There seems to be a lot of buzz about bees lately. All sorts of discussion about a declining bee population and the effects of pesticides on these insects that are so very important to our environment. Time Magazine even devoted a cover to the story, “A World Without Bees” a few years back. So exactly what is happening in the world of bees, and why should we be paying attention?
Bees are easily some of the hardest working creatures on the planet. They possess a work ethic that just doesn’t quit. Our lives would indeed be very different if bees did not exist. A couple of interesting facts here:
Bees pollinate over 80% of all flowering plants. That includes 70 of the top 100 human food crops.
One in three bites of food that we eat is derived from plants pollinated by bees, making them very important to our food supply.
Many varieties of fruits and vegetables rely on pollination by honey bees. Foods such as broccoli, asparagus, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, blueberries, watermelons, almonds, apples, cranberries, and cherries.
Not only is this pollination necessary for the food we consume directly, it’s also vital to our food chain. Crops such as field beans, hay, and clover are used to feed the livestock that we depend on for meat.
Honey bees are so important that farmers often have beehives transported to and placed on their farms to provide pollination for their crops.
So what exactly is pollination and why is it important? In the simplest terms, pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower, the anther, to the female part of the flower, the stigma. When the two come together, a plant’s nut, seed or fruit is formed. Bees are just one of several animals, which include birds, bats, butterflies and beetles that are known as pollinators. These pollinators transfer pollen and seeds from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant so it can grow and produce food. Some plants rely on these animals to assist in the pollinating process, several can pollinate themselves while others rely on the wind to assist. This cross-pollination helps at least thirty percent of the world’s crops and ninety percent of wild plants to thrive. In essence, without bees to spread seeds, many of our plants, including food crops, would die off.
Bees are unique in that they tend to focus their energy on one species of plant at a time. By concentrating on visiting the same flowers of a particular species, a higher caliber of pollination occurs, meaning all plants of that one species get an even distribution of pollen from others of its same species.
Obviously, bees play a major part in our food supply, but they also have other admirable roles in nature. One single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Those are some busy bees! By pollinating flowers, they contribute to the beauty of our floral landscapes and provide attractive, nourishing habitats for animals, including birds and other insects.
Let’s not forget that bees also make something delicious- Honey! No bees = No Honey. What kind of world would that be? Honey not only tastes good, but it offers many nutritional and medicinal benefits. Honey contains antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease. It helps with coughs, and can be as effective as the main ingredient in cough syrup, and helps promote better sleep. It is both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, contributing to its incredibly long shelf life. Its combination of fructose and glucose helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. It is also effective in the healing of burns and wounds. Along with all of this, honey is also probiotic, so it contains large amounts of friendly bacteria, which may explain many of its therapeutic properties.
Bees are always on the job. They travel great distances to collect pollen making them the workhorse of the insect kingdom. The main reason bees are so important to our world is this; if bees do not pollinate crops, then crops do not grow to produce food that is harvested. That food is then brought to the stores where consumers buy it to bring home to feed our families. It is essential to keep the bee population safe. Bees need healthy crops and healthy crops need bees. It’s a coexistence that is critical for our food supply and the future of agriculture.