Friday, June 17, 2011

Where Have All the Bee Trees Gone?

"I'm just a little black rain cloud, hovering over the honey tree . . ."

Winnie the Pooh will have a hard time finding wild bee trees to satisfy his hunger cravings.

In spite of the media attention given to the plight of these honey-producing pollinators, trees with wild bees nesting inside a cavity -- bee trees -- are in a losing battle. If a swarm finds a hospitable home inside a tree, it has to fight off Varroa mites, small hive beetles, foulbrood, chalk brood, and whatever animals are willing to fight the bees for access to the honey stores. In Britain in 2006, the Guardian reported bee trees were virtually extinct.

Bee trees also have to fight animosity from humans. People think bees in trees are pests. To be fair, some bee trees are problematic because of their location or circumstances.  Bill Owens, a Master Craftsman Beekeeper, manages 60 to 100 hives and runs a side business, Georgia Bee Removal.  He has a website that lists true problems with bee trees, and perceived problems. For example, people with young children who have a bee tree located in a high traffic area are rightly concerned about the likelihood of stings.

Mr. Triplett & the Beekeeper consulting.

One of those true problems happened recently not too far from our house. When the major storms moved through Mississippi and Alabama in April, to say many trees were damaged is an understatement. Mark got a phone call from Jackie Triplett about a huge tree that had been cut down as a result of damage from the storm. He noticed honey bees flying about, and hoped we'd be able to salvage them while also making it safer to cut up the tree for removal.

My husband has some serious chainsaw skills.

We pulled up Sunday afternoon and chunks of wood littered the landscape in two yards.  A few bees buzzed about, so Mark suited up, got his chainsaw out of the truck, and got to work. In the end, we were surprised to find the nest was virtually abandoned, with dry comb, little honey stored, and no brood or dead bees in evidence.

Fortunately, a neighbor came out and said that the power company had sprayed the nest with a pesticide, which explained some of what we saw. The comb was infested with hive beetle larvae, so basically Mark cut up the tree into manageable pieces and they hauled it off with a tractor to a burn pile. A few bees were attracted to the small amount of honey exposed by the chainsaw, but not enough bees to make me think the colony had survived -- these were likely bees from another location trying to rob out stores.

Close-up look at combs inside tree.

It was lovely to meet new people in spite of the sweltering temperatures. I hope that Mr. Triplett will pursue his interest in becoming a beekeeper.  He's already an advocate!

If you have a bee tree, contact a local beekeeper.  They have the equipment and experience to trap the bees out of the hive if it's possible, and can fill the cavity so bees can't return there to nest.  If you have a bee tree somewhere on your property where you can allow them to stay, enjoy them while they last.

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