A number of area residents have commented they are seeing fewer and fewer bees as heavy wildfire smoke has rolled into the North Thompson Valley. They are no longer seeing bees visiting the flowers in their gardens as often as they were before, and have become concerned that the smoke may be killing or incapacitating Nature’s industrious little workers.
As daytime temperatures in the valley have not cooled enough over the past few months to blame cooler air on the lack of bees it is obvious that something else is at play.
A study undertaken by Oregon State University on the effect of wildfire on bee colonies done in 2020 makes note of a Swedish research project that studied qualities of light around forest fire haze. The study showed that bees and many other insects use patterns of polarized light in the sky as something similar to a compass to help them navigate from their nest to flowers, and then back to the nest. These patterns are still readable to the bees when it is cloudy, but when smoke comes into the mix the amount of polarized light can fall to levels that bees and tiny insects can no longer discern.
This can result in the bees going in different directions than usual, which can make finding a flower for its nectar a confusing task. The study noted this is something that may be why bees seem to stay closer to their hive or nest when there is excess smoke in the air. They also noted that with wildfire smoke in the air the bees were seen to be making shorter flights, thus remaining closer to their nests for easier returns.
Wild bees that make their nests in wood and twigs are unfortunately killed by forest fires. However, bees who make their nests in the ground (called ‘mining bees’) will survive the fire. The study also pointed out that very few wild bees make their homes in closed canopy forests, and as a result bee numbers usually increase in the years following a wildfire. This is often due to the fact that large areas of land that have lost tight knit forests have now become open areas that sprout fireweed, wild shrubs, and other nectar producing banquets for the bees, and as a result help to restore post-fire areas to healthy ecosystems.
We checked in with local apiarist Jayne D’Entremont, on how her bees are handling the air quality right now?
“My hives are actually doing better than I thought they would be,” said D’Entremont, who runs the Canny Crofter Farm in Barriere where she produces and markets honey from her hives.
“My biggest problem is there is a bit of a dearth of nectar sources due to the heat. Although, I was up the back of the property and there’s quite a few wild flowers as well as snow-berry bushes that are just starting to bloom.”
Wildfire smoke does impact bees, but is seems that as long as a constant source of nectar is available, both domesticated honey bees and wild bees can survive the effects.
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