Are honey bees detrimental to native bees?

Many thanks to Barry and Terrance in supplying the following text. It is greatly appreciated. One note to mention, the text is really a question for Newfoundland only. Mainland areas have different issues. One is that they have feral honey bees.

Text: Dr. Barry Wicks

Photography: Terrance Hounsell


Are honey bees detrimental to native bees?

Newfoundland and Labrador have a very small bee fauna compared to mainland Canada; a product of our isolation and cool maritime climate. There are around 80 species of bees in 5 bee families. The most recognizable native bees are the bumble bees (Genus Bombus). There are 12 species recorded but in reality, many of the bumblebees species are not abundant and people likely only see 4 of the most common species (example, Bombus vagans bolsteri in the east and Bombus ternarius in the west).

The western honey bee, Apis mellifera, is not a native species to North America. Here in Newfoundland, honey beekeeping began in the 1930s by a small number of individuals. In the early days the hives died off every fall and new bees were obtained from mainland suppliers in the spring. For a history of beekeeping in Newfoundland, see Hicks (2014). By 2010, beekeeping was still a small endeavor with 5 beekeepers maintaining around 100 colonies (Shutler et el. 2014). Around that time there was considerable media attention given to declines in honey bee numbers on mainland North America and elsewhere due to Colony Collapse Disorder. There was a concerted effort by non-governmental agencies for honey bee conservation. It seemed like everyone wanted to “Save the Bees”. The most well-known campaign was by a popular cereal brand, which appealed to the general population to help save the bees and to plant seeds that they supplied. The impact of planting non-native seeds is a different problem that is important but outside the scope of this thesis. Newfoundland and Labrador have seen an explosion in the number of people becoming beekeepers and in the number of colonies in the last 8 years. We went from 5 beekeepers in 2010 to over 100 beekeepers presently (and that is a conservative estimate). We have gone from 100 colonies in 2010 to an estimated 600-700 colonies. A couple of years ago there was an importation of 150 colonies from Western Australia into Newfoundland. That importation doubled the colony numbers at the time. We can assume that the beekeeper has increased the number as his intentions were to increase the capacity of his company as a supplier of bees to the local market.

Honey bees are known to natively impact the diversity and abundance of native bees (Torne-Noguera et al. 2016). The honey bees are exploitative competitors of wild bees for floral resources (Cane and Tepedino, 2017). In high abundance, honey bees strip flowers of their nectar and pollen preventing wild bees to go without or to use sub-standard nectar resources. If the wild bees are specialist feeders, these bees are unable to use resources from other flowers and thus will be more impacted then generalist bees. New queen bumble bees are produced in the late summer and fall and they must feed to build up fat reserves to successfully over winter. The limited floral resources at that time of the year will be overexploited by nearby honey bee colonies to the detriment of the bumble bee queens. Of most concern, is pathogen spillover by shared flower use of honey bees and wild bees. In recent years, a plethora of literature has been published showing that diseases that were once believed to be restricted to honey bees actually occur readily in many different bee species (see Singh et al. 2010, Furst et al. 2014, Dolezal et al. 2016, , Tehel et al. 2016). The viral (eg. Deformed Wing Virus) and fungal (eg. Nosema ceranae) diseases negatively impact wild bee populations and are transmitted through shared flower use.


In recent years the number of apiaries established around the St John’s area (and the Avalon Peninsula) has increased significantly. A conservative estimate would be close to 50 apiaries in the area. At this time we do not know what abundance of honey bees that will negatively impact native bees. But it is something that we should be thinking about since the native bee diversity is naturally low in the area. We cannot afford to lose any biodiversity of bee species. Studies should be initiated to determine whether native bees are being negatively impacted. On a final note to consider, native bees are much more important to Newfoundland ecosystems than honey bees will ever be. If native bee diversity and abundance declines, we will see significant changes in Newfoundland ecosystems, as many native plants require pollination by these native bees. Honey bees, while important in some cropping systems (eg. almonds in California) they are not important or required for the pollination of any Newfoundland plants. Honey beekeeping in Newfoundland is mostly as a hobby and people should reconsider beekeeping if their intentions are only as a way to “Save the Bees”. Saving honey bees may kill off the more important native bees. Something to consider.

