Remote Defending: Keeping Bees

Mike, our Senior Conservation Scientist, has recently started beekeeping. Learn about his new furry friends and why it’s important to protect pollinators.

Click to view video transcript Hey, everybody! This is Mike Evans. I'm the Senior Conservation Data Scientist in the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife and today I want to introduce you to some of my newest furry friends.

I’ve just started beekeeping this summer and it’s been an exciting experience. I have a lot more to learn.

As you can see even in a global pandemic, bees do not practice social distancing.

They are what are known as eusocial insects, meaning they live in complex social groups called colonies and have sophisticated divisions of labor between three different classes: workers, drones, and the Queen.

Right here you can see these workers which are all females buzzing about the entrance of the hive returning from foraging trips so they’re out visiting all the plants that are flowering in the area, collecting nectar and if you look closely at some of their legs, you might even be able to see clumps of pollen that they’re bringing back to help feed the hive.

Here’s a little furry friend collecting some nectar from the blossoms of this holly tree.

The bees have been working this tree pretty good for the last 2 weeks while the flowers have been in bloom but eventually, the nectar will dry up and the flowers will fall off, at which point, they’re gonna have to find a new food source.

My best bet is on this giant poplar tree, which just came into bloom a couple days ago.

Right, so now you can see I’ve got my bee suit on and that’s because we’re gonna take a quick peek inside the hive to get a sense of the activities that are going on. It’s important to work very slowly so you don’t disturb them.

(Mike lifts the top)

Hopefully, you can see - this is the top of the hive and the bees are moving around on frames which is where they build honeycomb - that’s used to raise their young and store nectar that turns into honey to help feed them over the winter.

These are what are known as pollinators - they perform a critical ecosystem function, helping fertilize plants by visiting flowers and spreading pollen.

Pollinators also help out people by fertilizing almost 80% of the food that we eat.

Other pollinator species include other insects like butterflies, birds, and bats. Unfortunately, pollinators and insects globally are experiencing massive declines.

In fact, there are 33 species of insect, 5 birds, and 3 bat species that are listed on the endangered species list.

One of the best things you can do to help pollinators is to plant native species that flower during different times of the year like what we have here with aster, violets, and a little sweet crabapple.

So in addition to planting native plants, a couple other things that we can do to help out bees and other pollinators are minimize the use of pesticides and herbicides.

These contain chemicals that are known to be lethal to bees and other insects and for an organism that lives in tight social groups like this, you can imagine that with one bee brings home a pesticide, the rest of the colony gets exposed to that too and so that can quickly lead to the collapse of an entire colony of bees.

The other thing that hopefully goes without saying is don’t kill bees.

There’s a lot of concern going around about murder hornets but the reason that these giant insects are a problem is because they wipe out other insects like honeybees.

So killing bees to prevent murder hornets is a little bit like burning all your money to prevent being robbed.

Michael Evans
Senior Conservation Data Scientist

As a Senior Conservation Data Scientist in the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders, Mike leads geoinformatics and data science projects to inform and improve conservation.