Native to Florida? No. All races of the Western honey bee are native to Western Europe, the Middle East, and the African continent, particularly its east coast. There are no honey bees native to North America in the present day, although scientists have identified an extinct prehistoric species.
Nonetheless, many Americans probably believe that the honey bee is a native insect – it’s an understandable belief, considering how long the honey bee has been present in the U.S., how visible individual honey bees are in many environments, and the fact that the U.S. is home to feral honey bees, presumably the result of domesticated bees swarming and establishing new colonies in natural areas.
Big Money Associates: Human beekeepers deserve some of the credit for the successes of the Western honey bee. Florida is one of the six states with the greatest number of registered beekeepers – the others are California, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas, which collectively represent two-thirds of the nation’s registered beekeepers.
Interesting Fact: In Florida, more than 315 species of native bees pollinate crops.
Estimated benefits per year: It is not possible to state with certainty the overall economic benefits that honey bees provide to Florida, because bees from managed colonies roam large areas when they forage, pollinating food crops, ornamentals and wild plants in such numbers that the activity cannot be documented accurately.
It is often stated that one of every three crops grown in the U.S. relies on honey bees for pollination; in Florida, that ratio is said to be three of every four crops.
Contract pollination services represent the most valuable honey bee endeavor that can be tallied up easily. Nationwide, contract pollination services accounted for revenues totaling $655.6 million in 2012, though there is no separate figure available for Florida. Just 10 crops account for 96 percent of U.S. contract-pollination revenues; in descending order they are: almonds, sunflowers, canola, grapes, apples, sweet cherries, watermelons, prunes, blueberries and avocados. Four of those crops – grapes, watermelons, blueberries and avocados – are grown in Florida.
Florida is the nation’s No. 3 honey producer, after North Dakota and South Dakota; in 2015, the state produced 11.9 million pounds of honey, with a farm gate value of $23 million. Florida also boasts one of the highest productivity rates, in pounds of honey per colony.
Although pollination services and honey production are the two benefits most commonly associated with beekeeping, the insects support several other commercial activities. Beekeepers sometimes collect and sell beeswax, pollen, royal jelly (a substance fed to developing honey bee larvae, particularly future queens) and propolis, also known as “bee glue,” (a sticky material made from tree sap used as a wood varnish.) One other product that beekeepers sometimes offer, though it’s a bit more complicated to obtain – bee venom, which is used in medical research and taken by some arthritis patients, who believe the venom eases their symptoms.
What Is UF/IFAS Doing About It? The UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department operates the Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory (HBREL), which was established in 2006 and is currently administered by Jamie Ellis, the UF/IFAS Gahan associate professor of entomology. Ellis is joined by visiting scholars, post-doctoral associates, graduate and undergraduate students, and technical and support staff. It is one of the largest facilities in the Southeastern U.S. dedicated to the study of domesticated honey bees and wild native bees, and is the focal point for much of the UF/IFAS academic activity relevant to beekeeping.
The HBREL addresses issues related to honey bee husbandry, colony management, honey production and the economic and regulatory issues that concern commercial honey producers. Lab personnel have devoted an increasing amount of time in recent years to bee health issues, notably factors that may contribute to elevated colony losses nationally, such as challenges from the pathogenic Varroa mite, and exposure to certain pesticides.
Other efforts at HBREL emphasize outreach activities; the largest of these is the annual Florida Bee College, held at UF’s Whitney Lab at Marineland, Fla. since 2008, with a second event held at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center since 2013. Bee College offers something for everyone, from the expert to the novice, to young people ages 6 to 12, who can attend the Junior Bee College. The Bee College also includes the state’s largest honey show, a popular event that displays the wide variety of honeys produced by Florida bees.
The laboratory also has a website, http://www.entnemdept.ufl.edu/honeybee/index.shtml, which includes an extensive selection of educational materials, covering topics such as starting and maintaining health honey bee colonies, Florida laws and regulations, videos on pests and pathogens affecting honeybees, and links to important additional resources, notably the UF/IFAS African Honey Bee Extension and Education Program, which helps beekeepers understand the challenges posed by Africanized honey bees, and how adjustments in management practices can help ensure safe and productive beekeeping.
What Can YOU Do About It? Florida home and business owners can support honey bee populations by minimizing their use of insecticides and other lawn-care products that could kill bees. They should also read and follow label directions when using any insecticide – remember, “the label is the law.”
For residents who are prepared to take on greater expense and responsibility, a more direct way to support Florida honey bee populations is to become a beekeeper. There are many sources of help and information available, including this blog post, “Is Beekeeping Right for You?”
To learn more about Western honey bees in Florida, visit this “Featured Creatures” document produced by the UF/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department.
To learn about Africanized honey bees, visit this “Featured Creatures” document.
For an in-depth guide to more than 300 bee species found in Florida, visit this web page.