References (all these are freely available on the internet)

Cane J.H. and Tepedino V.J. (2017) Gauging the Effect of Honey Bee Pollen Collection on Native Bee Communities. Conservation Letters 10(2):205–210.

Dolezal A.G. et al. (2016) Honey bee viruses in wild bees: viral prevalence, loads, and experimental inoculation. PLos ONE 11(11): e0166190

Furst M.A. et al (2014) Disease associations between honeybees and bumblebees as a threat to wild pollinators. Nature 506:364-366.

Hicks B (2014) The history and present status of honey beekeeping in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Osprey 45(3):11-14. (Available from the NLBKA website)

Shutler D, et al. (2014) Honey Bee Apis mellifera Parasites in the Absence of Nosema ceranae Fungi and Varroa destructor Mites. PLOS ONE 9(6): e98599.

Singh R. et al (2010) RNA viruses in hymenopteran pollinators: Evidence of inter-taxa vius transmission via pollen and potential impact on non-Apis hymenopteran species. PLos ONE 5(12): e14357.

Tehel A. et al. (2016) Impact of managed honey bee viruses on wild bees. Current Opinion in Virology 19:16-22.

Torné-Noguera A, et al. (2016) Collateral effects of beekeeping: Impacts on pollen-nectar resources and wild bee communities. Basic and Applied Ecology 17:199–209


Winter varroa treatment

The Honey Collective decided that today would be a good day to visit our comrade bees. The idea was to give them a treatment of oxalic acid mixed in with sugar water to eliminate any vestiges of varroa mites which might have survived the Fall treatment.


The day was a particularly mild with temperatures hovering around zero Celsius. Much to Comrade Clive’s delight (yes, the same one who was recently appointed Senior Member of the Strategic Operations Unit in The Third International), the bees were all in fine form: healthy populations and not too aggressive – probably in large part due to the relatively cold temperatures for bees. Comrade Norman and Comrade Luc (yes, the same one who was recently re-elected for a 2.76-year mandate) neglected to bring their bee suits. The heavy lifting and spraying had to be shouldered by Comrade Clive, who, in spite of being the only one with protective clothing, managed to get stung by these lethargic, shivering bees…


The collective was very happy to see that our beehives all seemed healthy, judging by the populations clustering at the top of the hive as well as the numbers flying out to greet us (and take the opportunity to relieve themselves of their “waste” that had accumulated in their gut over the winter so far).

We will next visit them mid-winter to clear out the entrances that may be blocked by snow and to remove dead bodies from the bottom board to allow for better egress. This will also allow for better ventilation to remove humidity that could build up in the hive.

The collective will now retire and go back to having meetings (plenary and local) and discussions to try to come up with a 5-year plan for the re-education of swarming bees.

Norman Paul


La Référence en matière d’apiculture

Plusieurs des livres lancés chaque automne à la rentrée littéraire trouvent peu de preneurs. Ils garnissent les étalages des librairies quelques semaines voire quelques mois avant d’échoir dans des librairies de livres d’occasion où quelques exemplaires seront vendus au prix coutant. Auteurs et éditeurs auraient-ils mal jugé de la nécessité – sinon de l’urgence – de publier une 49e biographie de Michèle Richard, des confidences de Maman Dion ou d’un livre sur le retour en force des Bérets Blancs?  

Trêve d’ironie, de nombreux livres pertinents, rigoureusement documentés et fascinants à lire demeurent tristement ignorés des lecteurs. 

C’est donc avec grand plaisir que je vous présente un livre qui n’est pas tombé dans l’oubli: Connaître l’abeille – Conduire le rucher de Pierre Jean-Prost, publié en 1987, maintenant revu et actualisé par Yves Le Conte lors de sa 7e réédition chez l’éditeur Lavoisier.   

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Le livre couvre tout: de la morphologie et l’anatomie de l’abeille à la mise en marché du miel et de ses produits dérivés tels l’hydromel. L’auteur aborde la génétique, la sélection et l’hybridation des abeilles. Il vous renseigne sur les caractéristiques d’abeilles de différents continents; le tempérament des Italiennes (des abeilles, il va sans dire!) n’aura plus de secret pour vous. Vous connaîtrez les maladies qui les affligent, les intoxications et les prédateurs auxquels elles sont exposées. Vous connaîtrez également les différentes façons – qu’elles soient chimiques, biologiques ou biotechniques – de protéger ces êtres ingénieux et fascinants que sont les abeilles. En matière d’habitation d’abeilles ou d’hyménoptères en général, vous ne serez plus un néophyte – si vous l’étiez avant la lecture de ce bijoux. L’auteur décrit les différentes composantes de la ruche, son entretien et sa disposition dans le champ. 

