Honeybees often get a bum rap as being a nuisance. But some local beekeepers say nothing could be further from the truth, which is why they are excited that Hogle Zoo now has three beehives on display.
"A lot of people confuse hornets with bees," says Jeff Knowlden, a beekeeper from West Valley City, who has volunteered to help Hogle Zoo with this new educational effort on honeybees.
Honeybees are brown, while hornets are black and yellow. Hornets create paper nests, while bees make wax clusters.
Hogle Zoo had some beehives temporarily on display in the mid- to late 1990s, but zoo officials hope the current display will expand and become permanent.
Jeff Landry, Hogle Zoo's animal-care supervisor, said when the zoo found a honeybee swarm in a wire spool last July, animal-control officers gave them Knowlden's name as someone who could help remove it. That visit eventually led to the current bee display.
"It's nice to have the bees here," said zoo spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite. She said many people fear bees, based on killer-bee reports, but she pointed out that the zoo beehives are 25 feet away from the public viewing and that no visitor has been stung so far.
A display with a single beehive is located behind a fence, between the camel and gorilla exhibits. A second exhibit, with two hives, is located to the south, up the hill toward the south zoo entrance where most buses park. Information signs identify both exhibits.
Knowlden said when the bees leave the hive they fly east over the camel area, away from zoo walkways.
"It seems to be working real well," Landry said. "The public loves it. This is a good first step."
He's hoping to perhaps create a glass-covered display hive some day, so that visitors can comfortably see how bees live and work.
Knowlden said there are about 20,000 bees in each hive. Excess honey is removed, leaving the bees ample food. The zoo's lower beehive has yielded about 120 pounds in excess honey.
Knowlden's older brother, Larry Knowlden, from Layton, got him interested in bees years ago and is also assisting with the zoo's new beehives.
Larry Knowlden stressed that humans could not survive without honeybees, since they pollinate so many plants.
"It's so good for the garden to have them," he said. "It's a hobby that's so addicting ... Honeybees are so important to us."
A $25 license is required to have a beehive in Utah. That cost covers inspections, mainly geared to help prevent the spread of diseases among bees. Then, hives should be away from walkways and include good water sources nearby. Potential beekeepers should also check local city and county ordinances.
The Knowldens say that honeybees usually only sting when provoked. They note that a beehive hobbyist can get started for as little as $200 and that trees and fruit near hives grow better with the bees around.
Because of diseases, honeybee keepers had a 20 percent loss of bees from September 2008 to April 2009. The previous year was even worse, with a 31 percent decrease.
Nationally, it is estimated that there were 5 billion honeybees in the U.S. in the 1950s. Now, there are only about 2.5 billion.
What can the public do to foster more, healthy honeybees? The Knowldens suggest using bee-friendly insecticidal soap to kill harmful insects, or at least not spraying pesticides when flowers are blooming.
The National Honey Association also has honeybee information at: www.honey.com.
Hogle Zoo, 2600 E. Sunnyside Ave., is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Go to: www.hoglezoo.org for more information.