The buzz around Marshall University next week will be about the importance of honeybees.

Even those dreaded stingers.

About 300 beekeepers will join 12 vendors and dozens more presenters at the Heartland Apiculture Society’s annual conference starting Thursday in Huntington.

Anyone can attend. But will the public show up knowing the flying critter’s reputation for scattering picnics and scaring the ’bee’-jeezus out of people who are allergic to their stings?

Speakers will educate conference attendees about bees and stress their importance. State apiarist George Clutter will wear his work on his face — he’ll show others how to make a bee beard on Thursday and Friday. His presentation will take place outdoors.

“People really have become very much aware of the importance of the honeybee in the last two to three years and the problems we may face if we don’t bring them back,” said Gabe Blatt of Huntington, president of the Heartland Apiculture Society.

“About one out of every three bites of food that we eat are a direct result of pollination,” Blatt said. “If that goes away, we’ve got a problem. And people are beginning to realize that.”

Nationally, the number of honey-producing colonies has dropped from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are many reasons, including the arrival of two parasitic mites in the United States starting in the mid-1980s, Blatt said.

Clutter said there currently are 20,000 colonies in West Virginia, up from less than 2,000 in 1995.

Though West Virginia has seen no signs of colony collapse disorder, there will be an update on the mysterious disappearance of entire bee colonies that has been reported in at least 35 states since 2006.

Ice cream maker Haagen-Dazs is among the companies that have pledged money for research and begun efforts to help save the bees. The problem affects about 40 percent of Haagen-Dazs’ 73 flavors, including banana split and chocolate peanut butter, because ingredients such as almonds, cherries and strawberries rely on honeybees for pollination.

Jerry Hayes of the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Inspection is scheduled to give an update on so-called Africanized bees, a fierce hybrid strain sometimes referred to as “killer bees” that began heading north from Brazil in 1957 after a swarm escaped a lab.

Blatt also is hoping to locate a speaker about apitherapy, the use of bee venom by thousands of arthritis sufferers, multiple sclerosis patients and others.

Blatt has been using apitherapy for about eight months for his arthritic left wrist. He’s known about the medically unproven and possibly dangerous method for a long time. The chemicals in bee venom are thought to reduce inflammation.

Blatt takes a live bee and lets it sting him about once a month. His wife also uses the therapy for arthritis in a big toe.

“My arthritis wasn’t that bad until it started flaring up. So I decided to try it out and see what happens. It cleared it right up,” Blatt said. “It does work. It has to be in the right spot. I can get stung in other places and it doesn’t quite work.”

For him, the relief far outweighs the short-term pain.

“Oh, it hurts,” Blatt said. “But it’s not that bad.”

He numbs the area with ice beforehand, then lets the bee do the dirty deed.

“For me, the next day I can tell the difference,” Blatt said. “It will vary from person to person. And I’m sure there are people it won’t work for. It’s like any medicine. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for a good number of folks.”

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