4 Incredible Facts About Bees (Such As Bee Crime)

The world of honey and beekeeping is way weirder than you think.
4 Incredible Facts About Bees (Such As Bee Crime)

You ever wonder who was the first person ever to look at a beehive and think to themselves: “I’m going to open that buzzing alien brain guarded by thousands of prickly-butt bugs in Charlie Brown shirts and eat whatever I find inside?" We’re asking because we want to form a religion around them.

If it wasn’t for this early Johnny Knoxville, we wouldn’t have honey and, consequently, honey mustard aka the only real reason to eat McNuggets. What a strange world that would be. Still not as strange, though, as the current world of honey and beekeeping …

Every Year, One Place In California Rents 85% Of ALL Bees In The US

For every carton of almond milk you buy, a beekeeper has to urinate in a bottle. Before you freak out and start asking how do we know about your weekends, know that this is something that’s happening all over the US every year … weirdo.

California’s Central Valley currently supplies the world with 80% of its almonds, which are grown in almond groves covering an area of 1.5 million acres. To put that in perspective, if you had 1 acre of farmland, right, you’d need 1.5 million of those to match the almond operation in Central Valley. (Hope that helps!) And all those almond trees have to be pollinated by bees. The problem: there are not enough bees in all of California to handle all the trees in Central Valley. The solution: rent a bunch of bees from other places to come hang around the valley and carry pollen from one tree to another. And by “a bunch of bees” we of course mean “close to every domesticated bee in the US.”

Birthday party

Ardian Lumi/Unsplash

That's why it's so hard to rent bees for children's parties in January.

Every year when it’s time for the trees to bone via Bumble, around 30 BILLION bees are trucked to Central Valley from as far away as Florida or South Carolina. To keep the bees calm and to stop them from trying to escape, the hives need to be gently rocked all the time by a running engine, meaning that beekeepers rarely stop during their 2,000-something-mile journey to Central Valley. And that results in them having to piss in bottles. Moral of the story: never buy “liquid honey” from the back of a truck, no matter how many hives the guy has in there.

For some beekeepers, the annual bee deliveries are their main source of income. 10 years ago, before the US went all nuts for nuts, you could apparently rent a hive for a month for like $50. Today it’s close to $200 per hive, and large beekeeping operations have hundreds upon hundreds of bee dormitories, meaning that some apiarists are pulling in $100,000-$200,000 with these trips.

A truck full of bees

Doug Waldron

Though, every 2 miles, they have to stop the truck, stand on top, and yell, "BEES!"

This trip isn't a vacation for the bees. And a few years back, folks realized that, "It just doesn't make any sense to use an insecticide when you have 80 percent of the nation's honeybees sitting there exposed to it." (That is literally the quote from the lead researcher who was tapped to investigate why 5 percent of all western-bound bees were checking into the Hotel California indefinitely.) Also, there apparently exist self-pollinating almond trees that don’t need bees but they aren’t too popular since their nuts taste a little different. So, for the foreseeable future, we’ll keep killing millions of bees. Yes, it’s cruel but, come on, SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT TASTING NUTS? History will surely side with us on this one.

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Bee Theft Has Become A Serious Problem

There are two things you need to know about B. Landon, the vice president of the California State Beekeepers Association. One: He is seriously worried about thefts of beehives, which peaked in 2016 with about 1,695 reported cases. (They’ve dipped a little in recent years but that still comes out to beekeepers losing millions of dollars.) The other thing about Landon is that the “B” in his name stands for “Buzz” because even in this cold, unforgiving Hellworld, the universe sometimes just gives you a gift that needs to be cherished.

Buzz Landon

Buzz's Bees

His dad Skip was a beekeeper too. He assigned his son his destiny. 

Seriously, though, beehive theft may sound funny, but to the beekeepers it’s the most serious thing in the world because that’s their entire livelihood. It’s easy to see why they’d be targeted, though. As we’ve mentioned before, beekeepers can make a sweet profit in California, where the thefts have become such a problem, some police officers now specialize in “hive crime.” That’s why they call them the “fuzz.” They probably organize a lot of sting operations. (Look, unless someone tells us to stop, we’ll keep doing this forever.)

The thefts usually look the same. The beekeepers unload their hives in a new location for temporary storage and come back the next day to see them aggressively not being there. One investigation into one such theft led the police to a field that looked like a bee chop shop. There were about 2,500 hives there belonging to different owners, which someone hacked up and mix-and-matched to create new colonies. This is not something that you can do with no training, by the way, which is why beehive thefts are very often perpetrated by other beekeepers or on their bee-half. (See, you’re booing us, but you would have done the same thing.)


