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What Percent of Hives Are Feral vs Kept

44736 Views 304 Replies 36 Participants Last post by  mike bispham
I'm sure this varies by region, but are there any estimates of US hives, what percent of hives are feral and what percent of hives are kept? Thanks for your insights.
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There is no way of counting the feral's.
When you consider the disparity between those collecting ferals who find them everywhere, and the "experts" who claim the are no ferals, I think it is safe to say that no one really knows. Tom Seeley who has been tracking the feral bees in Arnot forest for several decades now (since at least the 70s) says the density has remained basically the same and has put a density number on that (which I don't have handy right now). My guess is there are far more feral bees than domestic.
Gee, I would have guessed just the opposite. But, I guess there are a lot of places where people don't look which may have bees. So, maybe Michael is right.

Michael, wasn't it something like X feral colonies per 10 acres, or 100 acres? Let me see if I can get Tom to answer.
I don't clearly remember either the number nor the terms. I'm pretty sure it wasn't furlongs per fortnight or in hides or ferrels, ;) but it was something like colonies per sq mi or something like that.
Apx 60% are kept hives, and 96 % of all statistics are made up on the spot :)
Not if read on the internet Harley? Harley, har, har.
Obviously, bee population varies with geographic regions. It seems to me that in deep east Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas my friends are always talking about bee swarms. There's a beekeeper in South Louisiana that catches 30 swarms a year and resells them. I can't remember his name, but he was once a member of this forum.

On the other hand, arid West and South Texas are both short on water and blooms. I'm sure the feral bee population is low in such areas.
Looks like .5 feral colonies per km squared in rural forested area and 2.3 feral colonies in urban area buildings, across NY State, Vischer and Seeley 1982, Morse et al 1990.
In 13 years of living here I've seen two swarms. There was two bee trees that I knew of but one died out this year.

I don't believe there are many ferrels near me.
I am only a bit over an hours drive from the start of the northern boreal forests. As far as I know there are no ferals around me.
There is no way of counting the feral's.
Sort of presumptive, wouldn't you say? No way? Good thing other people don't stop at that point. The following claims that feral populations are "quite low" -- this is in Australia where conditions for bees to live in the wild are excellent. There are no varroa, by the way.

In agricultural settings, we need to know if the density of feral bee colonies is sufficient to provide adequate pollination. In conservation areas, we would like to know if the density of feral colonies is sufficient to be of concern.

Directly counting the number of honey bee colonies in the environment over broad scales is not often feasible because colonies are cryptic and difficult to locate (Oldroyd et al. 1997). Here, we implement a new indirect method of estimating colony density based on microsatellite analysis of workers.

First, our data suggest that the density of feral bees is probably insufficient to provide adequate pollination in a horticultural setting. Typical recommended stocking rates are 100–200 colonies/km2 (e.g. Free 1970), whereas our estimates are <10 colonies/km2.

We suggest that without supplementation with domestic colonies, it is unlikely that any crops requiring insect pollination are adequately pollinated.

Second, concerns about the impacts of feral honey bee colonies on natural ecosystems (Goulson 2003) are likely to be unfounded in most areas because the density of feral colonies is quite low.
Arundel, J., Oxley, P. R., Faiz, A., Crawford, J., Winter, S., & Oldroyd, B. P. (2014). Remarkable uniformity in the densities of feral honey bee Apis mellifera Linnaeus, 1758 (Hymenoptera: Apidae) colonies in South Eastern Australia. Austral Entomology.
Looks like .5 feral colonies per km squared in rural forested area and 2.3 feral colonies in urban area buildings, across NY State, Vischer and Seeley 1982, Morse et al 1990.
Mark and I have a table published in the Canadian Entomologist. Unfortunately it lists density per square kilometer but its good for comparison. As Mark says, the density was almost five times as high in a small city than in the rural forest.

There are 2.5 square km in a square mile, so you can multiply the figures to get colonies per square mile. 2.3 x 2.5 = 5.75 or almost six colonies per square mile in an urban area in 1991.

Other figures are

Russia forests, .41 per km2, or one per square mile.

Arizona desert, up to 13 per square mile. Similar concentration in Brazil. Both African bees.

Mexico, as high as 22 per square mile, but again: African bees.

Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of California had a very low density: less than one per square mile. European bees, perhaps very old introduction.

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the number of feral colonies in an area would be directly related to the number of managed bees in the same area.
Wouldn't it be regional? I don't remember ther the number but feral winter survival in northern areas is extremely low, based on something I read in "The Hive and the Honeybee". This was published In 1992 but I don't think it has gotten easier to survive since then. I also wonder how you would define feral. A hive that survived through the winter is good enough for me.
I also wonder how you would define feral.
feral honeybees: "a colony of honeybees not found in man made beekeeping equipment, a colony of honeybees not managed or maintained by humans"

So, in areas conducive to the survival of feral colonies of bees one may find 5 or 6 colonies of feral bees per square mile. How many managed colonies of bees per square mile are there across the US? I bet Peter or Graham can find that information for us, so we can make the comparison, the ratio # of ferals/# of managed or # of managed/# of ferals. Are there more feral colonies of honeybees in the US than there are managed? Or vice versa?
feral honeybees: "a colony of honeybees not found in man made beekeeping equipment, a colony of honeybees not managed or maintained by humans"
If the colony is not managed by humans than it will surely swarm, casting off what would you say 3-5 swarms? That changes the numbers by 300-500 percent. Then you can add there are parts of the state and country that are not that accessible. I should have said there is no way to get an accurate count of feral colonies. It is always changing. There is even a margin of error for counting managed colonies but it is much less.
That's where statistical analysis comes in to give us the best estimate possible. It's an estimation. It will always be flawed. What isn't? Perfection is unreal. That doesn't mean we can't try to come up w/ useful information. Not that you said that at all.
The density of commercial colonies varies considerably, depending on the quality of the forage. Ben Oldroyd, who has studied this extensively in Australia, writes:

Typically, in forest areas owned by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Bee Site Licences are is- sued at 3.2-km intervals. If we assume 130 colonies are typically sited at each apiary (B.P. Oldroyd, personal observations), then the density of commercial colonies is expected to be around 40 colonies/km2.
Using the conversion factor, that's 100 colonies per square mile for commercial colonies in a good beekeeping area.

The Central Valley of California is 22,500 square miles. In spring there are about 1 million hives there. That's a density of 45 colonies per square mile. Feral populations never reach these numbers, not even in Africa or Brazil where the density is highest.
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