Frequently Asked Questions

Ask 10 beekeepers and get 11 opinions

Why are bees dying?

Annual losses of entire honey bee colonies from the winter of 2006-2011 averaged about 33 percent each year, with a third of these losses attributed to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) by beekeepers. The winter of 2011-2012 was an exception, when total losses dropped to 22 percent. Can you imagine the uproar if dairy farmers or cattle ranchers began losing 22-33 percent of their livestock each year?

Bees have been on this planet for about a 100 million years. Before 1980, honey bees in the US pretty much took care of themselves. All of that has changed for several reasons:

  • New Diseases. Starting with steam ships, cargo from one continent could be transported to another so quickly that disease naturally found in plant and animal products would survive the transit and gain a foothold in new continents. Today we have Tracheal mites from the Isle of Wight, Varroa mite from South Africa, Hive Beetle from Asia, and viruses from who knows where.
  • Lack of food. The small family farms and ad hoc neighborhoods of the 1920s have been transformed by corporate agribusiness and real estate developers into huge monoculture fields and massive housing developments with weed-free grassy lawns - the equivalent of a barren desert to foraging honey bees.
  • Pesticides. There seems to be a misguided urge to rid the world of all insects even though one third of every bite depends on beneficial insect pollinators. Most insects are beneficial though pesticides do not discriminate between the good ones and the bad ones. Honey bees can forage on flowers miles from the hive. But research suggests that a sub-lethal dose of pesticide that does not immediately kill a honey bee may cognitively impair that bee enough to prevent it from finding its way back from a distant flower. Not an easy task for a 4 week old bee with a brain the size of a grass seed. Either way, lethal dose or sub-lethal, you have a dead bee. Systemic pesticides are a relatively new class of insecticide that are absorbed into every part of a plant - including pollen. Pollen is a honey bee's sole source of protein.
  • Lack of Genetic Diversity In 1922 the Honey Bee Act was passed by Congress to prevent the importing of live honey bees into the United States. The law was passed in response to the threat from importing Tracheal mites from the UK. It worked until 1984. The law has successfully slowed the entry of other diseases but it has had another effect. With the decimation of feral colonies due to Varroa mite and fewer, larger breeders, the size of the honey bee gene pool has diminished. Genetic diversity is believed to play an important role in the bee's ability to adapt to changing environments.

As of 2016, the cause of CCD has not been determined with certainty. It is suspected to be the result of multiple factors which together have stressed and compromised the immune system of the honey bee as well as other insect pollinators.

Why are honey bees important?

Bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value in the United States each year. About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination. Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds and other tree nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables depend on pollination by honey bees. These are the foods that give our diet diversity, flavor, and nutrition.

How can I help the bees?

Find the answer to your question here.

What's the difference betweens yellow jackets, bees, honey bees, and honeybees?

A wasp is any insect of the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita that is neither a bee nor an ant - the point of this is that wasps, bees, and ants are closely related. Yellow jackets and hornets are common wasps and belong in the family Vespidae. Wasps are the lions of the insect world - they have smooth stingers and are predatory meat eaters.

Bees are flying insects known for their role in pollination. Whereas wasps are predators - getting their protein from attacking other insects, bees are vegetarian - bees depend entirely on flowers. Bees get carbohydrates from nectar and protein from pollen. The most familiar bee, the honey bee, represents only a small fraction of the roughly 20,000 known species of bees. In addition to honey bees, there are bumble bees, carpenter bees that drill tunnels into wood, stingless bees in Central America that have a nasty bite none the less, and sweat bees that can be obnoxious (when you are sweaty) but are beautiful to look at. Most bees are solitary and live in nests in the ground.

A honey bee belongs to the genus Apis and known by its production and storage of honey and the construction of perennial, colonial nests from wax. There are seven species of honey bee. The one found in the US came originally from Europe: the European honey bee or Apis Mellifera. A worker bee has a barbed stinger that she uses to defend the hive. Unlike wasps with smooth stingers that can be used repeatedly, a worker bee must die to deliver a single sting.

Honeybee or Honey-bee is an incorrect spelling of honey bee. The Merriam-Webster dictionary is wrong! According to the Entomological Society of America, "When a species is a true example of a particular taxon, that taxon is written separately". Stated differently, if the insect is what its name implies, write the two words separately. Otherwise run the two words together.

  • Honey bees & bumble bees are true bees
  • Black flies & house flies are true flies
  • Butterflies & dragonflies are not flies
  • Silverfish are neither silver or fish

How do I get started in beekeeping?

MABA makes that really easy. You can learn a great deal and establish a network mentors before you spend a dime on equipment or bees.

  1. Study some of the websites and books in our Links and Resources page
  2. Attend a couple MABA monthly meetings and talk to newbeeks and experienced beekeepers
  3. Attend a live hive inspection. There is a small charge for non-members.
  4. Attend MABA's annual beekeeping shortcourse.
  5. Become a member of MABA
  6. Take the leap. Order your bees in the Fall for a Spring delivery.
  7. Ask questions on the MABA facebook page, club mentors, or neighbor members

What does it cost to get started? How much time does it take?

You can spend more or less but figure around $500 for a basic hive, equipment, and bees. If you can afford it, get two hives. Really. You will learn much more from observing differences between two colonies (they are like children - each with a different personality) and your likelihood of a total die-out is diminished.

Your education really begins with your new hives so you will spend more time in the beginning. Figure 30-40 hours for one or two hives spread over a year. Need to leave for a three week vacation? No problem. The bees can feed and protect themselves. As you become more experienced, managing the bees will take even less time. That is why so many beekeepers branch out into other aspects of beekeeping:

  • Woodworking - make woodenware or observation hives
  • Meadmaking
  • Become a Welch Honey Judge right here in Georgia
  • Making creamed honey and comb honey
  • Queen rearing
  • Gardening...bees got to eat
  • Honey bee and flower photography and artwork
  • Apitherapy and making bee related health products
  • Cooking with honey
  • Volunteer for MABA and help other beekeepers
  • Microscopy and pollen identification
  • Wax arts such as candle making or creams & ointments
  • Start your own blog
  • Add more hives. Move them around for different floral honeys
  • Join the Georgia Beekeepers Association and attend conferences
  • Become a UGA Certified, Journeyman, or Master beekeeper. Or just learn more about bees at the annual Young Harris Beekeeping Institute.

You get the idea. The minimum time required is pretty modest. But as hobbyies go, beekeeping provides a lifetime of exploration.

I have more questions! Who can I ask?

You can ask any question via private messaging on our Facebook page and often get an answer within a few hours.

Visit the MABA Facebook page

You can also direct your question to one of our officers or volunteers at our contact page.


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