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Island may have turned corner on bee numbers

Bermuda's bee population is on the increase, a bee expert said yesterday.

Jonathan Hitchcock, a cofounder of Wild Island Apiaries, said work to protect the island's bees, including the importation of disease-resistant queens, appeared to have paid off.

Mr Hitchcock said: “We've been seeing an increased amount of feral and wild hive activity, something which only a few years ago became somewhat of a rare sight.

“Along with an increase in numbers, the steps that the Government took a few years ago, by importing a handful of more resistant queen bees, seem to be paying dividends as those genetics seem to have made their way into the existing colonies on the island.”

He added: “We've been collecting what appear to be reproductive swarms since the beginning of March.

“The season is just getting under way so it's still early to draw comparisons to past years, but we are anticipating a busy season based on overall hive health on the island.”

Mr Hitchcock explained that island bee colonies, like others around the world, had been damaged by the varroa mite, a parasite that can lead to the collapse of the colony.

He said the use of pesticides and weedkillers had also harmed bees, but that increased public awareness had helped to curb excessive use. Mr Hitchcock added that calm weather in recent years had also helped colonies get bigger and stronger.

He said: “We've had very mild weather in both 2017 and 2018, so the foliage in Bermuda should be primed to provide excellent forage for the bee population locally this year.”

Mr Hitchcock added a bigger bee population would mean more swarms, clouds of bees that form when a queen sets up a new colony.

Mr Hitchcock said swarms could alarm people, but they were unlikely to be aggressive and compared them to “moving house”.

He said: “From around mid-March right through until June and July we will see an active season, with the fiddlewood, Bermuda palmetto, Chinese fan palm and a limited amount of Brazilian pepper all going into flower. The abundance of food triggers swarming, which is the natural method of reproduction for bee colonies, and is a magnificent sight to behold.”

Mr Hitchcock explained bees form a ball or group when they land and hang from surfaces such as tree branches and windows while scout bees search for a new home.

He added: “Wild Island wants to remind the public that if a swarm lands nearby, call a local beekeeper in your area, not an exterminator.”

“We are always eager to respond to swarm calls, and to give these calls a priority response. Wild Island will remove swarms and established colonies for free.

“We are of the opinion that preserving Bermuda's bees is so important that it shouldn't be an option for only those who can afford an unexpected expense.”

He emphasised the important role that bees play in the natural world and food production beyond honey.

Mr Hitchcock said: “The statistic is that bees are responsible for one-in-three bites of food that we consume. For those of us who enjoy our fruit and vegetables, this is an important statistic to remember.”

Wild Island can be contacted on 536-0140, on social media @wildislandfarms or at www.bees.bm.

Spring is here: apiarist Jonathan Hitchcock, of Wild Island Apiaries, said work to protect Bermuda's bees, including the importation of disease-resistant queens, appeared to have paid off. Here a bee is shown on a flower at Spittal Pond, Smith's recently (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published April 12, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated April 12, 2019 at 8:15 am)

Island may have turned corner on bee numbers

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