Imagine if you were crossing a small city’s walking bridge and saw a cluster of 400 honeybees – barely a good handful, most likely a cast from an overcrowded hive during an extended spell of hot weather.
Is that a cause for alarm?
Apparently some passerbys in Fredericton, New Brunswick, thought so. Seeing the cluster of bees on the bridge, someone decided that the only appropriate action was to stomp on them, killing a hundred or so of the insects.
The outcome? Pretty much what you might expect:
Agitated bees going into defensive mode. Stings for at least 10 people. City officials called in with a pesticide spray. Dead bees, when the world needs all the pollinating insects we can get or protect. And yet another news story about a “swarm” of bees coming into conflict with humans in an urban area.
Whatever happened to “live and let live”?
Yes, it is often frightening to people who aren’t familiar with bees, to encounter more than one or two at a time; even more so when the bees have been violently disturbed and are reacting to that. Yes, it isn’t pleasant to get a bee sting – and it can be life-threatening for the small percentage of people who are severely allergic to bee stings. But in this case, the bees reacted to nearby humans as a threat because they were “agitated” – by someone who thought it was funny or smart to step on the cluster, instead of just leaving the bees in peace.
The cluster wasn’t in an area of tall grass, where the bees might have been hard to see – it was a wide-open pedestrian area, a bare wooden deck of a walking bridge. It seems highly unlikely that the bees were squashed underfoot by accident. Left alone, they would have dispersed – perhaps within minutes; certainly by the next day – and in the meantime would have caused no harm to people who simply walked by and let them be.
There will always be those among us who feel the need to destroy the unfamiliar, to inflict harm to satisfy some urge of their own, or to “poke a sleeping bear” to see what happens… but this Fredericton bee story is not an isolated one.
Honey bees need a new PR agent.
Almost every week, except in winter, there’s a rather sensationalized report of bees on the loose in an area where bees are not normally seen in quantity. Reporting on swarm stories, news headlines use words like “terrorize,” “attack,” “wreak havoc“… “like a scene from a horror movie.”
And the sensational language doesn’t seem to vary much, whether it’s an overturned truckload of more aggressive Africanized bees in the southern United States, stressed by long-haul pollination even before their hives are smashed open on a highway or it’s a handful of docile European honeybees gathered on a warm wooden bridge in a small eastern Canadian town, resting before they fly on to find a new home.
Clearly, despite all the attention given to Colony Collapse Disorder in recent years, the apiculture/agriculture community still needs to do a better job of educating the general public – not only about the importance of honeybees as pollinators for our food supply, but also about the very nature of bees and how to behave around them, for the continued health and happiness of all.