By Lauren Tjaden
Exciting rides, beautiful year-round flowers and sweet, sticky treats: it’s no wonder folks love Florida theme parks.
Bees love our theme parks, too—not so much the rides, but the blossoms and sweet goodies are a heady draw for winged drones who couldn’t imagine a better home.
Unfortunately, bee swarms are usually considered dangerous in Central Florida, and pest control operators are often called in to remove and destroy them. That means large populations of honeybees are also destroyed—a bad thing, since we need bees to help pollinate flowers, vegetables and fruits.
The horticulture experts at SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando and Discovery Cove are managing bees in a profoundly different and more enlightened way, setting out to minimize the risk to humans and animals while still allowing the bees to continue their vital pollination.
A stinging response
The horticulturists’ efforts began in 2014, when they started to draw honeybee swarms to "swarm buckets." Honeybees like to make their homes in hollow trees and the buckets mimic the natural tree cavity. This keeps the bees away from guests and team members, enhancing safety, and allowing the horticulturists to try to save and relocate the bees.
It’s all in the genes
Besides relocating the bees, the horticulturists replace the swarms’ queen bees with more docile, Italian honeybee queens. This process, known as “re-queening,” makes the bee colony quieter and less self-protective, a quality that’s passed down to generations of future honeybees.
A registered beekeeper ultimately removes the relocated hives and manages the colony from that point forward.
To say the project has been successful is anunderstatement: Since it began in July of 2014, more than one million bees have been saved and relocated off park property. That’s one million fuzzy, little bee bodies diving into flowers and spreading pollen, contributing to worldwide bee and pollinator conservation efforts.
A honey of a healer
Those same bees work to produce raw honey—a lot of it. The bee hives in Orlando produce more than 300 to 400 pounds of honey annually, which the veterinary teams of all three Orlando parks now use to help heal rescued animals, many which are threatened or endangered.
Honey has long been heralded for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, both for human and animals. It boasts antimicrobial properties, high levels of antioxidants and, when applied to the surface of a wound, it releases hydrogen peroxide to kill bacteria. Holistic practitioners consider the sticky stuff one of nature's best all-around remedies.
SeaWorld Animal Rescue Teams have rescued 35,000 animals in the last 55 years, and the honey from the rehomed bees has helped to heal some of them, including manatees, sea turtles, birds, gopher tortoises and even rescued cetaceans, including “Sharkie” – a dolphin that was rescued, rehabilitated and returned to the ocean after sustaining significant shark bite wounds.
That’s a sweet payoff if there ever was one!
Get in on the buzz
Here are some tips from SeaWorld Orlando to help you protect bees too, since our tiny flying friends have been impacted around the World from pollution, habitat loss and disease-carrying mites.
· As you plan your garden or freshen up your landscaping, consider selecting diverse, nectar-rich plants that will help sustain local bee colonies.
· Reduce the use of pesticides whenever possible.
· Contact your local garden center or beekeeping association to find out what plants are best for bees in your location.
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