Black Bees Make a Comeback in France
The term ‘black bees’ is given to all wild bees. These non-domestic bees are normally smaller, darker and hairier than domestic honeybees.
In years past, bees in France produced sufficient honey to satisfy demand. But in recent years, many factors have contributed to reducing the amount of honey produced at home. Pesticides, Asian hornets, diseases and climate change—not to mention adulterated foreign honey imported from other countries at a much cheaper price—all have caused the local honey market to decline.
Nowadays, the 54,000 French beekeepers and their bees produce 50% of the market demand for honey, or about 20,000 tons of honey annually.
The true ‘black bee’ is apis mellifera mellifera and is the commonest of the 20,000 varieties of bees found in France. There are different varieties of black bee across the country, and the best-known types are Brittany, Limousin and Haute-Savoie. The black bee makes up about 35% of all bees, but only accounts for about 10% of bees used for honey.
This 4:06-minute video by solitarybee shows some preparations in monitoring native bees on French fruit farms:
French beekeepers now intend to bring back hives of black bees and put them into commercial use. They hope to revive their apiculture industry which has been hard hit by pesticides, climate change and such invasive predators as Asian hornets.
According to beekeeper Céline Daubord, who has hives of Limousin black bees at Châteauponsac in Haute-Vienne, these bees are high quality pollinators because they move quickly, and their hairy bodies are excellent at catching pollen. They are also very well adapted to the conditions in the areas and the range of flowers.
She describes black bees as feisty, fast movers that are quick to sting. They are smaller than modern bees of mixed varieties, and not necessarily as productive. They also don’t always like adapting to hives and honey frames. For all these reasons, they fell out of favor with many commercial beekeepers.
Ms. Daubord is trained as an apitherapist. She has researched black bees for her business, Délices de Lylou-Beille, which uses honey and bees in alternative medicine treatments. For instance, bee venom is used to ease arthritis pain. She added black bees to some of her hives and was able to learn some techniques from old beekeepers who prefer these bees.
Black bees have excellent survivalist traits. They know how to chase away predators, including the dreaded invasive Asian hornets that kill entire beehives. The black bees increase the hive’s ventilation system to such a degree that all the air is sucked away from around the hornet, so it suffocates.
Black bees are also experts at adapting to weather changes. For instance, the queen bee will stop laying eggs if food becomes scarce.
The honey produced by black bees is known to have an “all flower” flavor because these bees travel far and wide, and are generalists, not specialists. They pollinate a wide range of flowers.
Black bees seem well suited to these times, with strong character, adaptability and courage.
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