Entomologists fear urban beekeeping could be putting wild bees at risk

Click to play video: 'Buzz-worthy: Montreal entomologists warn of the dangers of raising urban bees' Buzz-worthy: Montreal entomologists warn of the dangers of raising urban bees
WATCH: Urban bee keeping has gained popularity in Montreal, but some say this popular hobby is having a negative impact on the native bee population. – Jun 7, 2019

Some entomologists are sounding the alarm that native bees could be in danger of being wiped out, because of the popularity of urban beekeeping.

“The danger is that we’re probably losing species and don’t even know it,” says Gail MacInnis, a PhD entomology candidate at McGill University.  Something needs to be done, she says, to control the number of honeybees being raised.

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She says the honeybees were brought from Europe and are an invasive species in Canada.  There are 800 species of wild bees in the country with about 177 counted in Montreal seven years ago. Since then, more than 600 honeybee hives have been introduced to the island.

“Which is over 30 million bees,” she explains.

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The problem, she says, is that wild bees can’t reproduce as fast as honeybees, which makes them vulnerable. Wild bees are solitary, reproducing fewer than 10 bees at a time.

A honeybee colony, however, “can have up to 50,000 to 100,000 individuals in one colony,” she says.

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Now both groups are competing for the same food.  If that continues, she fears native bees could be wiped out, reducing plant diversity since native bees are much better pollinators.

Montreal opposition party Ensembles Montreal wants the administration to do something about it.  They plan to introduce a motion to control the number of honeybees on the island.

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“We can consider to have a cap on the amount of beehives we can have in, let’s say a kilometre,” explains Montreal city councillor for St. Laurent Francesco Miele.

His party also wants to improve the system for registering beehives, and to encourage more planting of flowers to help the wild bees — “[to] make sure there’s sufficient amount of habitat for them to nourish themselves,” he says.

Alvéole, a company that sells hives for domestic bee rearing, doesn’t think there’s that much of a danger.

“At the moment there’s no study that shows that honeybees have a negative impact on wide bees,” according to company co-founder Alex McLean.

“It’s something that’s really hard to show.”

He agrees, however, that urban beehives should be kept small to minimize any competition with wild bees.

Ensemble Montreal plans to table their motion at city council, June 17.

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