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Bee on the lookout

A new survey is asking people to report sightings of wild honey bee colonies in Ireland this summer

The survey is the first of its kind in Europe.

RESEARCHERS FROM NUI Galway have launched a new survey inviting people to report sightings of wild honey bee colonies across Ireland during the summer months.

The survey, the first of its kind in Europe, aims to discover the number and distribution of wild honey bees in Ireland to assist in devising strategies for their conservation.

It follows a collapse in bee populations across the world in recent years, a phenomenon which could have negative ecological consequences because of the importance of the insect’s importance in the pollination of flowers and crops.

The new survey comes on foot of a pilot survey in 2016, when there were more than 200 reports of honey bee colonies in buildings, trees, walls and other types of cavities throughout Ireland.

Researchers were subsequently able to monitor their survival, some of which appeared to last more than three years without human intervention.

Professor Grace McCormack from NUI Galway, who is leading the study, said that the input of the public is critical for data collection on this scale and to help with conservation efforts.

She described the data gathered during the 2016 survey as promising, and revealed her team was now looking to discover the extent of wild honey bees left in Ireland.

“We’re aiming to capture data on where free-living honeybee colonies currently exist, where they like living and ultimately how long they survive unaided,” Keith Browne, one of the team’s researchers said.

Managed honey bees originally came from wild colonies and both populations are important for their mutual survival.”

Elevated cavities

The researchers are calling for members of the public to report sightings of wild honey bees that they spot living anywhere other than a beehive.

Honey bees usually have black stripes which alternate with bands of amber or brown hairs, although some can look almost all black, and they measure around half to three-quarters of an inch in length.

Wild Amm on house tile

Researchers are also looking for photos or descriptions of each colony’s entrance, its location, and how long it has been there.

Members of the public may also supply additional information, including how high off the ground a colony is, what direction its entrance is facing, whether the honey bees are behaving aggressively, and whether a beekeeper has taken a swarm from the colony.

Researchers pointed out that honey bees typically like nesting in elevated cavities like hollows in trees, walls and roofs of buildings, old houses and castles.

They are particularly noticeable when workers are seen flying to and from the nest entrance on warm sunny days.

John Little, who chairs the Native Irish Honey Bee Society (NIHBS) – which is collaborating with NUIG – added that the study would enlighten people about Ireland’s wild honey bee population and prove an important milestone in protecting bees here.

“Wild colonies surviving without human intervention, whether in a tree or a house roof, are an important genetic resource for the conservation of honey bees,” he said.

“Ireland’s native black honey bee, Apis mellifera mellifera, forms the bedrock of our country’s long heritage of beekeeping culture and is also an important component of our natural pollinators.”

The survey is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and can be found online here.

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