Living Sanibel: European honey bees are stable in Florida
There are 20,000 species of bees in the world, but only seven of these are recognized as honey bees. In the United States, honey bees are a multi-billion dollar industry, vital to the pollination of fruit trees and flowering plants that we rely on for food. Sadly, in many parts of China, the environment has become so degraded that honey bees are no longer present and most flowering plants must now be pollinated by hand.
Honey bees also produce a very useful wax, which is used for making candles as well as a host of industrial applications. Of course they also produce honey, which is a fascinating food for a number of reasons. One impressive aspect of honey, which is comprised of complex sugars, is that it does not spoil. Honey has 97 percent of the sweetness of granulated sugar and is made up of fructose and glucose derived from the nectar of the flowers that bees are known to frequent.
There are three types of bees in every hive. The queen, a small number of male drones, who stay in the hive to fertilize the queen, and 20 to 40,000 worker bees. These worker bees are the only ones you will see unless you are with a beekeeper, as they are responsible for gathering the nectar, which in turn feeds the hive during their winter hibernation. Upon returning to the hive, worker bees perform a complicated bee dance that conveys directions to both nearby and sometimes very distant flowering plants. Like ants and termites, the hives are living social organisms that cannot survive without these complex relationships, many of which still remain a mystery.
Spotting a honey bee on Sanibel and Captiva is not difficult. Hives are still being brought out to the island by Beekeepers Elliot Curtis and Sons and can sometimes be spotted in vacant fields. The best way to find bees is to find flowers. Mangrove honey is considered a delicacy, but there are literally hundreds of flowering plants on the island where a honey bee might be spotted. Wild nests, resulting from swarming bees, can sometimes be found as well, though caution must always be exercised around any beehive for fear of a beehive attack, which can produce dozens of stings and in some cases, put the intruder into grave danger that might include anaphylactic shock. The recently introduced African honey bees, which are far more aggressive than the European honey bees, have already been responsible for two to three deaths annually in the U.S., making them more deadly than venomous snakes.
This is an excerpt from Living Sanibel – A Nature Guide to Sanibel & Captiva Islands by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.