Little Bee Deaths.

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Everyone is talking these days about bee deaths, hive mortality, colony collapse, etc..  The large scale death of bees.

Let’s talk for a bit about little bee deaths though.  I was asked recently at an information booth by a woman who wanted to know which bothered me more, to see individual bees die or to see a large number of bees die.

As a beekeeper, I don’t want to see whole hives die out.  That’s an indication of a major problem.  Looking at bee deaths on a day to day scale though, bees have been dying by the dozens, even hundreds for millions of years.

Speaking in an evolutionary way, honey bees have been adapting to predators such as birds, spiders, hornets for a very long time.  They have also had to learn with the natural deaths of large numbers of bees from the colony at the same time.  Old age, being worked to death, picking up something bad and not making it back home.  Even worse, picking up something bad and making it back home to affect other bees.

Beekeepers who study biological history, evolutionary history, of bees, understand that these daily deaths of bees is one of the reasons queens lay eggs in such prolific numbers.  In order to keep the colony functional when they have bees dying in the hundreds, she’ll have to lay as many or more every day to maintain or grow that colony.

Recently Randy Oliver commented in one of his American Bee Journal articles that testing for mites with an alcohol wash was the best way to monitor accurate mite counts even though it required the death of about 300 bees.  For those who were unwilling to kill bees, next best was the sugar shake/roll in a jar.

That got me to thinking about why do some beekeepers, like myself, prefer to not kill what seems to be a paltry number of bees when compared to the overall hive population.  After all, colonies can lose 300 bees in half a day or less in some cases, just on “natural” causes.

For me, I take the position toward bees that supposedly doctors are supposed to take toward patients…”First do no harm.”

While it’s true that those 300 bees might not bee much in comparison to the whole hive, I say, “Why cause bee deaths unnecessarily?”

If a sugar roll can get close enough to an accurate count for mites without killing the test bees, then what’s the point of killing them to get a single digit improvement in test results?  300 more bees in the hive is three hundred more to alleviate pressure on the rest.  By not unnecessarily killing bees, I have to think that those 300 bees are reducing stress on the colony and making valuable contributions to the hive.

I know that there’s little I can do to stop predators from killing dozens of bees a day.  There is little I can do to stop bees from dying of old age, overwork, isolated poison or disease.  It’s going to happen regardless, no point of stressing out about it.

Having said that, what’s the point of causing more “small” bee deaths, if it can be avoided?  I choose not to.  my bees face enough “Natural” threats in a day, I don’t need to be in on the dogpile.

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