In the coming days, trees like Pongamia, copper pods and neem trees will be in full bloom, filling the city with colour. Yellows, purples, and reds will dominate the city’s skyline. The array of flowers, will, however, come with a sting. With more flower comes more pollen and nectar – the perfect setting for wild honeybees to build more hives.
As trees and forests make way for the burgeoning city, wild honey bees have nowhere to build a comb but on tall buildings that have replaced the trees. Peri-urban areas like Banashankari are more vulnerable to attacks as they are closer to forests. Experts say that bees depend on tall and firm structures, that are not vulnerable to winds, to build their combs.
“Bees are very very particular about where they build their hives. The structure should not sway with the wind and should be protected from direct sunlight as much as possible,” said former dean of College of Agriculture, Hassan N E Thyagaraj, who specialises in entomology – or the study of insects. “So, once they choose their spot, they keep coming back to it,” he added.
Where there were forests and trees are now high rise apartment complexes - which has put thousands of apartment dwellers at the risk of bee stings. Residents of Shobha Forest View, an apartment complex that borders the Turahalli forest learned this the hard way. “Everyday, I get at least one request to remove a hive that has been built on someone’s balcony,” said a member of the residents’ association, Veena Naik.
“Earlier, we used to call pest-control and try to get rid of them as soon as possible. But, not only is that pointless, we are also learning new things about these complex creatures,” she added. Another resident of the same complex said: “After all, we are the ones who have come to their habitat. We cannot just chase them away. We are learning to coexist,” said Prateeka Kawari.
Unlike domesticated bees, wild honey bees are more aggressive and more prone to attack, but only when provoked or irritated. “Unless there are kids who might disturb the comb or other factors that may aggravate the bees, we do not remove the comb. We go to apartments to sensitise them about how we can learn to live with them,” said Apoorva BV from The Hive Trust.
He attends to at least 100 calls in these months about hives removal and connects to the people who use non-violent methods. “We always suggest co-existing with bees. Sometimes when the hive is too reachable, non-violent hive removers will cut only the comb. Bees will stay in the same place for 2-3 days and when their scout worker bees find another ideal nesting site, they leave,” he added.
Bees are highly specialised creatures, having a complex lifestyle. They can fly up to 10km looking for pollen and nectar. Much of the food cycle depends on them for pollination.
Experts are observing a drastic decline in their population in several regions in Karnataka and across the country. Apis cerana, the only native species of bees known to build their hives inside tree cavities are losing out on their natural habitat with the cutting of big trees.
“In thirty years of my study on bees, only twice have I seen their hives outside of trees. However, after several big trees were cut down along the Hubli-Dharwad highway, I saw 15 such colonies in just six months. It is really sad that we are destroying their habitats in the name of development,” said a former professor at the University of Agricultural Sciences Shashidhar Viraktamath. He is now an emeritus scientist with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
In Bangalore, too, there are several anecdotal evidences of decline in bee population. “In the ‘80s, we counted at least 267 hives in a single banyan tree at the GKVK (Gandhi Krishi Vignan Kendra) campus. Now there are barely four or five. This is because of reducing the number of trees and flowers on which they feed,” he added.
Across the country, the pollination services of bees is pegged to be around Rs 3,000 crore a year. Globally this number is between $250 billion and $500 billion. “One-third of India’s agricultural produce depend on bees and their pollination services,” said Viraktamath.
Despite losing their habitat, bee attacks are not frequent in the city – however, there have been some deadly instances. In 2015, seven-year-old Vaishnavi Prasad was stung while she was at Lalbagh flower show. She was admitted to the ICU but could not recover. Following this her grandparents committed suicide, a year later, unable to take the tragedy. In 2016, another four men were attacked at the same spot and were admitted to a private hospital with injuries. In 2014, two men were killed by honey bees in at the Devanahalli market, reported The Hindu.