Honey bees are badass. There’s no doubt about it, they’re practically untouchable. Although as much as I think they’re amazing little powerhouses, they’re in danger. Unfortunately, sobering statistics have become prominent in the beekeeping circles and ecological studies over the past few years. According to the national collaboration of universities and beekeepers called Bee Informed, the United States lost 44% of honey bees in their 2015-2016 study. Many studies have pointed to culprits such as the overuse of pesticides and the invasion of parasites in hives as large scale causes of the population decline. However, I would argue that the biggest issue that faces our bees right now is the fact that not enough people are talking about them.
Honey bees are, in fact, critical to our crops. Approximately 80% of our seed crops, fruits, and vegetables are pollinated by honey bees. Why? In biology, this is defined as a symbiotic relationship. The honey bees gain nectar and pollen from the plants that they can then use for food supply, while the plants benefit from the pollination. Specifically this is known as mutualism, as it benefits both parties. The Ancient Egyptians are thought to be the first population to discover the benefits of honey and beeswax, and became a factor of the symbiotic relationship: they became a third party in the mutualistic relationship. Now there is a mutualism triangle: humans provide shelter for the hives, the bees pollinate their crops and provide honey, and the plants provide the bees with food stock while pollinated.
Then humans introduced pesticides, and moved honey bees throughout the world. For a while, we were great, but now the triangle has been hurt. We are now facing an issue that is seemingly growing: We have more people (which means more of a need for food) with fewer bees. Fortunately, we have some things we can do about it to try to get things under control. Why? Our food crops and our ecosystems depend on the efforts of honey bees. How can we take a supportive role? It’s actually pretty easy! If you have anything close to a green thumb, consider planting a bee-friendly garden to encourage pollination and sources of food for the bees. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could consider getting a hive of your own, but you may need some startup information like you can find in how-to books like these. If nothing else, consider supporting your local beekeepers by visiting farmers markets and farm stands and purchase their wares to support their efforts in conserving the species. You can even share this post with your friends to spread the knowledge for the sake of the bees!
As long as you’re interested in supporting our busy little bee friends, you might as well learn a bit more about what makes honey bees so great, and why you should be more like a honey bee yourself:
1) They’re great communicators. Bees are social creatures that support a hive of thousands of individuals thanks to their communication skills. Bees are known to do a “waggle dance” to tell other bees the exact location of a good source of food (it’s actually really cool to watch). What’s most important about the ways bees communicate is that there are no spoken words: it’s body language with a whole lot of watching and listening by peers. Communication is only as good as the listener is at receiving the message.
2) They’re savers. As a college student, I have learned a lot about the fact that it’s never too early to start saving. Retirement may be a long way away, but we really never know when we may need a fallback plan. Honey bees stockpile honey and beeswax from day one to use for whenever there is a shortage of food. Most commonly that’s wintertime, but it can be used at any point when the hive needs it.
3) They’re pollinators. I know…. You don’t have big fluffy legs and abdomens that can collect and carry little particles of pollen around from plant to plant… and I
hope imagine you don’t have a big proboscis sticking out of your face to collect nectar. But you do have a brain, and that’s all you need. Pollen, at its basic level, is simply a reproductive substance that carries genetic information to allow a bigger, healthier crop to fuel a new generation. Be a pollinator of your own information. Share your gifts and talents, and help cultivate a more brilliant world around us.
4) They’re efficient. As I said before, honey bees have the task of pollinating approximately 80% of our crops. One honey bee can travel up to three miles away from a hive in order to collect food. These little creatures have efficiency, speed, and skill that allow them to work so hard and accomplish so much for so many species on this planet. Not to mention the fact that a good, active, healthy hive never gets below freezing in the winter time. Body heat and efficient work does, in fact, go a long way.
5) They only sting when they have to. Honey bees have stingers, but using it results in death for the bee. Honey bees are known to be very docile as bees go, and tend to be more interested in doing their work and staying out of the way. Honey bees, unlike many wasps and other stinging insects, are not inherently aggressive and would rather fly away. However, whenever the likelihood of the survival of their local population is in danger, everything changes. Fighting all the time is pointless. Fighting and protecting what’s important? That’s vital.
Still interested in learning more? Check out these resources for more:
The Honey Bee Conservancy
What You Can Do
Make a donation to Bee Informed
*This post is in no way sponsored by any of the above organizations, and no compensation was given for the information or links provided*