People often wonder why bees are important. Bees are the superhero of the insect world. Even though they are small, they play a vital role in the food chain for people. This is not just tied to the sweet honey many enjoy but the overall role these flying insects play in pollinating plants all over the globe.
To grow, many plants need to be pollinated. Bees take care of this with ease as they transfer pollen from plant to plant. Colonies of bees combined to deliver $19 billion in pollinated U.S. crops in 2010 alone. Each day in the United States, bees contribute to about one-third of the food humans eat.
Another reason why bees are important is that of the top 100 food crops for humans; bees pollinate at least 70 of these essential diet staples. According to the USDA, bees pollinate 75% of all the fruit, nuts and vegetables grown by American farmers. Without bees, there would be no almonds as they rely solely on bee pollination. They can say the same for melons, cherries, apples, cucumbers, kiwis, and avocados.
Where Are The Bees Going?
Now that we understand why bees are important to humans, it is even more important to explore where they are going. This does not mean they are traveling to some far off land, and sadly there is no "where." Bees are dying off, and this is why it appears as if the helpful insects are going somewhere else.
Bees are falling victim to their surroundings, and the much-needed mature worker bees are dying off. While the queen and her young stay inside the hive, the workers stop returning to the colony. This means the hive slowly dies and at some point falls prey to Collapse Disorder (CCD).
CCD occurs when the young bees and the queen cannot thrive as a colony because the workers are not returning. The worker bees stop returning for a variety of reasons. These reasons can include exposure to pesticides, poor nutrition, stress due to changes in habitat and attacks by prey.
Pesticides that make up the neonicotinoids class deliver side-effects to bees that can impact their ability to keep working. They spray these chemicals on crops and can alter the memory of worker-bees. This means at some point the bees can no longer depend on their internal GPS system to get back to the hive. In due time they die from not getting back to the colony and getting lost.
Poor nutrition and stress tied to changes in the bee habitat go hand in hand as far as killing bees goes. As wild landscapes around the bees disappear, their access to a variety of plants plummets. Bees often end up eating a supplemented diet via beekeepers that are not made up of pollen but instead sugars. The impact of a poor diet also leads to stress and is not suitable for the bees.
When bees are exposed to pesticides or suffering due to a poor diet, they are also less likely to battle against prey like the varroa mite. This mite can alter the wing make-up on the bees by giving them a virus, and this impacts their ability to keep working.
Why Bees Are Important - A World Without Bees
Life as we know it would be very different without bees. Each year in the United States, there is $150 million in honey produced. Seeing an end to the honey industry would make this cash dry up and send many family-owned businesses out of business. They often pass companies that commercially produce honey down from generation to generation as the sole income source for many.
Honey is not the only product that disappears without bees. They tie these workers to $19 billion in crops in the United States each year. Losing $150 million is honey sales suddenly is only a drop in the bucket as we consider losing billions of dollars in other crops.
Lost crops are not the only way bees dying off would cripple the food supply either. Beyond losing nuts, fruits, and vegetables, bees also have a direct tie to the meats available on the market. Many of the livestock eaten on a daily basis are raised on plants like clovers. Bees pollinate these foraging crops, and without bees, there may suddenly be a lot less meat available.
A world without honey and countless sources of food are not even as bad as things get if the bees disappear. The simple things like flowers we enjoy would also vanish. A single colony of bees can pollinate up to 300 million flowers each day.
While other creatures can pollinate flowers and plants, bees handle the most significant part of this important job. Worker bees pollinate over 80% of all flowering plants on the planet. This group includes about 400 different flowering plants that could all but disappear without bees. In a world without bees, there would also be no watermelons, cranberries, pumpkins, blueberries, broccoli, or asparagus. Suddenly things are looking dismal without bees.
With each pollinated plant, bees also help to maintain habitats for other species. This includes birds and insects. As bees vanish, flowers also disappear. This can also mean butterflies are without greenery to survive and birds without trees to nest. It becomes a cascade of disappearing plants and wildlife.
What Can We Do To Help?
Efforts to save the bees can come in many forms. This includes hands-on activities at home to support bee life, joining an organized effort to educate the world about the importance of bees and even international efforts to change the world for bees.
On the home front, individuals and families can start with something as simple as planting a variety of flowering plants in their yards or around workspaces. Adding a window box with flowers or herbs in the late spring or summer supports a well-balanced bee diet. Some bees are missing out on healthy food due to climate change. While they hibernate, some plants are blooming during a mild winter and dying way too early in the season. Planting flowers and other plants to bloom when bees are most active can help to feed them.
In urban areas where it is not possible to have outdoor plants at home, there are often community garden spaces available. Using this type of green space helps to keep bees active even in cities.
Joining an organization or supporting a company that encourages public education about the importance of bees is another way to save bee colonies. Many areas have beekeeper groups that do public outreach to support bees in the community. There are also companies the sell products like natural bee candles, honey, and wax in other forms that support positive efforts to help beehives thrive.
A final way to get involved in saving the bee population is to join others that advocate change regarding the use of pesticides and other harmful products. There are groups like Greenpeace and Beyond Pesticides that are collecting signatures to revise laws regulating and outlawing the use of pesticides. Starting with a signature on a petition is a small way to help change the use of pesticides.
Our Final Thoughts
The world would be a very different place without bees. There are so many reasons why bees are important, and each is with its merit.
One reason why bees are important is that they support human life by pollinating over 400 different plants. They aid in the production of many crops and also help the diet of livestock. Bees are far more valuable to the world than the honey many enjoy. They also keep many families sheltered, fed and safe due to the economic impact of bees in family-run businesses.
Every family on the planet eats something a bee has pollinated. Families that depend on bees to make a living like farmers and beekeepers also get their basic income from bees. Generation after generation of families enjoy the profits of raising healthy hives.
Life without bees could be costly both regarding income lost and a significant drop in the quality of life for humans. Imagine seeing the $19 billion in crops vanish from the United States. Now imagine also never seeing many varieties of flowers or enjoying a slice of watermelon in the summer. Our world would look and feel very different without bees.
Bees live a simple life and give so much to the world around them. They do not require a great deal of supports beyond green spaces to enjoy flowering plants, safe hive spaces that are natural or commercial and an environment that is not harming their basic life. Supporting a pesticide-free world goes a long way to keep bees safe. This keeps humans safe as it does not threaten their food supply.
At this point, bees need humans to keep them safe, but humans need bees too. People rely on bees to keep fresh fruits and vegetables a part of their diet and meat on the grill. Bees give far more to the environment and the world than they take.