Spring is swarm season for honeybees, and the feral population in Tucson is booming. We’ve got not one but two new colonies nesting in dead trees in our yard. I didn’t do anything to attract them, they just moved in on their own.
My feelings about honey bees are mixed. On one hand, I have many fond memories of working as a beekeeper back when I was in Peace Corps. There’s something exhilarating about opening a hive, feeling the vibration of thousands of little wings, the scent of honey and wax thick in the air. Bees are charismatic creatures, and although I worked with them pretty much constantly for two years, I never quite got over the novelty of peering into their fascinating alien lives.
The positive emotion I feel towards honey bees is tempered by the reality of what the species actually does here in the Americas. The notion of the honey bee as an integral component of our natural ecosystem is something of a myth.
In truth, honey bees are the rats among pollinators. Cute and fuzzy though the bees may be, our heavy subsidy of a single-species bee monoculture is undoubtedly a factor in the spread of invasive weed plants and the decline and extinction of scores of other bee species. Our native bees, fine pollinators in their own right, are having to compete against syrup-boosted truckloads of industrial honey bees at the same time as we bulldoze their habitat for new housing, and they aren’t faring well.
For this reason I just can’t get worked up over “colony collapse disorder“. Yes, I know farmers need the pollinators, and that colony collapse disorder is adding to the already high cost of food. But this problem is not some unforseen tragedy of nature. It’s not even about nature. It’s about a predictable byproduct of industrial agriculture. If nothing else, colony collapse disorder simply serves to highlight the problems with relying on a single imported species for all our pollination.
In any case, the feral Africanized bees in Tucson are buzzing along just fine. I was happy to have the opportunity for another photographic project. The photos at the top of the post and below were taken at sunset, with a handheld strobe as a fill flash. One nest is partly open at the entrance, allowing for easy shooting of the bees on their combs.