The buzz on bees these days is that these little pollinators are really flying an uphill plight in the Bay Area.
With shrinking patches of open space and native flowers and an increase in the use of pesticides harmful to bees, the region’s bee population could be shrinking.
“Rampant development has had a negative effect on the bee population,” said Buffy Martin Tarbox, communications director with Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA. “Bees are native and need nature, flowers and open space and when they don’t have it that’s a very serious problem.”
It’s not just honey that we stand to lose when bees disappear. Bees are directly responsible for pollinating more than $15 billion in U.S. crops each year. Apples, pears, almonds, avocados, grapes and many other crops rely on bees to help them grow.
In an effort to increase awareness, PHS is entering its third year of maintaining a honeybee colony at its Tom and Annette Lantos Center for Compassion in Burlingame as a way to help educate the public about the necessity of bees.
The beehive is open for viewing seven days a week on the second floor of the shelter. It was built and is maintained by volunteer beekeeper Steve Nori, who has been caring for bees since he was a child.
Nori said he and his daughter built the pine hive box in 2012, and secured a plastic tube to the side of the box which connects to the outside of the building. This plastic tube serves as a tunnel, allowing the bees to venture outside to gather nectar and pollen and bring it back to the hive box. A tiny door allows people to view the complex social structure of the honeybees.
“In a honeybee hive there is one queen and 20,000 bees,” said Nori. “It is amazing to watch these bees all do their thing,” he said.
Honeybee colonies are 90 percent female and consist of a queen, female workers, male drones and developing young bees. The workers have a variety of jobs including tending to the queen, housekeeping, building the honeycomb, guarding the hive and foraging for nectar and pollen, according to Nori.
“Bees are so amazingly organized and productive and there are ways we can increase our numbers of them,” said Nori.
In fact, Nori said there are three surefire ways residents can help bees thrive in our region. Residents can allow outside weeds to grow, avoid harmful pesticides and look at organic methods of pest control. Residents can also go to a nursery and ask about planting native species that are not genetically modified to produce fungal and insect repellent.
“Many times, the plants you will find at a true nursery that are native in our region will provide good foraging for bees and use less water, too,” Nori said.
He said mono-cropping — planting just one type of flower for the look — also hurts bees because sometimes the plant only flowers for one or two months, producing nectar or pollen for just a short time.
The overuse of common household products like Roundup or other defoliators also prove dangerous to honeybees because they often bring the poison back to the hive, many times resulting in deformities or even a lack of reproduction, Nori said.
It’s these little things that can make a big impact, he contends.
People who come to see cute little kittens and dogs for adoption at the shelter are pleasantly surprised to see the exhibit and find it particularly interesting too, Tarbox said.
“Our honey bee colony is just one small hive, but we are hoping through education, people will come to see bees not as a nuisance, but necessary partners in our eco-system and food supply,” Tarbox said.
Many see bees as pests or a nuisance, Nori said. He and others hope to dispel that myth, because bees are just like any other animal in the wild — when they feel threatened, they react.
A honeybee, Nori said, is actually a small percentage of pollinators. There are more than 20,000 species of bees and yet only 13 are honeybees. Interestingly, honeybees, with their hook-like stingers, can only sting once.
“And 99 times out of a 100, they will die, they are extremely docile under normal circumstances and do not want any trouble,” said Nori.
The Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA is open seven days a week. Visit www.phs-spca.org for more information.