To be open about my relationship with honey bees, I must tell you that I learned from them in my childhood. They seemed to be everywhere, feeding on the blossoms of the white dutch clover that grew among the grass in our front lawn at home. They were housed in the hives my father tended. It was easy for a barefoot boy to get stung while both boy and bees were going about their business.
I only learned about bumble bees in my 90th year. Bumble bees began to fly around the eaves of central manor at Greencroft. I learned that they were queens (pregnant females) that had survived the winter. They were looking for a hole that led to a cavity to make a new home. Some residents were afraid of them so an exterminator sprayed and destroyed them. I haven’t seen a bumble bee since. They are native to America
In contrast, Honey bees are not native to America. They were brought to the new world by Europeans and spread faster by swarming than European people could displace the natives with guns, rum and false promises. Native Americans did not appreciate either the invading white people or the honey bees that came with them. They named honey bees the white man’s flies.
Bumble bees belong here; this is their land. They are foremost among the pollinators. They dwell in natural cavities they find in the woods or in burrows made by animals that live underground.
Honey bees have been commercialized by the enterprising animal (human) with which they coexist. Honey bees readily accept boxes (hives) designed for their use. They eagerly pollinate and gather surplus honey from fields and orchards planted by their hosts. They fill supers with clover, orange blossom, locust and other honey producers each with unique color and flavor. In natural food stores one can find raw organic honey, pollen, and royal jelly on display.
Bumble bees have not been commercialized. They do not harvest a surplus of honey from a single nectar producing source at a time as honey bees do. Instead, bumble bees freely roam wild flowers in forests and meadows to gather enough honey and pollen for their needs, and in the process pollinate them.
There is money to be made managing honey bees. One needs to invest in colonies of bees with hive bodies for the queens’ activities and supers for surplus honey, a hive tool, smoker to calm the bees, bee veil for protection, honey extractor, etc. But a word of caution. Since 2006 honey bees are suffering a mysterious colony collapse which leaves a hive with a queen and plenty of honey but too few bees to sustain the colonies continued existence.
Bumble bees are also under stress likely from the same environmental factors affecting honey bees. The bumble bee’s natural habitat is diminishing.
Animals that are as intelligent as we are should exercise our skills in caring for pollinators because they provide an essential service to all nature around us in our watershed.