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Howland Blackiston Discusses The Amazing Honeybee


By Samantha Snead


On September 29 Howland Blackiston, a Roanoke College graduate, spoke about the qualities that make honeybees unique as well as the current dangers facing them. The talk took place in Massengill Auditorium, where nearly every seat was taken.

Blackiston opened by showing an image of a honeybee and asked the audience to guess how old it was. He revealed that its age was somewhere between 30 and 40 million years, and showed an image of Egyptian paintings depicting the domestication of bees for pollination.

Blackiston then talked about the many products of honeybees we use in our everyday lives. A single hive produces an average of 40-100lbs of honey per year in addition to what is needed to feed the bees. Their beeswax is also harvested for use in candles, lip balm, and numerous other products.

Next, he used graphs to demonstrate the importance of pollination. In an experiment done to measure the difference in yield per fruit tree, the difference in apples from an apple tree allowed to pollinate versus one that was not was about 1,170 apples. An audience member asked Blackiston what percentage of what we eat bees are responsible for, to which he replied, “Thirty percent.”

Blackiston moved on to explain the inner workings of the hive and the different types of bees within it. The three types of bees in the hive are the workers, the drones, and the queen, who is the only one in the hive with functioning ovaries. The entire structure of the hive is based around this fact; the workers control the temperature of the hive and maintain its cleanliness, while the drones’ sole purpose is to mate with the queen. The queen lays around 1,500 eggs per day and emits powerful pheromones that announce her presence to all of the other bees in the hive. The worker bees communicate to each other using smell, taste, and most importantly, a unique dance. This “dance” communicates with incredible accuracy the location of plant sources. These means of communication allow the bees to explain to one another where to find new plants to pollinate, and is one of the abilities that makes honeybees unique from other insects.

Blackiston concluded by describing the problems facing this unique species. Tracheal and varroa mites feed on the blood of the honeybees. Colony Collapse Disorder has an unknown cause, but has devastated honeybee populations. When asked how to help protect the honeybee populations, Blackiston advised the audience to avoid using neonicitinoids, which are pesticides toxic to honeybees.

Like the rest of the audience, sophomore Tyler Strouth enjoyed Blackiston’s presentation. “I liked it,” he said. “It was interesting. Bees are severely misunderstood.” Blackiston’s entire talk seemed centered on this very idea; although people are often fearful of honeybees, they are gentle creatures who provide us with countless essential products, and for that, deserve to be protected.