Bees are a common sight for those of us who love to be outside. And, the more facts we learn about bees – the easier it is to understand their value. Over 20,000 species of bees world-wide contribute to our lifestyle. We appreciate honey bees for their production of honey and beeswax. But those are not the only reasons why bees are important.
Are Bees Really That Important?
Bees are flying insects that are closely related to wasps. While there are many different kinds of bees in the world, honey bees are the most important pollinators for crops.
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Some of bees live in large communities, such as our honey bees. A honey bee colony population ranges into the tens of thousands.
Others, like the Bumble bee, maintain smaller numbers in the nest. And, some are solitary bees that go it alone. Each type of bee fulfills an important niche in the ecosystem.
Why Bees Matter
Perhaps you are not a big fan of honey? That’s okay – it leaves more for the rest of us. Seriously though, you may think that bees don’t really affect your daily life that much – but they do play a big role in our lifestyle.
Honey bees are not the only bees in the world but they are the most well-known species that we interact with.
Beehives produce several products used by humans including : honey, beeswax, and pollen.
- honey production
- valuable beeswax and other hive products
- food security
- increase crop yield for modern agriculture
- biodiversity for wildlife
- bees are environmental indicators
Honey Bees Produce Honey
The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the only insect in the world that directly produces food for humans. Worker bees collect plant nectar and use it to make honey.
The goal of a honey bee colony is survival. That survival depends on having enough honey stored in the hive to survive the cold Winter months.
Luckily for us, they are hard workers. Healthy colonies in a good location can produce a great deal of honey. A much larger crop than they need for Winter.
A rough estimate for honey production in the United States shows a 50#-60# harvest per colony.
Beeswax is a Valuable Product
Often overlooked, beeswax is a very valuable hive product. In fact, beeswax is worth more per ounce than honey.
Beeswax is secreted by young adults and used to create their honeycomb structure inside the hive.
When honey is harvested, the beeswax caps are removed to allow liquid honey to flow from the comb. These beeswax cappings are cleaned (or rendered) and used in many applications.
Making beeswax candles is a common practice among beekeepers. However, the uses for beeswax are practically endless. From cosmetics to furniture polish, beeswax is a product that must not be overlooked.
Pollen is the only source of protein for the bee colony. Both honey bees and bumble bees collect pollen in order to raise young.
The use of bee pollen as a food supplement for humans dates back to the Middle Ages. It is thought to aid in allergy relief and good general health.
People used to get pollen when they consumed honey. However today, most commercial honey has been filtered to the point that pollen is removed. Local beekeepers and large commercial companies collect and sell bee pollen.
Food Security Depends on Pollination
This brings us to the biggest reason why bees are important. Insect pollination plays a large role in food production in our country.
Most flowers need to receive pollen from another flower in order to bear fruit. They require pollination. In order to attract insects, these plants produce showy flowers and secrete sweet nectar.
Hopefully, pollinators will be lured to the bloom. As they move from flower to flower, pollen is inadvertently moved from one to the next.
Bee pollination allows farmers to increase the yield of their crops. This creates a more reliable source of food stuffs for the market.
Would We Starve Without Bees?
Only 10%-15% of all human food sources are pollinated by honey bees. No, we would not starve but we may get tired of eating the same thing.
Many plants are wind pollinated. Their light weight pollen blows through the air to other blossoms. They do not need insects to aid in pollination.
Hence, the statement that “without bees we will starve” just doesn’t have substance.
Major crops such as corn, wheat, rice and soybeans are wind pollinated. They do not rely on bee pollination.
Honey Bees Well Suited to Modern Agriculture
In the United States, a very small percentage of people produce food. Modern agriculture practices are based on the idea of specialization.
Huge fields of a single crop are the most economical way to produce food. When a large crop field is in bloom, a huge number of pollinators are needed quickly. The bloom will not last forever.
No area would have enough native pollinators to get the job done in time. This is when the pollination efforts of insects become so important. Honey bees and Bumble Bees practice flower fidelity.
This means that on a given foraging flight they like to visit the same type of flower. This enhances pollination by moving pollen between the same type of flower.
Honey bees are particularly suited for agriculture purposes. In addition to practicing flower fidelity, they live in large family groups. Also, their hives can be easily transported from one location to another.
Farmers that grow almonds, apples, apricots, black berries, cherries, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries and more rely on honey bee pollination.
Plant Diversity for Wildlife
Most native plants are wind pollinated. However, a few do benefit from bee pollination. Areas with beehives in residence have more diverse food for wildlife.
In years past, honey bees aided greatly in the pollination of fruits for wildlife. This was before the influx of the varroa mite, wiped out practically all the wild colonies.
Why Bees Are Important as Environmental Indicators
Researchers confirm a sharp decline in many pollinator species in recent years. This problem affects all pollinators.
When an ecosystem is experiencing problems due to pollution of other problems, a decline in pollinators is one of the first indicators. If the bees are not doing well, we want to know why.
A Last Word on Reasons Why Bees are Important
It is clear that we need bees. We want the biodiversity that pollinators provide in our environment. Also, our food production model depends on the health of our pollinators.
Bees are important. Let’s do everything we can to help our pollinators and reap the benefits of a bee-utiful world for years to come.