Why these little insects deserve to be celebrated
~James Duffy, Staff Writer~
Misconceptions about bees and wasps make it easy to be scared of bees and other stinging, flying and buzzing insects, even as an adult. However, the very real possibility of losing bees entirely is much scarier; honey bees alone (which are only one of four major families of bees) pollinate over one third of all food we eat as humans, and are vital in the production of over 90 crops in the United States alone. Since the 1940s, a nationwide loss of over 60 percent of maintained bee hives has been recorded, and with similar worldwide trends, it is evident that human and ecological systems at risk.
All types of bees serve important ecological roles and many act as pollinators in their ecosystems. Landing on flowers to collect nectar and pollen for their hives, bees carry the pollen from one flower to another, inducing the formation of countless types of fruits and seeds. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, but bees are the most significant for agricultural crops, and honey bees are the type we’re most familiar with.
Since around 5,000 B.C., humans have practiced beekeeping, which is the practice of keeping/maintaining honey bee hives for their wax and honey. This practice has led to the formation of a unique relationship between man and bee, and has given us insights into the issues that face all bees today.
WHAT’S ALL THE BUZZ?
Bees across the world are faced with massive threats to their survival; habitat loss and urbanization, widespread use of agrochemicals, and warming global temperatures as a result of anthropogenic climate change are major threats to bees that are all results of human activity.
One major, global problem facing bees is he widespread development and expansion of urban areas; this affects bees in that their food sources are greatly depleted. As blacktop surfaces, shopping malls and residential apartments replace natural fields, plains and forests, plant biodiversity plummets. As plant biodiversity decreases, so does that of bee populations. A study published in 2018 shows that bee species diversity has declined by up to 45 percent in some cities from the 1980s to the mid 2010s as a result of urbanization.
Another global issue for bees is anthropogenic climate change, specifically increased land and sea temperatures as a result of greenhouse gas emission in human activity. These consequences have specifically detrimental and worsening effects on bee populations. Earlier springs from warming temperatures cause imbalances between bees and the flowers they are adapted to; when flowers bloom earlier, yearly processes of bee colonies that require food from flowers are disrupted greatly. Additionally, honey bees, on warmer days, exhaust more energy in cooling their hives and the queen down to prevent overheating, meaning less time is spent protecting or gathering food for the hive at large.
Finally, the most direct issue facing bee populations and their steady decline is the widespread use of agrochemicals. These are synthetic compounds including pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, fertilizers, and much more that are used in human agriculture to better commercialize farming practices. Environmentalists pushed back and successfully outlawed pesticides like DDT that hurt ecosystems back in the late 1960s, but threats and newly developed chemicals still exist today. Those most threatening to bee populations are neonicotinoids, which are pesticides that coat plant seeds and, in turn, end up in over 90 percent of the food we eat, end up washing into runoff and waterway systems, and prove major threats to bee populations. Due to the invasive nature of these pesticides, they end up in almost all parts of the plants in which they are used, and they cause immune system and behavioral defects in honey bee populations.
In Maryland alone, almost 90 percent of all managed bee colonies in the central region of the state died off between summer 2017 and 2018, likely due to the widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides. The state of Maryland has outlawed such insecticides, and the Commonwealth of Virginia will begin a similar ban this summer of 2019, but the products containing the chemicals are still being found in stores nationally courtesy of large corporations like Bayer and Ortho. A national ban on neonicotinoids (H.R.5015) has sat dormant in the House of Representatives for a year now, and national representatives have failed to act upon the bill.
It is obvious that a national ban on such harmful toxins is necessary to prevent the widespread poisoning of bees.
On Feb. 12, one small town in Iowa called Oskaloosa signed into effect a proclamation that delegated Feb. 27 to be their town’s (and likely their entire state’s) official Honey Bee Day. The goal of this “symbolic” yet significant proclamation was to raise awareness about honey bees, their importance and the issues facing them. While minor and likely not to be discussed on a large media scale, the idea of state-proclaimed awareness for honey bees is important and, from an environmentalist’s perspective, necessary in all state with bee-based agriculture.
WHY A WORLDWIDE CELEBRATION?
According to the USDA, the United States celebrates a “National Honey Bee Day” every third Saturday of August (this year, Aug. 17), but this event is really an appreciation day for the beekeeping industry, and less about the bees themselves. Oskalooska’s proclamation is significant in that it directly states that bees are at risk from the aforementioned threats and that such a day is intended to raise awareness of these issues.
For human lifestyles alone, bees are vital; over one third of all food we eat is connected to bee pollination, and bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of produce from the US annually. Ecologically, bees and other insects make up huge portions of food webs and trophic pyramids, so their decline will significantly affect other species populations and systems as well. With so much at risk with the loss of bees, celebrating their importance and finding ways to help bees locally this spring is important.
5 ways to celebrate Bee Day
1. Choose local food
Local foods require less energy to ship, and the same ones are often organic, meaning they are produced without the use of agrochemicals.
2. Refrain agrochemical use
Even backyard weed killers or fertilizers can have environmental consequences on bees and ecological systems at large. Sharing this information with family and friends, and refraining from even minor chemical use can go a long way.
3. Plant bee-friendly plants
Certain plants are specifically beneficial for bees in terms of food, and they are often beautiful and useful plants for human use. Try planting flowers like hyacinths, marigolds and violets, plus edible herbs like chives, rosemary and cilantro to help feed your local bees.
4. Find ways to reduce your carbon footprint
A consciousness of one’s practices and how they contribute to climate change is vital to making change and reducing our impacts on the natural world. Carpooling, walking, and biking for transport, as well as conserving energy at home and work, are easy ways to begin to reduce your footprint.
5. Advocate for bees
Sharing a knowledge on the issues facing bees casually with friends and family, or professionally with colleagues or legislators, are all crucial to helping save bee populations.