Bumblebees are waking up from a winter hibernation, and have been spotted buzzing around the forests near bee master Barry Denluck’s home on Pender Island.
But along with them, hornets and wasps are also emerging, and it’s time to set up traps for these carnivores, he warns.
“Wasps and hornets eat honey bees for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Half of my losses over the years have been from wasp predation,” he said.
The formidable predators can decimate a honey bee colony in a matter of hours, and all a beekeeper can do is watch.
If a scout wasp is able to sneak into a beehive and snatch a larva — pure protein, and a very good snack — it will tag the hive with a pheromone the rest of its family will smell. Once they catch the scent, the bees are as good as gone.
“We’re out there every day right now washing the front of our beehives with soap and water, hoping that we can get the tag off before the next wasp comes,” Denluck said of he and the Vancouver Island community of apiarists.
He thinks wasp and hornet populations are increasing, a worrying sign if true.
Honey bees are already in trouble this year, Denluck said, due to February’s polar vortex that brought cold winds and humidity as well as aggressive predation from hornets and wasps. Vancouver Island beekeepers are sharing sad news of hives that didn’t survive the winter. Denluck has never had as many requests for new bees as he has this year.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of losses this year. Our list for nucs (nucleus colonies) are way up there. People requesting nucs now are going to get them in May and into June,” said Stan Reist, an importer, pollinator, educator and bee master of the Flying Dutchman in Nanaimo.
On top of exaggerated losses, the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on worldwide bee supply routes, with at least one shipment of bees arriving dead in Vancouver from New Zealand.
Reist said the route many bees take — via plane, not their own wings — have been rerouted to land in the United States, leaving Canadian bee importers dependant on Air Canada. This would be fine except that the carrier happens to have upgraded their Vancouver-Auckland-Sydney route to the energy-efficient Boeing 787. One of the Dreamliner’s ‘efficiencies’ is less air conditioning in the cargo hold.
The bees got too hot mid-flight, and a whole pallet of around 650 packages arrived dead.
It’s a major challenge for Canada, a country that’s not even close to being self-sufficient in bees. Most imports come from New Zealand and Australia and are used to replace hive colonies that didn’t survive the winter.
“There were 80 pallets scheduled [to come to Canada], and I think we’ll end up with 20,” Reist said.
The president of the Canadian Honey Council is working hard to try and have Air Canada switch back to the original Boeing 777 with bee-quality air conditioning.
In the meantime, Reist said importers from the Prairies have started getting bees delivered to Toronto via Boeing 777s, and driving across the country to pick them up.
Reist’s Flying Dutchman importing, pollinating and honey company was able to get two pallets alive in early March before the weather warmed, but said bee supply will be strained this year.