When you hear the buzzing of a bee, are you scared? Well don’t be! Generally, if you don’t bother them, they will leave you alone. Besides, bees are actually pretty awesome! Much of what bees do help humans, even if most of the time they just buzz around, feeding from flower to flower and minding their own beezness. Don’t believe us? Take a look at these six reasons why bees are your best friends.
Pollination of Wild Plants
Bees are pollinators! Pollination is the movement of pollen from the anthers (male parts of a flower) to the stigmas (female part of a flower). The pollen fertilizes the eggs of a plant, producing the seed that will form the new plant.
Bumble bees, honey bees and other pollinators like wasps, flies, butterflies, birds and bats are responsible for pollinating 75% of the world’s food crops and 90% of our wild plants, including many trees! Since plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, we need them to breathe. If we want to keep many of our plants around, keeping all bees healthy is a great way to do so.
Pollination of Food Crops
Bees don’t just pollinate wild plants, they are also huge contributors to the pollination of many of the plants we eat! Foods like squash, pumpkins, zucchini, kiwi, and watermelon are pollinated by bumble bees, honey bees and solitary bees. Tomatoes are pollinated by bumble bees. Other food plants like Guar beans, lemons and limes are pollinated by honey bees. All these foods and many more would be impacted if bees disappeared. It has been said that for every three bites of food you take, you should thank a bee or other pollinator.
Our bee scientist, Dr. Cory Sheffield, and one of his graduate students at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum are finding out how to make better use of bumble bees as pollinators of some food crops. Haskap, for example, is a plant that produces dark blue berries that are high in anti-oxidants and other healthy nutrients like anthocyanins. Haskap fruit tastes like a mix of raspberries and blueberries (only a bit more sour). The Western bumble bee is a very important pollinator of haskap plants and are one of the main reasons why people are able to enjoy this delicious fruit.
These foods don’t just benefit humans. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and plants also provide food for birds, mammals and insects.
Feed our Food
Did you know that bees help put milk in your glass, cheese and eggs in your fridge and meat on your table? Honey bees are important pollinators of alfalfa while bumble bees are one pollinator that pollinates clover, plants that are used to feed dairy and beef cows, rabbits and chickens.
Bees play an important role in protecting biodiversity. While some bees are generalist pollinators, meaning they will pollinate many different kinds of plants, other bees pollinate specific kinds of plants. In some cases, certain plants are only pollinated by a single species of pollinator called pollinator specialists. These plants may have pollen in places that are hard to reach, but these specialist bees have what it takes.
Animal and plant biodiversity would not exist without bees. Through pollinating a huge variety of plants bees help keep species thriving and their populations growing. Pollination not only promotes healthy and strong plant populations, it also helps keep herbivores (plant eaters) and omnivores (plant and meat eaters) that feed on these plants alive and well.
Did you know that honey is made through regurgitation and evaporation? Each honey bee carries nectar back to the hive in a special stomach called the crop. In the hive, the bee leaves a mixture of regurgitated nectar and saliva in a cell (a small section of the hive). The bees then work hard to evaporate most of the water from this mixture, turning it into thick honey and then they cover the top of the cell with wax. In other words, honey is a form of honey bee vomit! Gross but delicious!
Think of everything that honey is used for. We use it on sandwiches and to sweeten our drinks. Honey is found in some cosmetics (like lotions, shampoos and soaps), in certain vinegars and in desserts, just to name a few.
In 2013, 34,240,000 kg (75,488,000 lbs.) of honey were made in Canada from the hard work done by nearly 8,500 beekeepers across the country. That’s more honey than the weight of 75 Jumbo Jets! Healthy honey bees help to ensure we have all the honey we need.
Other Bee Products
Honey isn’t the only thing bees make that humans use. Here are three more:
Royal jelly is made by bees and is used to feed larvae and adult queens. It is found in some of our dietary supplements like vitamins and natural skin care products.
Propolis is produced by bees and is one of the sticky substances bees use to keep their bee hive together. It is found in some of our medicines, gums, car wax and as varnish for stringed instruments. Researchers are also looking into propolis as a treatment for allergies and cancers.
Beeswax is made by honey bees to build their honeycomb cells. It is found in some chewing gum, skin care cosmetics, hair waxes, candles and the waxy coating around cheese.
Working Together to Protect Bees
They might seem like small, insignificant insects, but bumble bees, honey bees, and other bee species are incredibly important for life on the planet. If our bees disappeared, it wouldn’t be long before we felt the impact through loss of biodiversity and food. That’s why it is so important that we work together to help conserve bees in Canada and around the world, including Western bumble bees.
Help protect Western bumble bees by starting a Bring Back the Wild Campaign.
A Conservation Project With
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– Colla SR and A Taylor-Pindar (2011). Recovery strategy for the rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) in Ontario. Ontario Recovery Strategy Series.
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– Girling RD, I Lusebrink, E Farthing, TA Newman and GM Poppy (2013). Diesel exhaust rapidly degrades floral odours used by honey bees. Scientific Reports 3. doi: 10.1038/srep02779.
– Grünewald B (2010). In pollination at risk? Current threats to and conservation of bees. GAIA 19:61-67.
– Henry M, M Béguin, F Requier, O Rollin, J-F Odoux, P Aupinel, J Aptel, S Tcha,itchian, and A Decourtye (2012). A common pesticide decreases foraging success and survival in honey bees. Science 336:348-350.
Earth Rangers is a non-profit organization that works to inspire and educate children about the environment. At EarthRangers.com kids can play games, discover amazing facts, meet animal ambassadors and fundraise to protect biodiversity.