Friday, May 04, 2007


My father is a hobbyist beekeeper. He currently has 3 hives of honeybees in his backyard in Chesapeake, VA (southeast). He has kept bees for a few years now (3 or 4) and he became interested both as a gardener and as an environmentalist. Bees are an endangered insect for reasons that are not fully understood but honeybees as pollinators are vital to agricultural cycles.

<Source, p. 5/13, right column>

Several scientists have estimated the value of insect-pollinated crops that are dependent on honey bees (Robinson et al. 1989,Morse and Calderone 2000), or the financial loss to society that could be expected if managed honey bees were removed from cropping systems (Southwick and Southwick 1992).These authors make a variety of assumptions and take different approaches to calculating a value for honey bees. For example, Southwick and Southwick (1992) take into account the reduced crop output stemming from a lack of managed honey bees, adjusting their figures for the changes in value of each commodity as demand increases because of reduced supply. They also present a range of possible values based on assumptions of the pollination redundancy of managed honey bees and other bee pollinators, including feral honey bees and other native and nonnative bees. Taking all of this into account, they give a range of $1.6 billion ($2.1 billion when adjusted for inflation to represent 2003 dollars) to $5.2 billion ($6.8 billion in 2003 dollars) for the value of honey-bee pollinators

As a result of being the son of a beekeeper (possibly my new expletive of choice), I have learned a lot about honeybees and why they are important and how to act around them. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation and fear about bees. Just this week I've come across two instances of this and I've been frustrated in my efforts to educate people and to change attitudes.

The first instance was in a magazine that I receive (a gift subscription from my father-in-law) called The Family Handyman. In a segment called AskTFH, a reader asked about "yellow jackets and bees". The beginning of the answer says, "The magic bullet for getting rid of wasps and bees is to destroy their nest." YIKES!

I alerted my father to this and he was also concerned. He immediately shot off an e-mail to both the author of the column as well as the editor of the magazine. I feel it is worth including here:

Dear Ask Handyman,

In the latest issue of Handyman magazine, in "Ask TFH", you recommended exterminating wasps, yellow jackets and bees. I hope you know there are different types of bees and you are doing your readers a disservice by lumping all bees into the same category. Honey bees are a protected insect by the US Government. They (the honey bees) have enough problems surviving without homeowners hitting them with insecticide. The proper thing for the homeowner to do is call a professional exterminator to determine what kind of insects they have.

If an exterminator is too expensive then there are hobbyist beekeepers in every town USA that would be glad to help identify the insects. If they are honey bees, the beekeepers will remove them if they are accessible.

The plight (decline) of the honeybee is a serious problem for agriculture. Please clarify the information in your next issue.

As my dad points out, honeybees are much different than other buzzing, stinging insects. And that difference is a critical one.

One of my favorite blogs, DCist, had this picture and post yesterday afternoon. I was horrified when I read it early this morning because I've come to think of DCist as a progressive group of urban bloggers who would do better than say, "Where's the Raid?"

Luckily, the commenters got it right fairly quickly, but even after my comment (Bob), someone had to get cranky and so I commented again to tell him or her to "shut it" as eloquently as I could.

Here are the basics that I think you should know.

1. Do not be afraid of honeybees unless you are allergic to them - a random sting can be deadly. However, bees will not sting you if you leave them alone. They are doing their own thing and will most likely ignore you as long as you leave them alone. But once you start swatting at them or moving quickly, then you may risk getting stung.

2. Honeybees should not be killed. They are at risk already and aggressively exterminating them just makes things worse. An exterminator can identify any pests, but a cheaper and less aggressive option would be to contact a local beekeeper. They will most likely come to your house and remove the hive/swarm for you at no charge.

3. In the DC area, you can contact the Beekeepers Association of Northern Virginia to try to get help.

Thank you for reading this.

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