Puisque le travail de l’apiculteur, comme celui des abeilles, est réglé par les saisons, Pierre Jean-Prost décrit son travail au cours de l’année. Le livre suit la séquence de floraison de différentes fleurs mellifères des régions de France; l’apiculteur québécois doit donc adapter les consignes et le calendrier de travail au climat et aux fleurs du Québec. 

Les descriptions et les explications qu’offrent cet agronome et ingénieur passionné sont forcément détaillées mais elles se lisent facilement. Écrit dans un style clair et limpide d’un communicateur désireux de partager ses connaissances, chaque chapitre contient de nombreux sous-titres qui servent de jalons pour guider le lecteur tout au long de ses lectures. Une abondance d’illustrations et de tableaux appuient le texte. Chacun est titré et commenté, n’obligeant jamais le lecteur à deviner de quoi il s’agit. Ancien élève de Jean-Prost, le chercheur Yves Le Conte, spécialisé dans la lutte contre le varroa et apiculteur passionné, a révisé ce livre de référence pour y inclure les avancées récentes en matière apicole.

Si les émissions DécouverteLa semaine verteLa nature selon Boucar et The Nature of Things vous captivent mais vous laissent sur votre appétit, ce livre pourrait vous rassasier – pour un certain temps. Bonne lecture!    

Luc Fortin

Success shared

“Success unshared is failure”.

We do not normally promote social causes here on the site. However, we did stumble upon one, Grow Ahead, which after a little research may interest you. Leading fair trade advocacy organization, Fair World Project (FWP), has announced the launch of Grow Ahead, a crowdfunding platform to facilitate direct lending, farmer-to-farmer training, and scholarships to support farmer-led agroecology projects throughout the Global South.

Their description:

Grow Ahead is a crowdfunding resource for small farmers.

In 2013, Grow Ahead was launched as a cross-cultural initiative of Progreso and Cooperative Coffees geared towards pre-financing fair trade coffee harvests. Its organizational structure consisted of partnerships between consumers and producers, roasters and importers, banks and NGOs.

Today, Grow Ahead endeavours to support small family farmers as they address the challenge of climate change in their communities. Small farmer organizations in the developing world are historically under-resourced, with limited access to the capital needed to grow their organizations beyond their day-to-day needs. Grow Ahead intends to bridge the resource and funding gap and will work in four key areas moving forward:

  1. Facilitating a revolving loan program for farmer-developed resiliency projects, such as soil conservation and yield-boosting compost operations.
  2. Raising funds for annual regional Farmer to Farmer exchanges. These exchanges will facilitate farm leaders’ ability to share successes and resources. They will also produce written and multimedia resources, encapsulating farmer experiences and “takeaways” to share with other farmers.
  3. Providing funds and resources for farm leader “multiplier” agroecology scholarships. Grow Ahead will raise funds earmarked specifically to provide scholarships for farm leaders and trainers to attend farmer-centric agroecology schools.
  4. Raising funds for seedlings in agroforestry systems.

However what I want to highlight today is their help in funding coffee growers to expand into beekeeping in Chiapas, Mexico. They presently have a link where you may read all about the project and donate. This project will help ten farmers start up beekeeping and diversify income. Note that this is a micro-loan for farmer-led savings and credit fund. All the information can be found here:

As we are fast approaching the season of goodwill I encourage you to think about those who may appreciate a gift. It may seem insignificant to us but will have a major impact on the lives of these farmers. In this time of overaccumulation, we should think twice about the changes occurring on our planet. As we do so drinking our cup of morning coffee we can remind ourselves that good coffee tastes even better with good honey.

