The honey bee, although not native to West Virginia, was present in large numbers as a wild insect from the time of first settlement until bee populations were decimated by disease in the late 20th century. The bees, having been brought to North America in hives, soon escaped in significant numbers and often traveled ahead of westward-moving European settlers, swarming from tree to tree in the primeval forests.
Bee trees, valued for their store of honey and sometimes for the colony of bees, were avidly hunted by generations of West Virginians. This was made easier by the fact that bees typically travel in a straight ‘‘bee line’’ when returning home. Bee hunters would closely observe returning bees, sometimes lying on their backs to ‘‘skylight’’ the insects against the light of the sky as they left a water or nectar source. Once spotted, bees would be sighted as far as the eye could see, and the hunter would then advance to that point to await other home-bound bees. Eventually the bees were followed back to their tree, which was then cut and robbed of its sweet treasure.
The wild honey was a welcome addition to the diet of mountaineers, who often supplemented their agricultural pursuits by hunting and gathering. Sometimes the queen bee was saved as well, and a new domestic colony was started by the bee hunter. May and June were the preferred months for bee hunting.
This Article was written by Ken Sullivan
Last Revised on December 21, 2010