If you spend anytime outside, chances are you have experienced an encounter with a bee. Hopefully, it was not a stressful event but rather the joy of seeing these hard working insects doing their thing. With over 20,000 bee species world-wide, these insects contribute greatly to life as we know it. Understanding why bees are important is the first step in protecting them.
The Value of Bees
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Some live in large colonies with thousands of members, such as a beehive. Others, like the Bumble bee, maintain smaller numbers in the nest of only a few hundred. And, some are solitary insects that go it alone. These solitary bees have no nest mates to share the work.
Ways Bees Enrich Our Lives
With some variation due to differences between species, most bees are involved in making our world better through several contributions.
- food security
- biodiversity for wildlife
- environmental indicators
Food Security Depends on Pollination
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 transferring pollen from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another.
This helps farmers increase the yield of their crop fields. In turn, this creates a more reliable source of food stuffs for the market. Some of your favorite fruits and vegetables do need bees for pollination: apples, strawberries, cucumbers, broccoli, almonds, etc.
In our agricultural system, honey bee pollination contributes millions of dollars to the food industry each year. This makes them the most important pollinators for agriculture.
But, it is not only our direct food source that is affected. Many native bees pollinate the wild plants that produce seeds for wild birds and berries for mice and lizards. In the food chain, some of these berry eating animals are then consumed by larger beasts.
Plant Diversity for Wildlife
Most native plants are wind pollinated. However, a few do benefit from insect pollination. If you live in an area with beehives in residence, you will have more diverse food source for wildlife.
In years past, honey bees aided greatly in the pollination of fruits for wildlife. This was before the influx of varroa mites (parasites), wiped out practically all the wild colonies.
We also must understand the importance of native bees and pollinators that also contribute to wildlife food. Some of them are better suited for certain types of plant pollination that honey bees.
Bees 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, lack of habitat or other problems, a decline in pollinators is one of the first signs of trouble.
If they are not doing well, we want to know why. This provides an opportunity to analyze current conditions and look for ways to make things better. Hopefully, things in the environment can be improved before too much damage occurs.
Of course, some issues such as climate change may be beyond our control. Paying closer attention to bee habitat and pesticide use is something to work on.
Importance of Honey Bees
Even the early colonists understood the importance of bees. They brought German Black Honey Bees to the New World on ships. That could not have been an easy journey. But, the new colonists wanted the benefits that having their own hives would bring.
- pollination and bee pollen
Bees were such an important part of their lives that they would often tell the bees of major life events such as deaths, marriages etc.
Bees collect pollen for the protein needed to raise young. As they visit flowers, pollen is moved from plant to plant. This results in any nearby gardens producing more vegetables and fruits.
Farmers that grow almonds, apples, apricots, black berries, cherries, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries and more rely on migratory beekeepers for pollination.
Beyond pollination, some people actually consume bee pollen. Its use 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.
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.
In fact, beehives produce several products used by humans. A rough estimate for honey production in the United States shows a 50#-60# harvest per colony.
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.
After honey is harvested, beeswax caps are removed to allow liquid honey to flow from the comb. These 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.
Would We Starve Without Bees?
Only 10%-15% of all human food crops are pollinated by bees. That leaves many other types of food to give us nutrition.
In fact, major crops such as corn, wheat, rice and soybeans are wind pollinated. Their light weight pollen blows through the air to other blossoms. They do not rely on bee pollination.
Hence, the statement that “without bees we will starve” is not as simple as it sounds. No, we would not starve (at least not right away) but we may get tired of eating the same thing. Our diet would certainly be affected.
It is clear that we need these pollinating insects. We want the biodiversity that pollinators provide in our environment. Also, our food production model depends on their health.
Bees are important. In recent years, it is clear that they are facing some major struggles. Whether through exposure to pesticides, lack of habitat or new pests or diseases, they need our help.
Let’s do everything we can to help our pollinators and reap the benefits of a bee-utiful world for years to come. Promote bees through displaying your passion for them and giving your friends little bee-worthy gifts for special holidays etc.
Bees are responsible for pollinating 1/3 of the foods humans eat.
If we lost all of our bees, we would lose the plants that rely on them for pollination. Then, we might lose the animals that rely on those plants. This causes problems all up the food chain with more problems than we might think.
Our bees are facing a multitude of problems including: habitat loss, nutritional deficiencies, pollution, changing climates and pesticide exposure.
Honey bees are the most important pollinators for modern agriculture. This is due to the fact that they live in large families and are easy to move from crop to crop. However, other pollinators are extremely important to our environment – perhaps more so than honey bees.