19/03 : Bee-eaters, bees and beekeepers

My good friend Jorge Garzón, a great all-round naturalist in the best traditions and also a guide, has sent me the following on the problem of beekeepers accusing Bee-eaters as the cause of all the ills facing them.

Southern Spain is yet again suffering a general lack of rain. The Mediterranean climate is characterised by periods of rain followed periods of drought, with a resultant biodiversity paradise. We now appear to be entering a drought period after three winters with ample rainfall. In the start of what appears to be a new drought period after a dry autumn and winter, beekeepers are suffering and many beehive colonies have fallen dramatically.

Human nature seems to be weak and needs to blame somebody (or something) for their misfortunes and Spanish beekepers have pointed their blame at Bee-eaters. They are wrong!

They claim that Bee-eaters raid beehives every spring, but naturalists’ observations contradict this and the latest report from the Ecology Unit of University of Murcia bears this out!

Standard beehives have an average of 55,000 worker bees and the daily replacement index is about 1,200-1,500 bees. The researchers and field reports show the number of worker bees eaten by a Bee-eater to be 1,493 individuals in a six month period. Additionally, bees are not the favourite insect for the birds, as other Himenoptera such as bumble-bee spp. are favoured, with additional predation of beetles and large dragonflies.

Decreasing numbers of Iberian bees appears to be related more to a combination of factors: the infection of the Varroa Asian disease, the very cold winter we have experienced and the lack of water and consequent wildflowers in the field as Bee-eaters have not yet arrived in Europe from their African wintering areas and will not do so until mid April onwards.

Therefore, Bee-eaters eat bees but do not decimate them as the apiculture industry says! The reportalso gives directions for improving output by changing beehive emplacements in the field.

Jorge Garzón ©2012

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