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Local wildlife expert shares ABC’s about keeping bees

By Staff | Feb 3, 2010

Tom Allen, a board member for the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife, lectured on beekeeping at the SCCF Nature Center last week. Here he displays one of his 10 active bee hives.

Although his presentation was entitled, “Gardening For Butterflies, Moths & Other Pollenators,” the emphasis of Tom Allen’s lecture last week at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Center’s Nature Center was placed on the worldwide plight of bees.

Allen, nature author, artist and board member for the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife, offered his expertise on several bee varieties – including honeybees, bumblebees, orchard bees, solitary bees, horn-faced bees, European and Africanized bees – as well as butterflies, fertilizers and other outdoor elements associated with Southwest Florida.

“In the past decade, there have been a lot of problems with bees,” he said. “Bees are starting to form right now, planning for their honey flow in the spring. Now is one of their most active times of the year.”

Bees, Allen noted, are nature’s most efficient pollenators. Native bees found in this region can peacefully coexist with honeybees because each species has their own foraging pattern. But different species of bees also have their own special characteristics.

Only 250 to 750 orchard bees, for example, are able to pollenate an acre of fruit trees, while it would take between 60,000 and 120,000 honeybees to accomplish an identical task. Horn-faced bees are also 80 times more effective at pollenating than honeybees.

Three people who attended Allen's lecture take a closer look at his bee hive.

Bumblebees, he explained, live in only small colonies – between 100 and 500 bees – and are the only species that can pollenate the potato flower.

“Even though keeping honeybees is much more difficult than it was 20 years ago, beekeepers still depend upon honeybees as their most efficient commercial pollenator,” Allen said.

He also estimated that nearly one-third of Florida’s food production would be devastated if not for the pollenation of crops managed by commercial honeybees.

During his lecture, he also explained the many differences between European bees used in professional and private honey-making hives and the Africanized bees found throughout the southern portion of the United States, Mexico and Central America. European bees are a non-aggressive species that will swarm only once or twice per year; Africanized bees are very aggressive, will fight to defend their hive or take over another hive and will swarm up to 16 times or more annually.

“If a bee stings you, it gives off a phermone (scent) that will tell the other bees that something is wrong,” Allen explained. “Italian bees won’t normally react aggressively, but the Africanized bees will sometimes empty their nest if they feel that they’re threatened.”

Tom Allen answered questions from the audience on how to attract bees to their yards and keeping bees for honey production.

Allen also offered that people should not wave their arms around if they encounter aggressive bees and, if stung, they should immediately remove the stinger by scratching a fingernail across the exposed stringer; pinching the stinger will only release more bee venom into their body.

To attract bees and butterflies to your yard, which can result in many positives for home gardens, Allen suggested reducing the amount of fertilizers used on lawns, incorporating native plants rather than tropical exotics, and planting flowering trees and shade trees.

“I can go into my back yard at the end of the day and relax,” he said, adding that a rainbarrel is another good resource that will attract pollenators. “I’ve had flowers and butterflies galore in my garden, from May until the recent frost.”

For additional information, visit www.thomas-j-allen.com.