Migratory beekeeping and honey bee health
We often hear that migratory beekeeping is bad for honey bees. But why, exactly, is this so? I’ve put together a list of the most commonly cited reasons.
- Migratory beekeeping disrupts the natural rhythm of the colony. Like most things in nature, a colony has a life cycle. It begins to expand in late winter, the population explodes just before the honey flow, and then the colony swarms one or more times. The original colony and each of the swarms use the rest of the summer to prepare for winter. During the fall the populations decrease and “winter” bees are born. The winter bees see the colonies through until spring. But colonies that are trucked across the country—say from Maine to Florida and back again—to pollinate both summer crops and winter crops, get their signals crossed. The change in latitude changes the hours of daylight as well as the temperature, humidity, and floral types. These rapid changes and mixed signals are thought to stress the bees. Should the colony be raising winter bees or foragers? Should it be getting ready for spring or fall? Is winter coming or not?
- Migratory beekeeping brings billions of bees together in one place where they can most effectively exchange disease organisms and parasites. Migratory beekeeping is responsible for the extremely rapid dissemination of disease we have seen in the last few decades.
- Migratory beekeeping caters to the needs of monocropped farmlands. These monocultures do not provide the large variety of nutrients bees need for maximum health and immune response. In addition, the vast number of bees trucked to these areas means there is stiff competition for the food that is available.
- Most crops are treated with one or more pesticides. When bees are trucked from one monoculture to the next, the colony is exposed to a greater number of pesticides. This increases the possibility of synergistic effects among pesticides that have been collected with pollen and stored inside the hive.
- A colony may spend days during the hottest part of the summer confined on the back of a truck along with 400-500 other colonies. High heat, poor ventilation, and lack of water are the norm.
- Freeway noise is not natural to bees. The incessant, high-decibel assault on the bees from road noise, traffic, and wind is thought to stress the bees. High noise levels are not normally found in the pastoral environments where bees live.
I still find it odd when people express surprise that honey bees are in trouble. The only surprise is that they have survived at all. It’s hard to believe any animal could withstand such harsh and constant abuse and still survive to work for us the next day. Truly amazing.