CORPUS CHRISTI — Bees are buzzing. Texas bee suits needed.
So are some folks who keep them and monitor the decline in their numbers.
Rain helps, they say. Texas beekeeper suits are used by Texas bee keepers.
“No rain, no flowers, no honey,” said Joe Klamos, 92, who has been a beekeeper for decades. “We haven’t harvested honey the past two years. Drought does ’em in.”
Klamos had 12 hives with about 80,000 bees each, six miles west of Calallen. The current drought has cost half his bees, he said.
Most U.S. bees are descendants of European honeybees, brought here in the 1600s by immigrants.
In a rainy spring, honey usually is harvested the second week of June. A hive of honeybees will fly more than 55,000 miles for one pound of honey, which contains the essence of about 2 million flowers.
Klamos is one of an estimated 211,600 beekeepers in the U.S., but one of fewer than two dozen locally. He overturned several five-gallon buckets in front of his Janssen Drive home recently for a beekeeper powwow to compare notes on their hives.
Bees are disappearing in alarming numbers, experts say, and that affects more than honey.
“If we don’t care about bees, there’s no crops,” said Dick Brown, 85, Klamos’ longtime beekeeper buddy. “Eighty-five percent of them are pollinated by bees.”
Brown bought his first beehive in 1972 when his son was interested in beekeeping as a Boy Scout. For decades he hauled his hives to cotton fields and fruit orchards in the Rio Grande Valley.
Bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in nut, berry, fruit and vegetable crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Every third bite you put in your mouth exists because of honeybee pollination. California’s almond crop alone uses 1.3 million colonies of bees, about half the number of all U.S. honeybees.
And it’s not just our food crops that keep bees busy. Your dinner roast or chops require livestock feed — alfalfa, clover, hay, etc. Half of the country’s alfalfa comes from California, which needs 220,000 bee colonies to pollinate the fields.
Bee keepers are a dwindling species too, but experts say that doesn’t have to do with the decline in bees.
Bee populations, which have existed for millions of years, have suffered from colony collapse disorder, mite infestations, pesticides and mixing with Africanized bees, said Deborah Houlihan, 54, president of the Coastal Bend Beekeepers Association. It’s one of 23 clubs affiliated with the Texas Beekeepers Association.
Houlihan’s interest in beekeeping is environmental, she said.
Corpus Christi city leaders passed restrictive ordinances in the 1990s — after Africanized bees began appearing locally — that required swarms to be exterminated. Africanized bees earned the name “Killer Bees,” because of their aggressive attacks. They were bred from southern Africa queen stock by a biologist in Brazil in the 1950s, and were accidentally released. They fanned across North America mating with U.S. honeybees.
By the 1990s beekeepers had replaced most of their Africanized queens with known stock bred for gentleness. But beekeepers still battle the negative reputation, Houlihan, a nurse, said.
“When you see bees hanging on the side of a house or from a tree in a swarm, they’re so full of honey they can’t sting,” Houlihan said.
Some still attack if colonizing inside a wall, to protect their nest.
“I’ve seen them come out of the wall like machine gun bullets,” said Tom Stewart, 76, former president of the local association, who started beekeeping as a gradeschooler. “With European honeybees you can squat and be real still and they’ll leave you alone. With Africanized bees you’re a sitting duck.”
All beekeepers work to protect bees, and favor capture over extermination, Stewart, a retired engineer, said.
It doesn’t always work.
“A lot of wild bees don’t like being caught and put in a box,” he said. “You put them in there and they’re gone the next day. They’re like feral cats, real independent.”
Klamos and Brown have removed bees throughout the Coastal Bend for years, for a fee — between $150 and $250. Some exterminators charge much more.
And while their honey is the only food made by insects that people consume, and it has all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water — bees make other important things.
Beeswax is used in explosives, pharmaceutical salves, ointments, pill coatings and dentistry for impressions. The candle industry is the second largest user, because pure beeswax candles burn virtually smoke free. Beekeepers also use beeswax to initiate new hives.
These resources are only available by having enough plants producing nectar and pollen, said Roy Parker, entomologist for Texas AgriLife Extension and professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
“We’re still not out of this drought despite recent rain,” he said.
There’s been a lot of speculation regarding the decline in honeybee population, Parker said, including new insecticides affecting them.
“Despite a few research papers,” he said, “it’s still not clear.”