Sunday, November 13, 2011

Boosting Benevolent Backyard Bees

You know what bugs me most about bee stereotypes? How people treat honey bees (calm, rarely sting) and wasps (often aggressive, can sting repeatedly) the same way. People screaming and swatting wildly at honey bees is like trying to chase away a skunk - if you're in any trouble, it's because you went looking for it.

The simple rule of thumb - if it's got little hairs on it, it's probably friendly (and helping pollinate your neighborhood's flowers & region's crops). Bees are hairy, wasps aren't. Wikipedia has a handy chart to help tell them apart.

But there's a problem - honey bees are disappearing in a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. So some people keep bees in their backyard to both help this critical species and reap the delicious reward of honey - like my friend Aaron Lavallee, who lives in Northeast DC:

A wildlife biologist friend says backyard bees are perfectly safe:
Honey bee behavior makes them unlikely to sting you. When they leave the hive they fly up and then out to wherever they are collecting nectar and pollen, meaning that even near a hive (except in front of it), you are not likely to run into them. Second, they sting only if provoked into it, as they can sting only once, which rips the stinger off their abdomen and they die. So, they don't sting unless necessary because of the big down side.

On the other hand, wasps and hornets can and do sting multiple times, and they hurt more! Also, usually you know where bee hives are, but hornet and wasp nests you don't usually see until too late, and they really like nesting on porches.
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