Bees are critical players in the food production industry both in North America and the whole world. Different bee species play a crucial role in pollination, and honeybees offer honey and other by-products to humans, but what is the origin of each of the species in North America?
Of the 20,000 bee species, 4,000 are natives of North America. But honeybees are not natives; they were introduced in 1622 by colonialists. The honeybee species introduced by settlers in North America is the Apis mellifera. Honeybees are important to the food industry in North America.
What Are Invasive Species?
Before getting into much detail about invasive species, it is important to understand the meaning of an invasive species and what makes it invasive.
By simple definition, an invasive species is any animal or plant that has invaded an area it was not in originally. If an organism is not native or indigenous to an area, then it is an invasive species.
Invasive species can be quite dangerous to the new area they invade and can cause a lot of environmental and economical destruction not only to their immediate environment but also to the general ecology of an area regardless of their body size. More than 40% of native species became endangered because of invasive species.
When bees are an invasive species in an area, the damage they cause is felt globally because of the crucial role they play in food production through pollination and honey production.
Invasive species often reproduce quickly and take over the new area, aggressively harming the indigenous species through killing and stiff competition for the few available resources. A species can become invasive even without necessarily migrating from another country.
A species becomes invasive majorly because of human factors knowingly or unknowingly. Because of the vast advanced movement of humans and transportation of goods and services across the globe, people tend to carry invasive species with them. For example, insects may enter into wood, crates, boats, or be carried by people as souvenirs.
Also, climatic changes such as increased temperatures and changes in rain and snow patterns can cause invasive species to move to new areas.
Are Bees an Invasive Species in North America?
That being said, it will be good to shift the focus to honey bees and know if they are invasive species in North America.
Honey bees are exemplary in terms of their hard work and the great work of pollination they do. But they too are not exempted from the possibility of being invasive species, especially when we narrow down to North America. If they are invasive species, the best option would be to remove them and not encourage their thriving.
The discussion of whether honeybees should be classified as invasive species is a complex one, considering that removing any bee in an area would cause significant damage to the ecological balance and agricultural output in that country, and North America is not an exemption.
Even if honeybees alone were to be removed, although they are just a small proportion of the 20,000 bee species across the globe, their removal would have dire consequences to North America.
Despite these facts, in some instances, farmed honeybees at times exhibit invasive species behavior. The reason for this is that honeybees tend to compete for forage with other wild bees. When flowers in a region are limited, and all bees need nectar and pollen, the honey bees make it harder for other wild species to thrive.
If you are a beekeeper, this question weighs heavily on your mind, and you wouldn’t want to think that these wonderful creatures could be an invasive species.
Honey bees are important, and so are native bees. All work together with moths, birds, wind, and wild animals to cause pollination of food crops, ornamental plants, and famous trees.
Remember that bees do not necessarily pollinate all of the food crops. The biggest chunk of the diet on a human plate comes from plants species that are not pollinated by bees; these are; wheat, corn, rice, and soybeans. Such plants require wind or do self-pollination. Eliminating bees would still mean getting some food, but it would be deficient in vitamins, colors, and tasteful flavors from honeybee pollinated crops.
Plants pollinated by honeybees are mostly berries, fruits, nuts, and veggies. Large orchards and fruit farms rely on bees for good crop harvest. Moths and flies cannot handle the large volume of plant pollination required that bees provide.
When bees’ health suffers due to heavy pesticide use, pathetic habitats, viral diseases, and lack of sufficient quality forage, food production suffers and ultimately global health.
There are so many honeybee species in North America alone, but the most common one here and in Europe is Apis Mellifera. Beekeepers prefer it, yet it was originally not a native. It was introduced to North America even before the colonization era. At times they escape from the habitat provided by the farmer and turn wild.
For these species to be considered invasive, they first must have displaced the native insects and hindered their thriving. But research has shown the exact opposite.
An increase of bee species in North America has led to increased pollination of fruit plants and more seeds and flowers, ultimately leading to a subsequent increase of forage for all insect species. Honeybees also do not fight with other insects and rarely spread diseases to other insect species.
When you consider the other side to the forage availability debate, you realize that honeybees do not interfere with wild forage as much as people may believe. Often honeybees are reared commercially and kept in large groups; the orchard owners love to have them moved around their orchard, pollinating different zones. The other proportion of beekeepers who do it as a hobby are widely spread apart across the region to impact forage that much. Therefore, for the most part, native bees are unaffected by honeybees, and rarely will these two species interact or compete for the same forage. In very minimal cases, there is an overlap.
The question then is, why is there a sharp decline of forage availability hence harming native bees? The answer is quite simple; harmful human activities. The large-scale use of pesticides and herbicides deals a blow to native species. Also, wild forage is on the decline as more land is brought under the control of humans for real estate development due to increased population. Coupled with this is the domestication of bumblebees, leading to a spike in their population and thus the spread of diseases affecting native bees. This cannot be attributed to the presence of honeybees.
