Honey, I Shrunk the Bees
Although every year World Bee Day is celebrated on May 20th, with the United States having a national honey bee day later in the summer, bees should be recognized and celebrated year round. Sadly, due to a variety of factors including habitat destruction and the use of pesticides, recently bees have been dying by the thousands. For some of us they might seem like a painful annoyance, but in reality bees are the backbone of our food and plant ecosystem through their extensive pollination. If that doesn’t help you appreciate them, they also make delicious honey. That’s pretty sweet! Rather than buzzing along with more bee puns, I’ll beehive myself and let you know more about what makes bees so important, the challenges they’re facing, and what we can do to help our furry little friends.
This Problem Stings
There are more than 4,000 species of bees in America, a large proportion of which are sadly experiencing widespread decline. The honey bee population decreased 40% in the winter of 2018 to 2019 alone, and the annual rate loss for the 2019 to 2020 winter was also 40%, declines that experts described as “unsustainable.” Creatures like honey bees help pollinate plants, many of which we rely on for food. An estimated 87% of angiosperms, or flowering plants, are reliant on pollinators, while around 75% of those are crops that rely on pollination. The commercial production of more than 90 crops relies on about 3,600 bee species! Foods like almonds, blueberries, pears, apples, cherries, peppers, cucumbers and broccoli all rely on our buzzing friends.
Some of the biggest stressors on pollinators is the lack of habitat and the use of pesticides, which can cause plant pathogens to infect crops at higher rates. Both are especially pronounced in urban areas, but are also found in rural farming areas. Pesticides are especially prevalent with industrial agriculture. According to one study, nearly two-thirds of hives surveyed in Canada and the United States contain at least one synthetic pesticide. The most worrisome is a class of insecticide called neonicotinoids, which have been found to short-circuit bees’ memory and navigation. Even the lack of flower variety due to monocultural farming and suburban development has negatively affected bee populations. Overall, bees are getting attacked on multiple fronts. Yet, there is still hope for them to recover their numbers.
What Can We Do?
A simple, straightforward solution to some of these problems is for more people to plant pollinator-friendly gardens full of flowers. Even just a few extra flowers in your yard will help promote pollination and the health of bees. A great example of this is @sfinbloom on TikTok. He skates around in a bee costume and plants native flowers in his community. I’d definitely check out some of his videos if you haven’t already!
If you’re feeling extra adventurous and determined, you can even take up beekeeping and house bees on your property. There are lots of resources online for getting started, like @texasbeeworks on TikTok. She is a beekeeper with tons of educational content ranging from info on queen bees and even how to safely remove large nests. Going down the beekeeper route may take some learning at first, but as a reward you get delicious honey and the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping bees thrive. By doing your part, our pollinator friends will bee happier and our crops will thrive, which is pretty sweet.