Jamie Ellis

Recap: UF Entomologist answers Reddit AMA questions on honey bees

Jamie Ellis, an entomologist at UF/IFAS and lifelong beekeeper, answered questions on Reddit AMA about the honey bees he is in charge of at the UF Honey Bee Lab.

About 20,000 different species of bees exist worldwide and Florida is home to over 300 of them. Since honey bees are crucial for their pollinating efforts, researchers like Jamie are focused on keeping them happy and healthy.

On World Bee Day, check out some of the questions Jamie answered on beehives, research and fun facts:

Q: Why are people generally scared of bees to the point of wanting to neutralize them? They’re helping the ecosystem but people care too much about that spike on their back. Has this got any reasoning behind it?

A: Yes. Bee stings hurt. So, people have associated bees (and wasps and ants for that matter) with pain. However, as you note, education helps people put these fears behind them, especially when they being to realize the importance of bees.

Q: I’ve recently been told we shouldn’t actually be freaking out about colony collapse, what do you think about it?

A: Great question. It’s a tricky answer. A couple of points:

  1. We (the beekeeping community) are experiencing 40% gross loss rates of managed colonies yearly. So, if you have 100 colonies, you can expect to lose 40 of those during the year….if your loss rates mirror those of the national average.
  2. Despite “1”, the National Agricultural Statistics Services (NASS) shows that we have experienced a ~1% net increase in the number of managed colonies yearly.

Even with all the bee hysteria happening, we’ve average a net increase of colonies yearly the last decade. How does this happen? If a beekeeper managing 100 colonies loses 40 of them (national average), he/she will split the 60 that remain or purchase more to make up 41 colonies (net change). So, with 100 colonies, experiencing a gross loss rate of 40%, you end up with 101 colonies. Long story short, we have experienced a net increase in colonies for over a decade, but largely due to the heroic efforts of beekeepers across the U.S. working to keep their bees growing.

Q: Does Florida have any native honey bees? I don’t want to start a colony of invasive European honey bees if I can have endemic ones!

A: We have no native honey bees in FL. Honey bees are not native to North America. There are nine species of honey bees. Eight are native to Asia. The other one (Apis mellifera) is native to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The “European honey bee” to which you refer has been in North America since the early 1600s.

Q: I have trapped several wild colonies but all but one died or absconded/swarmed. I feed them and give them old honey frames. Any tips?

A: I would consider adding a frame of brood to the new colony. This often stabilizes them (that, in addition to feeding them). It also helps to hive them on pulled combs.

Q: I have lavender in my front garden and it attracts so many bees! Why?

A: Bees are attracted to flowers for three principle reasons.

  1. Plants have nectar (a sugar water type substance that “powers” the bee and that honey bees convert to honey).
  2. Plants have pollen (bees collect this as their protein, vitamin, mineral, etc. source).
  3. Plants produce resin that honey bees use as “propolis” in the hive.

Lavender is providing some combination of these to the bees.

Q: My 7th grade entomology student asks why do bees have hair and why are they colored the way they are? Why are the queens so much larger than the rest?

A: Great questions.

  1. Color – Bees have aposematic (warning) coloration. Many stinging insects have this, likely as a “leave me alone or I will hurt you” sign.
  2. Queens – they eat more food than the other bees do while they are developing. Large amounts of high quality diet = bigger bee.

Q: What is a way that bees are used that isnt widely known? I recently learned about how essential to our food supply bee based pollination is and how hives are trucked all over America to facilitate this.

A: Some scientists have experimented using honey bees to find land mines. Honey bees have a great sense of smell and can be trained to find explosives.

Q: I recently lost a hive, in the last inspection I found some worker bees, no stored pollen, no honey, no brood, and no queen. How should I start this hive back up? Should I wait until the Spring to do so?

A: If the colony is weak, I would wait to restart in spring. If it is otherwise very strong, you might be able to purchase a mated queen and try to restart it. However, it is getting late in the season. Good luck.

Q: We have a 3 frame observation hive, which is the most educational thing ever, but I have to assume there are Varroa (mites) present. How does UF treat its observation hives for Varroa? Any suggestions on how to treat ours?

A: We don’t usually treat OBS hives. If we needed to, we likely would switch out frames (i.e. put the obs hive frames into a nuc and treat them there, while switching new combs/queen/etc. into the hive).


Jamie Ellis, professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of Florida.