propolis is used to make medicines, and as topical treatments for wounds.
Honey bees benefit our society in so many ways that is it ridiculous to not want to ensure their health and longevity.
What is really needed is to have more educated and trained beekeepers as well as growers who put more value and responsibility into what they grow and how they grow it. Integrated Pest Management education, training and promotion among growers and beekeepers alike is critically essential.
Greater care and responsibility in how things such as bees and things that have direct effect on honey bees in commerce as well as research needs to be placed very high. Some of the problems we have now are a result of poor responsibility of people importing foreign bees and pests along with certain fungi and bacteria that are brought in by scientists and commercial interests alike. I’m not suggesting to stop imports, just practice greater responsibility BEFORE those imports arrive here.
Honey bees have become integral to human society for a variety of reasons. Abandoning them because they are not native to a particular area is the most irresponsible thing we could do.