[permaculture] What's happening to the bees?
Charles de Matas
cdematas at hotmail.com
Thu Apr 5 13:59:45 EDT 2007
I got the following information on the caribbean situation with honey bees
from a consultant on a caribbean list.
Honeybee (Apis melifera) genetic resources in the Caribbean
European honeybees (and Africanised honeybees in Trinidad & Guyana) are the
mainstasy of CARICOM's honey production and crop pollination. However, they
are being wiped out by the vampire mite (Varroa). The European bee is the
more susceptible, as the Africanised version has superior hygienic and other
behaviours for dealing with the mite infestation.
During the last decade, this mite has wiped out over 90 percent of feral
honeybee colonies in North America, UK, etc. It is thought that a
combination of the pest and agricultural pesticides conspired to deal the
Only with the use of miticides have the commercially managed hives survived.
Unfortunately, resistance to the pesticides has evolved very rapidly. Last
year, avocado growers in California had to import hives from as far afield
as Florida and Hawaii to support pollination.
As the mite has moved into the Caribbean, the industry has collapsed in
territory after territory. A year ago, as few as ten hives remained on St
Vincent. The mite arrived in Antigua in 2005 and now few bees can be seen
anywhere. This has consequences for commercial melon farmers here, who
rented hives from beekeepers to ensure high quality fruit set. The main
beekeeper in Barbados survived by creating a business based on bee removals
from buildings. Now, his bees are returning, as the fittest survivors begin
to fill the gap.
Caribbean beekeepers have had varied success with the use of chemical
treatments for mites. The proprietary chemicals have been beyond the reach
of some pockets and many have depended on natural recovery.
Over the long term recovery may depend on the abilities of the black bee
variant which appear to be superior at surviving varroa infestations.. The
golden bee is thought to have been introduced from England and from France.
However, some researchers have suggested that the black bees were introduced
from Spain or Portugal at an earlier date. Some of the blackest bees in the
Caribbean are to be found in the Dominican Republic & Haiti. It is
possible that the black bee is closely related to African bees (owing to the
proximity of the Iberian peninsula to the continnt of Africa). Over the
years of colonialism in the Caribbean, the gold and black European bees must
have inter-mingled to produce the spectrum of colourings found in Caribbean
Re C de Mates request on
Do consider impoving habitat for rearing stingless bees in Trinidad. As a
bonus, the honey sells very well. Information on stingless bees should be
available through the Apiculture Division in St Augustine. Contact
bees at agriculture.gov.tt . Some leading research is being conducted in T&T,
especially on Tobago, in collaboration with Dutch scientists. They have
developed special hive boxes, there.
For centuries, the stingless bees have been managed in log hives by
pre-Columbian peoples and are still reared by the Maya of Central America,
today. The honey sells at five times the price of normal honey, They use the
honey medicinaly- one species for colds, one for treating the eyes, etc.
There is a great research centre in Costa Rica; their literature is in
Spanish but they all speak English, too.
Preliminary surveys suggest that most of the Caribbean islands now have few
species of stingless bees. As usual, T&T is the the exception, being an
ecological extension of Venezuela. Many species live there and were
apparently first reared in hives by the indentured Hindus, who needed honey
for the puja ceremonies.
Anthony R (consultant), Antigua
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