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Photo Credit: Grow Ahead

Sourced from both organisations for your own research:

Fair World Project (FWP) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the use of the term “fair trade” in the marketplace, expand markets for authentic fair trade, educate consumers about key issues in trade and agriculture, advocate for policies leading to a just economy, and facilitate collaborative relationships to create true system change.  FWP publishes a bi-annual publication entitled For a Better World. For more information, visit

Grow Ahead is an online lending and funding program that connects individuals and organizations directly to family farmer organizations. By lending through and contributing through Grow Ahead, consumers and organizations will be able to support the agroecological solutions and farmer-led training that have a proven track record of success in farming communities. For more information, visit:

New Honey discoveries

Honey #1

This first jar of honey comes from Tuscany in Italy. Its flavours sum up the wonderful region and geography. Situated just 5 km from San Gimignano, Fattoria Poggio Alloro gives an agriturismo experience with a facility that gives tourists the opportunity to experience farm life, get in touch with nature and animals, and taste traditional cuisine, as well as the products from the farm. With twenty or so hives facing South close to the never-ending vineyards, the honey is a true blend of the area’s biodiversity. The farm also has 50 or so Chianina cattle and are one of the only farms in the area that continue to breed them. Continuing to breed these cattle will ensure their continued survival.

It is, however, their wine which the region is known for. I can especially recommend the Vernaccia Di San Gimignano D.O.C.G with its wonderful straw colour and intense flowery aroma. And then there are the full-bodied reds…

The farm has a broad selection of activities and products. Too many to mention so I suggest you have a look at their website here.


The view from the farm courtyard.


Honey #2

Our second honey tasting is from The John Russell Company, situated in Manitoba, Canada. This producer specialises in unprocessed, slow drip, cold filtered, non-pasteurised honey. No small feat when you consider the probable size of their operation and that the work is all hand processed. The jar below is of their clover honey and is full of aroma which backs up their processing methods. Congratulations to the beekeepers on producing a wonderful honey from Canadian clover.

Their website is here.


The Manitoba landscape.

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Honey #3

Our last honey sample comes from Soarge in the South of France. This is a specially strong honey from the Chataignier (chestnut) tree flowers. Similar to Buckwheat honey, it has an even more pronounced flavour with a slightly bitter after-taste. Once this settles, it leaves a small caramel flavour to finish. It really is a honey that uses all the sensory parts of the tongue and for some, it may take a few attempts to accept. Once that occurs it will be a honey that you wish you had more of!

The honey comes from La Miellerie de Saorge. Situated close to the Italian-French border, the family have been in business since the 18th century. There is a saying that goes, tough little countries produce tough little people. If this is the case then this little honey would fit that description. The terrain is mountainous and quite rugged so the honey gifted to me would be a good example of its origins. It has a unique flavour from the area and I would assume produces a honey with very few contaminants from any farmland or industry.

The beekeeper can be found here.


The Chataignier flower.

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The photo illustrates the geography of the region and the village of Soarge. It has been nicknamed the Tibet of France.

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Winter wrapping 2018

Our hives have now been insulated and wrapped for the coming winter. This is a little earlier than normal but the temperatures are already dropping and the forecast is predicting a colder than normal November. The bees are already in a cluster with a healthy population spread out over eight frames. Before wrapping, we extracted the mite strips and took off the feeder boxes. We were lucky this year as we had a good source of good quality well-aged honey that we could return to the hives as winter food. As usual, they feed on this comb honey and then re-arrange the structure to their liking. It makes for an interesting photograph.




The Bee Hotel

On a recent visit to Quebec City, I had the pleasure to visit the Jardin Botanique Roger-Van den Hende. Linked with the University of Laval, the garden is primarily a teaching and research site. It does, however, have many visitors from the city which fulfills its principal mission, the transfer of knowledge. During my visit, I stumbled upon their good sized insect hotel.

Hilton for an insect

As you can see, these contraptions are not that difficult to assemble. Looking closely at the image, I hope it gives inspiration for what could be used for material. You can drill multiple holes of various sizes into lengths of wood, tie wooden sticks together, cut and add bamboo tubes or tightly rolled up cardboard cut into lengths. If you have rotting logs and bundles of straw, these are also great. It is important that the structure stays dry so the location of your hotel is a concern. Placing the structure close to a flower bed, open pond or hedge away from prevailing winds will get the hotel occupied quicker. Good luck with your hotel. All the insects, including bees, will thank you for it.

For those of you not mechanically inclined you may want to look at purchasing a ready-made hotel similar to this one seen here.

Information about the Jardin Botanique Roger-Van den Hende can be found here.