HONEY BEES AND BEEKEEPERS
Working Together For An Abundant Food Supply Everyone knows that honey bees
produce honey and that occasionally they will sting to defend their hive. However,
we take for granted that the honey bee plays an invaluable pollination role
in our varied and abundant food supply.
Foraging, Feeding, Pollinating - All in a Day's Work Honey bees are known in
scientific terminology as Apis mellifera. In a typical hive, there are three
kinds of honey bees. The queen bee lays eggs and rules the hive with chemical
messages called pheromones; the worker bee, a sterile female, does all the work
the hive requires; and the drone, a male bee with only one function, fertilizes
the queen in her first few days of life. Worker bees gather food, primarily
pollen and nectar from flowers. As they forage from flower to flower pollen
sticks to their hairy bodies. As the foraging bee moves from flower to flower,
pollen is transferred, which results in fruit being produced.
While collecting their food, honey bees unintentionally pollinate more than
90 cultivated crops with a combined annual value of $20 billion. Honey bee pollination
affects about every third bite of food consumed. These foods include apples,
almonds, blueberries, cranberries, cantaloupes, other melons and cucumbers.
Many plants pollinated by honey bees contribute indirectly to human diets because
they are important food sources for livestock and wildlife. These plants include
alfalfa, clover, wild fruits, and berries. Also honey bees are important in
pollinating plants needed for dune and marsh stabilization.
Many insects besides honey bees can pollinate plants, but no other insect
is more easily managed or relocated for specific pollination, nor does any other
insect pollinate such a wide range of plants.
Honey - The Honey Bee's Sweet Namesake Honey bees are famous for their honey.
Each year, honey bees in the United States produce about 250 million pounds
of honey, a byproduct valued at $200 million. Honey bees also manufacture four
million pounds of beeswax each year and several lesser known substances like
bee pollen, bee venom, and royal jelly, which are important ingredients in a
variety of products.
The Origin of Modern Beekeeping Beekeeping for honey and hobby originated centuries
ago in Asia and Europe. When the American colonists missed honey as a sweetener,
they imported honey bees from Europe to Jamestown, Virginia, in the 1600's.
American Indians, having never seen bees, thought the strangers had brought
in a new kind of "fly." During the next 200 years, beekeeping grew steadily
until honey bees became a familiar sight across North America. As an industry,
beekeeping grew dramatically during the first half of the 20th Century. During
World War II, when sugar was strictly rationed, managing bees for honey production
gave Americans an alternative way to still have sweets and sweeteners.
Beeswax was also an essential component of machine lubricants used by the military.
It was during World War II that people began to realize how important honey
bees are to crop pollination. Records show that prior to World War II, the United
States had 4.3 million honey bee colonies. By 1947, that number had increased
27 percent to 5.9 million colonies, the greatest number of hives in U.S. history.
Current and Future Perspectives Today, about 150,000 beekeepers, most of them
hobbyists, manage over three million colonies in every state of the nation.
Though most honey bees are kept in rural settings, hives are often seen in backyards,
on roof tops, and even on the balconies of high-rise apartments.
Many home gardeners keep a few hives to pollinate their fruit trees and vegetable
gardens. The demand for commercial beekeepers--those who earn their livelihood
from the sale of honey and the rental of hives for pollination--is so great
that many beekeepers move their colonies thousands of miles each year to provide
pollination services. These people are known as migratory beekeepers. Like many
other industries in the United States, the bee industry is specialized.
One segment focuses on the sale of packages of bees (as opposed to bee products)
to other commercial or hobby beekeepers. Bees are sold several thousand to a
package, including a queen bee, to begin new colonies. Queen bees are sold individually
for breeding purposes. Though subtle at times, the effects of beekeeping are
far reaching. Beekeeping associations exist in all 50 states to provide knowledge
exchange and new ideas for both hobbyists and commercial beekeepers. Beekeeping
and honey industry meetings, from the country to international level, are held
State and Federal Governments participate in programs to protect and preserve
the health of our bees and the U.S. bee industry. Local Cooperative Extension
Service offices offer a variety of beekeeping information. Also, educational
materials, meeting information, and the latest research findings are routinely
published in local and state bee newsletters and national beekeeping magazines.
This factsheet was prepared by Dr. James E. Tew, National Program Leader, Apiculture,
Extension Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and The Ohio
State University at Wooster, Ohio and Dr. Anita M. Collins, Research Leader,
Honey Bee Research Laboratory, Agriculture Research Service, USDA, Weslaco,
Texas in cooperation with the USDA Interagency Technical Working Group on the
Africanized Honey Bee.