If one looks around, most people find themselves members of various communities. A valuable exercise is to list on a piece of paper all the communities one belongs to. The number can be surprising. Those interested in bees are no exception. The first category that comes to mind is those involving honey bees. There are an extraordinary number of beekeeping associations for the relatively small population of people that manage honey bees. In Florida, for example there are several local beekeeping associations just in Northwest Florida: Tri County, Escarosa, Tupelo, North Escambia. In other parts of the state active associations include Northeast Florida (Clay County), Palm Beach, Tampa, and Ridge.
The local associations are banded together loosely through the Florida State Beekeepers Association, which produces a quarterly newsletter and holds an annual convention.
Like Florida, almost every state has a beekeepers association of some kind and the activities associated with each can be diverse. The United States counts two national beekeepers associations. The oldest is the American Beekeeping Federation, which appeals to a wide array of beekeeping interests. However, the American Honey Producers Association also meets once a year. It attracts mostly large-scale beekeepers and is the result of a split that occurred many years ago within the Federation. This has caused a good deal of problems in what some call “the beekeeping industry,” as both groups are often at odds, having differing goals. It appears the time has come for reconciliation, however, as the first National Bee Meeting, where both groups will meet together, is scheduled in Sacramento next January. For details see http://afnet.org.
Regional associations also exist in the United States. One of the oldest is the Eastern Apicultural Society (EAS), which celebrated its 50th anniversary just a few short years ago. The EAS is a model for two other successful groups, the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) and Heartland Apicultural Society (HAS). There are also professional associations of those interested in beekeeping education and research, such as the American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA), modeled after its sister organization the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA).
One can find like minded associations in other parts of the world as well. I personally have addressed associations of beekeepers in Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Egypt and Ecuador. Finally, there is a global apiculture association, the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Associations, or Apimondia, which meets every two years. This organization began in Europe and for many years was a showcase for Eastern European countries with its headquarters in Romania, although much of the administrative work was done in Italy. In Bucharest, there still exists a building which housed that administration that looks exactly like a modern wooden beehive, painted white and complete with gouged-out hand holds.
I have attended several Apimondia congresses, including Acapulco 1981, Hungary 1983, Rio de Janero 1989, Vancouver 1999 and South African 2001. This Month I will be at the 2007 Congress in Melbourne, Australia presenting a paper when this column appears in your newspaper, and most recently Ukraine 2013.
As I have pointed out in previous columns, the honey bee is only one (Apis sp) of many species of furry insects that eat and collect pollen. Because there are so many others, they have often been lumped into another category, the so-called non-Apis bees. Some of the most well known include the blue orchard and horn-faced bees (Osmia sp), and the alfalfa leaf-cutting bee in the genus Megachile. These bees are native insects and specifically adapted to certain pollinating situations as I have discussed in earlier columns, whereas the honey bee is an introduced species that is a cosmopolitan pollinator (pollinates a great many plants). The honey bee’s success has been looked as competition with native pollinators and in some instances and been blamed for their decline, however, these claims have been difficult to prove.
Given the conditions above, it is reasonable to understand why non-Apis (some time called stingless) bees have developed their own human fan base and others interested in pollination in general have often been at odds with the specific interests of the Apis beekeeping group. This manifests itself in many ways. For example, the Xerces Society, which focuses on conservation of pollinators rarely mentions the honey bee and one of the five U.S. Department of Agriculture bee laboratories concentrates specifically on non-Apis bees. That lab is in Logan, UT.
The bottom line is that for most human endeavors, we can see a division of communities based on common interests, just like we see in most social insects. But the fact that the latter societies cooperate among themselves with amazing efficiency, and where individuals often willingly give up their lives for their fellows, does not mean that the same occurs across communities. The same is true for the human species across the globe and is in many cases the reason that so many people remain in marginal situations. Humanity is a much more flexible and homogeneous society with many opportunities, but unfortunately, is it often subjected to the same dynamics as seen in social insects, with many adverse consequences.