Friday, March 29, 2013

Environmental History Timeline June, 1780

David Zeisberger records the arrival of European honey bees in eastern Ohio

David Zeisberger, indomitable Moravian missionary, penned his detailed observations, knowledge and experience with Native American life ways and of wild North America during the Contact Period as tentacles of pioneer settlement fingered westward across the Alleghenies. Zeisberger cataloged wildlife in later sections of his history while at his remote mission, Schoenbruun Village, near today's New Philadelphia, Ohio, most likely completing his notes during the summer of 1780.
Zeisberger noted (page 152):
Of bees, nothing was known when we came here in '72, now they are to be found in large numbers in hollow trees in the woods.
Zeisberger's fascinating history and bestiary can be viewed online here: David Zeisberger's History of Northern American Indians.

Honey bees were, and remain, agricultural partners with Western commercial agriculture. They were introduced alongside pioneer European agriculture and alongside the many species of undesired European weeds that came with imported livestock feed and crop seeds. Westward spreading exotic flowering weed species provided essential nutrition for westward spreading honey bees. Pioneer honey bees, always just ahead  of  pioneering peoples, did not reach eastern Ohio for 150 years following introduction in Virginia by 1622.

Native American agriculture produced abundance through partnerships with native pollinators, among them, butterflies, hummingbirds, ants, flies, beetles, and our numerous species of solitary bees, small semi-colonial native ground-nesting bees, and our heavyweight pollinators, bumblebees.

More on honey bees:
Colony collapse disorder CCD
First record of honey bees imported to North America


Beatriz Moisset said...

Thank you so much for this article. I have been looking for information on pollinators before the arrival of the honey bee and couldn't find much out there. I am trying hard to make people understand that honey bees are not native and not needed by native plants. I wish there were no bee hives at nature centers. Oh, well! I realize that they can be a good educational tool. But sometimes the message gets lost.

Tom Bain said...

Thank you for you comment, Beatriz. I like seeing honey bees in nature centers, but I agree with you that the naturalist community must present a fuller history and ecological impact caused by them. Honey bees have changed the ecology of North American ecosystems along with early farming and today's industrial agriculture. We can't sustain diverse agriculture without their help, today, because they are mobile-friendly. Without traveling colonies criss-crossing N.A. on flatbed trucks, most of our produce would fail. Partly, this is due to the decline of native pollinators. There is an essential piece missing from the typical presentation about pollination in many nature centers, that is the discussion of native pollinators and their essential continuing role in native and not so native ecosystems. Each presentation about honey bees should be accompanied by a hands-on activity to plant native plants that are partners to native pollinators, or the construction of simple solitary bee houses from dry bamboo canes or wood blocks. We would make progress if our children earned great take-home's like solitary bee bundles in place of coloring-in honey bee illustrations; and, planting native seeds to grow purple coneflower or other native's in place of marigolds, etc. A little effort and a subtle change in emphasis would shift attention to native pollinators.

Beatriz Moisset said...

I quoted you in my blog because you express this point better than I. I hope it is OK with you.