In conclusion, although honeybees are not natives in North America, they are not an invasive species either. On the contrary, they are more critical to the American ecology, and their absence would be dearly missed. They bring great benefits to the food and medicinal crops industry, provide other helpful products in the form of honey, beeswax and propolis and play a huge role in pollination. If honeybees were to be removed from North America, the food supply would suffer greatly, and within no time, the country’s future would be under threat. Their presence is more of a blessing to North America and the world.
With this in mind, all people ought to unite and work together in safeguarding the health of honeybees through advocacy of better farming practices. Farmers must intentionally limit their use of pesticides and herbicides for the sake of the health of these wonderful species.
No, honeybees are not invasive to North America; they are a blessing and should be welcomed.
How Many Species Are Native To North America?
The known and documented bee species across the globe number more than 20,000, and out of these 4,000 species are native to the United States. The largest proportion among the 4,000 species, about 60%, are native to North America alone.
Among the native bee species, there is a large contrast in size, color, characteristics, shape, and behavior. There are bees as small as 2 mm, such as the solitary Perdita minima that hold the record for the world’s smallest bee species and other equally famous bee species such as carpenter bees. The variety is good for the country because each bee specializes in crops that it pollinates. Some are even yet to be fully understood and named in America, but they are there.
Agricultural plants in North America are pollinated primarily by native bees. The agricultural industry relies on native bees to pollinate squash, tomatoes, cherries, and blue and cranberries. Native bees were in existence in North America long before Settlers introduced European honeybees.
To understand how important native bees are, you have to consider the preference that honeybees have for almonds and lemons, which are fewer in number. Thus, the native species compensate for the remaining flowers not being pollinated. A rough estimation caps it at 80 percent of flowering plants that are pollinated by native bees.
Some plants are entirely at the mercy of native bees, and fortunately, some native species have specialized with such plants and will not visit any other. Therefore, there is good coordination between the native bees and non-native honeybees in ensuring the pollination of flowers in North America keeping the country healthy.
When Did Bees Appear In North America?
Archaeological evidence discovered by one Michael Engle uncovered an interesting finding of the existence of honey bees in North America way before it was earlier believed. Michael, an entomologist, and paleontologist, based at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, estimated that honeybees existed in North America at least 14 million years ago. It is quite interesting considering that the actual year that is known in which honeybees were officially introduced in America by colonialists from Europe is 1622.
The fossil was discovered in Nevada and proved that North America was a bee haven long before honeybees were introduced. However, by the time the colonialists brought the bees, there was no known honeybee inhabiting the area, meaning that although they may have existed before, they became extinct long ago. Scientists attribute the extinction of honeybees before their reintroduction again in 1622 to the harsh climatic conditions at the time.
What Is The Largest/Smallest/Most Aggressive/ Best Honey giving/ Bee In North America?
|Bee Attribute||Name||Where Found in North America||Nesting||Pollinator||Produces Honey|
|Largest||Carpenter bees||Across the southern United States from Arizona to Florida and in the eastern United States, north to New York||Hollow trees||California Poppy and Morning Glories||No|
|Smallest||Perdita minima (2mm)||Sonoran Desert||Underground||Wildflowers of the spurge family||No|
|Most aggressive||Africanized “Killer” Bees||Southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, western Louisiana, southern Arkansas, and central and southern Florida.||Hives/underground||Lilacs, Lavenders, Poppies, Sunflower||Yes|
|Best honey giving||Apis Mellifera Ligustica||Stewart Valley basin in west-central Nevada||Hives||Blueberries and cherries||Yes|
Are Honeybees Native To North America?
Unlike the more than 4000 native bee species that have always existed in North America, honeybees are not natives. They obviously did not fly there; they were rather intentionally introduced to North America. Honeybees were imported in the 17th century by colonialists from Europe, and ever since, they have continued to increase in number and thrive, bringing huge benefits to the region.
Nonetheless, fossil evidence had shown that even before the colonialists imported honeybees to North America, they may have existed way back about 14 million years ago. But they must have gone extinct, and that is why when the colonialists came, they saw the need to import the species.
Even in recent times, circumstances threaten the existence of the current honeybee species, and if care is not taken, they too will be made extinct.
Thanks to honeybees, the value of the nation’s crops increase in value by 15 billion dollars. Honeybees are singlehandedly responsible for the pollination of many fruits and nuts. Every year, each colony can gather a total of 40 pounds (20 kg) of pollen, and the nectar is six times this quantity.
Some environmentalists advocate for the removal of honeybees under the guise that they are not native species. While there is truth in the fact that honeybees are not natives, their role in North America is critical, and removing them will have adverse negative consequences to food production.
Honeybees are real competitors to native bee species, and effort should be made to hinder their introduction into conservation and park areas where there is an effort to protect native bees and native plants. If that is taken care of, everyone will be happy, both apiarists and conservationists.