Education

Bees, trees, and squirrels

Article by Kat O’Lone

 

There are over 4,000 species of bees native to the US, with over 500 species native to Miss Bonnie’s home state of North Carolina. Bees come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors, each with its unique characteristics and ecological role.

World Honey Bee Day, which is typically celebrated annually on the third Saturday of August, offers a chance to acknowledge the vital contributions that honey bees make to our daily existence.

Nearly 80% of all food is pollinated by bees, yet, in 2021, 30% of honey bees did not survive the winter¹.

With a worldwide decline in bee populations, we must consider our contributions to this global issue. Bees are facing numerous threats, including the use of toxic pesticides in our backyards and gardens, habitat loss due to urban development, and invasive farming methods.

“Beekeeping is a gateway drug to caring about the environment”, says one of the local beekeepers at Buddha Bee Apiary in Durham, NC. Justin Maness started Buddha Bee in 2019 with a mission to make a meaningful impact on the health of our planet. His company offers a “Host-a-Hive” program that allows people with no beekeeping experience to house beehives in their backyards.

A hive can have a positive impact on the surrounding ecosystem and oftentimes can be a strong connection point between the host and our natural environment. Among the typical things, like harvesting the honey, Buddha Bee Apiary also uses beehives as a living laboratory and an opportunity to learn and educate on sustainability.  Here’s an interesting note they shared recently:

“A squirrel tore open several reeds in my bee hotel, so I turned it into an opportunity to take the pollen from one of the reeds and sent it to a lab that does pollen DNA testing. Not that we needed another data point to prove how important trees are, but it was surprising to me how many types of trees were on both reports. The mason bees (graphics on the left) appeared to have exclusively visited oak and sweetgum, which lines up with the trees that I have in my yard.”

Squirrels are not typically known to eat honey, however, they may do so to sustain themselves when other food sources are not available.

Another beekeeper from California, Joy Pendall, shares her past encounter with ground squirrels and the damage they did to her bee boxes. Joy described it as an oddity that might have been the result of food scarcity for squirrels due to repeated years of drought in the area. “At first they were chewing through the rear of the styrofoam nucs to access the sugar syrup compartments. Eventually, the squirrels started getting into the actual frames, chewing and eating the brood for protein, just as a bear would.”

Here’s a picture of a gray squirrel feeding on dead bees during winter, posted on the beekeeping Reddit forum by user @yelloflihi (r/Beekeeping).

World Honey Bee Day is not just an awareness day, but a celebration involving beekeepers and honey bee enthusiasts, such as Bonnie and myself. Research and education are crucial in understanding the challenges faced by bees and collective action is needed to help their numbers increase. By working together and using a united effort, even just one day a year, the rewards and messages are magnified many times over. Together we can make a positive impact that will last long after we’re gone.

How did you celebrate World Honey Bee Day? Would you host a hive in your backyard? Tell us in the comments below.

 

¹Information obtained from Buddha Bee Apiary

 

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