Bees are perhaps the most underrated creatures on the planet. Like most insects and pollinators, bees often go unnoticed despite their enormous contribution to the perpetuation of life. It is said that one out of every three bites of food we take was made possible because of bees’ endless determination to seek out pollen. Yet we don’t pay much attention to them until they start to disappear and directly impact the future of our food system. We cannot forget about the well-being of our buzzing friends. We need them now more than ever!
The Buzz About Bees
Some plant species rely on wind and water for pollination, but about 90% of all plant species need the assistance of animals to transfer pollen from one flower to the next. When bees visit a flower to collect nectar for the hive, pollen from the stamen sticks to their bodies, which are covered with fine hairs. Then, as the bee travels to the next flower, the pollen is deposited on the stigma (or female organ of the plant), and the reproduction of the plant begins. Soon delicious berries, fruits and nuts will provide valuable sustenance for the natural world to enjoy.
There are about 4,000 species of bees native to the United States alone. Bumblebees and honeybees, both of which live in colonies, are perhaps the most well-known bees. Honeybees are not native to the United States but are relied upon heavily for large-scale crop pollination. Approximately 75% of crop production worldwide relies on animal pollination in some form and honeybees are at the top of that list.
Not only do bees directly pollinate the crops we grow to eat, but they also contribute to the sustainability of the fields grazed by theanimals we rely on for sustenance in one form or the other. Plants like alfalfa and clover and favorites of grazing animals and are heavily pollinated by bees.
Needless to say, without bees, life would be much different than it currently is now. In 2006, beekeepers began to notice large numbers of dead or abandoned hives. As the loss rates rose, so did the concern and awareness of all the threats facings bees in our modern world. Suddenly, the thought of a future without bees became very real.
Where are they going?
The most talked about threat devastating world honeybee populations is Colony Collapse Disorder. Colony Collapse Disorder is the name given to the inexplicable disappearance of worker bees that leave behind a queen and plenty of food, leaving the honeybee colony essentially empty. The most-supported theory as to what is causing CCD is that the disorder is a result of disease-related responses. There have been theories based on electromagnetic interference from cell phones to pesticides to climate change impacts, but the answer is not that simple. The threats facing bees are a complex and cumulative list of challenges stemming from their interactions and existence along side humans.
What scientists can agree on is that bees are dying and disappearing at a rate never seen before, and it coincides with our use of ever-greater and stronger pesticides and other conventional agricultural practices.
Bees in general are also losing their natural habitat and food sources to urban development and industrialization. Pollution and the loss of natural spaces have driven bees to our larger industrialized farms, most of which are covered with pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. These chemicals have been shown time and again to display not only the fatal impact to bees in direct contact, but also developmental disruption and impacts on bee offspring, not to mention the weakening of bee health and ability to combat disease.
Disease is by far the greatest threat posed to bees. Like CCD and other mite-related outbreaks, bees are susceptible to viral, bacterial and parasitic outbreaks just as most plants and animals are. Disease is far more prevalent and threatening in organisms that lack biodiversity. Couple that with the creation of stronger parasites and bacteria from the overuse of pesticides, and the potential for rampant disease spreading quickly through bee populations that share the same genetic makeup and natural defenses increases greatly.
Show Your Love
Bottom line: bees are in trouble, and we need to do whatever we can to help them bounce back. After all, we rely very heavily on their well-being, as does the rest of the planet. There are many ways we can help show our love for bees (and all pollinators, really). Here is my short list:
1) Buy Bee-friendly Products
Many products offer “bee-friendly” labels or other certifications. While this is a step in the right direction, you must
bee-careful. There is no governing body to authenticate the claims of certifications, so make sure the company or product lives up to its claims. Your safest option is to purchase products from local and/or small companies that have a long-standing reputation or that you can visit. Another option is purchasing vegan products, since they will be free of any bee products.
2) Buy Organic
Yet another reason to avoid purchasing produce and other foods grown with pesticides and the other nasties.
3) Organic Gardening
Even if you don’t keep your own bees, starting and maintaining a garden free of chemicals and full of wonderful flowering plants will offer an oasis for bees and other pollinators in and around your own ecosystem.
4) Foster Bees
Urban beehives have become very popular in certain areas, and with good reason. Not only is keeping your own hive fun and rewarding, but you are supporting the pollination of just about every flowering plant within a two-mile radius. In a developed city, that is much needed.
5) Get Involved
Teaching and sharing other urban residents of the wonders of bees is essential. There are countless classes and groups throughout Madison and beyond that assist people in starting their own hives and becoming amateur beekeepers. Take a class and bring someone along with you.
Without bees, would life as we know it even exist? Lucky for us, we don’t have to worry about how life would have evolved without bees. The question now is, how does life continue without them? The fear of a life without bees is real. Bees are dying all around the globe in enormous numbers, but we have a very good idea as to what is causing these disasters. With the knowledge coming out about how to combat these threats facing bees, we as consumers have to make sure we hold farms and producers accountable to improving their growing or producing practices. Whether you admit it or not, you need bees; and frankly, you should love bees, because you won’t be the same without them.