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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Bees and Beekeeping, Part 2 - May 20, 2003 - 2003-05-19

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Last week we talked about how bees make honey. However, bees produce a number of useful materials.

Beeswax is another. World production is more than ten thousand tons a year. Yet, this is much less than the total honey production, which is more than one-million tons per year. Bees need to eat about three kilograms of honey, or more, to produce less than one half of a kilogram of wax.

The beauty industry uses a lot of beeswax. It provides a base for skin products and skin medicines. Candles used for lighting and religious ceremonies are made of beeswax. And woodworkers mix it with oils to protect wood surfaces. Leatherworkers use beeswax to protect leather from water.

Beekeepers may be the biggest users of beeswax. They use it to make structures called foundations. Bees build hives by adding wax to the foundations. Bees keep honey, food and their young in these structures.

Surprisingly, the poison from a bee sting is a valuable product. Worker bees have a sting that can inject poison. In some people, a bee sting causes their throat or tongue to swell up. This reaction can cause death. Sometimes, treatment with bee poison can help reduce such reactions.

In North and South America, Asia and Europe, tiny creatures called mites can destroy hives. The mites suck the blood of bees. Wax moths are insects that eat wax in the hive. There are also diseases caused by bacteria: European and American foulbrood. The bacteria that cause these diseases attack and destroy young bees.

Beekeepers in the warm areas of the Americas also must be concerned about Africanized bees. African bees were brought to South America to improve honey production. They quickly spread out of control.

Today, they have mixed with European honey bee populations raised in the Americas. Africanized honey bees are very aggressive. They have killed animals and people. In the Seventies, they became known as “killer bees.” Africanized bees are not really “killer bees,” but they must be treated with special care.

All these problems add to the cost of keeping bees. But beekeeping remains mostly low cost and very important to agriculture -- as we will see next week.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.