Jonas Hensel/Unsplash

Till investigators turn up and comb for clues. 

Things have gotten so bad that the police and beekeepers have partnered up with companies that normally work to prevent big-game poaching. They’ve come up with a few ideas like microchipping the hive pallets, installing wildlife cameras, or marking the hives with a special liquid that gets easily on the skin and clothes, is impossible to wash off, and is only visible under UV light. Publicly sentencing the thieves to the bee torture from Nic Cage’s Wicker Man has also been proposed (by us, just now.) But this isn’t purely an American problem, as hive thefts have also been occurring in France. That’s because bees are big business all over the world. In fact…

Honey Is One Of The Most Counterfeited Foods On The Planet

Here is the thing about honey: It’s expensive to make, and the reason why it doesn’t seem that way when you’re shopping is because honey is often a loss leader. That means shops are willing to sell it at a loss because it gets you in the door, and as you head towards the honey you also pick up some whipped cream, cucumbers or, who knows, maybe even some non-sex-related groceries. That’s how stores make honey money.

Another reason your supermarket honey is so cheap is because it’s probably not real honey.

Various honey types for sale in US supermarket.

culinary123/Wiki Commons

The legal term for this is "funny honey."

Natural raw honey contains the pollen that the bees picked up but study after study of supermarket honey finds so little pollen in the products, you could pour it all in the eyes of someone with hay fever and they’d be totally all right! But what that cheap honey lacked in pollen, it made up for with filler like corn syrup, which is the easiest way to dilute and cut your honey to increase profits. It’s so common that honey is now the third most counterfeited food in the world, after milk and olive oil. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that this fake honey is primarily coming out of China.

China has A LOT of beehives but not enough to satisfy the global honey market, which is worth around $7 billion. That’s why the majority of Chinese honey entering the US or Europe is diluted with syrups. Corn ones used to be the most popular but experts have developed a test for that so China switched to much harder to detect rice and sugar beet syrup. There is a new method called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance which bathes samples with a powerful magnetic field to detect that sweetest of all frauds, but the technology isn’t perfect. Plus, every time the world comes up with a better fake honey trap, China simply invents better-er fake honey.

It’s gotten to the point that the US imposed massive tariffs on Chinese honey to help out American producers, but China got around that by simply rerouting their shipments through other countries. Malaysia, for example, has enough beehives to produce around 38,000 lbs of honey a year. But since the tariffs were set up, SUDDENLY they started exporting 38 million pounds of honey a year.

There are a number of simple tests that you can do at home to make sure you have authentic bee juice, but the easier thing to do is to start going to farmers’ markets and whatever and paying a little extra for an authentic product. Honey is used in everything nowadays so it’s easy to forget that it’s sort of a luxury product. If bees were paid a minimum wage, a pound of honey would cost $3,600,000. No one is selling that uncut liquid gold for like $5 a bottle.

Bees Aren’t The Only Insects That Make Honey

Bears are the bees’ biggest enemies, literally and figuratively, and over the millennia the bugs learned to freak out at any sweet-toothed behemoths opening their hives. That’s why wearing dark clothing raise your chances of being attacked by an angry hive. So what are, say, goth honey-harvesters supposed to do? Deny who they are?

For them, we recommend getting honey from insects besides honeybees. There are more than a few.

Many animals produce a sweet syrup that’s safe for human consumption. Mexican honey wasps, for example, make their own honey, which is considered a delicacy by some indigenous communities, who also use it in traditional medicine. Bumblebees make honey, too, which is meant for their queen to give her energy to bone. (It’s kind of their version of Gatorade.) This honey is similar to the one made by honeybees with a slightly tangier taste, but because bumblebees make so little of it, you can’t really mass produce it. Still, though, you taste one sugary slime from a flying insect, you’ve taste it all. How about something more interesting?

Ant honey, you say? We’re listening.

Greg Hume

Ears open. Eyes covered, though. 

So, yeah, it turns out that honeypot ants basically make honey, but they do it differently than bees. They don’t store it in hives for Winnie the Pooh to steal like a bunch of idiots. They hide their honey away in the only place they can trust: themselves. Yup: honeypot ants store nectar that’s obtained from flowers or even aphids in their abdomens, ingesting so much of it until they swell up to the size of olives (delicious, legged olives).

As a side note, if we ever get reincarnated as honeypot ants, you have our permission to burn us with a magnifying glass. Please.

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