Extension Viewpoints: Honey bees: everyone’s favorite introduced species

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By Ethan Proud
SUN Columnist

The honey bee is a gregarious insect that has become a staple to American agriculture. It may come as a surprise to learn that this species was introduced. Many of our agricultural commodities are introduced, which is differentiated from invasive. Invasive denotes a species that is not native and is harmful or not beneficial to the environment, human health or wildlife. 

Honey bees (apis mellifera) are native to Eurasia, but have been spread to four other continents by humans and subsequently domesticated for pollination of crops, and the production of honey and wax products. Despite being the most popular bee, or maybe that title belongs to the bumble bee, there are 20,000 species of lesser-known and celebrated bees.

Honey bees are eusocial and have a strict class system that changes as the bees age. They have varying jobs including feeding the brood, cleaning, guarding or foraging. Honey bees even have a “language” known fondly as the waggle-dance by which they can communicate the distance and direction to fields of flowers.

Beekeepers typically keep different subspecies of bees: Russians, Carniolans and Italians. These species differ in temperament, size and coloration. Ironically, the Russians typically boast the foulest mood. Bees will sting to protect their hive and the sting will release an “attack” pheromone that will trigger other bees to pursue you as well.

If you have a beehive and are concerned about pesticide application, you can register on DriftWatch and mark your hive as private so only registered applicators may see the hive. Contact the Archuleta County Weed and Pest Department if you have more questions.

While the honey bee may be everyone’s favorite, it is important to recognize the role that native bees play in our environment and be sensitive to their plights as well. If your eyes are quick enough, you can spot sweat bees on many of the trails in our national forests. They are usually blue or green and metallic and much smaller than honey or bumble bees. They are solitary and are attracted to human sweat, so don’t swat these guys away thinking they are biting flies.

Ethan Proud, Archuleta County Weed and Pest supervisor, participated in the CSU Extension Beekeeper Mentoring Program.

Seed potatoes

There is still time to order seed potatoes: Please go to www.Archuleta.extension.colostate.edu/seed-potatoes to order online. 

Upcoming event

“How We Grow,” a Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership-sponsored film, will be shown on April 24 at 6 p.m. To log on, go to https://zoom.us/j/133064826, meeting ID: 133 064 826.