A Message from the Vet - February 2013

It's February, so let's talk about the birds and the bees. Well, maybe just bees. Here are some interesting facts about bees:

Did you know that there are more than 20,000 species of bees? There are many species presently in Hawaii. In the 1850s, Honeybees were brought to the Hawaiian Islands to help with pollination of ornamental plants, fruits, and nuts, as well as for their honey and beeswax.

Bees play a vital role in the environment. They have a symbiotic relationship with flowers and plants, which means both sides receive benefits from their interactions. Many plants depend on bees to reproduce in a process called cross pollination. As bees collect pollen and nectar for their food supply, they bring pollen from plant to plant. Human-made beehives are often placed near important crops to encourage bees to help the crops flourish.

Beehives are the enclosed structures in which the bees live. Within the beehive, honey bees produce honey to feed their young, often producing much more than they need. With proper care, bees can produce enough honey and wax to maintain their colony, while the excess may be harvested for human consumption. Honey combs are formed from the wax secreted by glands on the underside of young honey bees. Within the honey comb, bees store honey and also house their larvae. Bees wax from the honey comb is used in many products including candles and cosmetics.

Most bees live in colonies and fit into one of three main roles. The queen bee lays eggs to propagate the species. Male bees are drones that mate with the queen. Worker bees are sterile females responsible for collecting food and caring for the larvae.

Most people have been stung by a bee at some point in their lives. You may be surprised to discover that females are the only bees that can sting. This is because the bee stinger is formed as part of the female reproductive tract. Some bees, like the honeybee, can only sting once. When these types of bees sting, their barbed stinger remains in the skin of their target. As they fly away, part of their abdomen is actually torn away so that the bee cannot survive. Other bees have smooth stingers, allowing them to sting more than once.

Bees can be very aggressive when protecting their nests and sometimes will chase potential invaders for great distances. The Africanized honey bee, also known as "killer bees", do not have more poisonous venom as most people think. Instead, they attack in large numbers and deliver multiple stings so that the additive effect of their venom makes them very dangerous. Bumble bees use their loud buzzing to ward off potential predators. Dogs and cats are not immune to bee defenses either! Some curious or playful pets will encounter a bee and may develop a reaction to a bee sting which requires treatment just as with humans.

So be careful to watch these amazing creatures from afar. As our population grows, our interaction with wild animals becomes more frequent. Already, there are species of bees that are endangered or extinct due to parasites, disease, or destruction of their habitat. Hawaii is doing its part and becoming known for its export of queen bees to help in areas where the bee population has declined. Bee health is vital to a healthy ecosystem. Keeping our land healthy and green will ensure a proper home for these little creatures.

Candice Denham, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.