Bee grateful!

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” – Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee

Bees are very important for humans: they are the heart of our survival as a species. Bees are found everywhere, except Antarctica. There are about 20,000 distinct bee species in the world, and more than 2,000 in Europe alone. We often see these insects as a threat, but bees are responsible for a surprising amount of the food we consume.

Bees are divided into two types based on their nesting behavior: solitary bees and social bees. As their name suggests, social bees live together in colonies within a hive, following a hierarchal structure consisting of a queen, workers, and drones (male bees). They are known to make honey and wax. The most common social bees are honey bees and bumblebees. Social bees make up about 10 percent of the entire bee population. Most bees, approximately 90 percent, are solitary and live in nests tunneled into the soil. Since they do not belong to a colony and do not have a queen or hive to protect, solitary bees are non-aggressive. Whether wild or domesticated, all bees are important pollinators.

The reasons for the importance if bees are many.

Bees are mostly known for their honey-producing talents. Honey is the most widespread bee product worldwide. In 2016, there were about 90.5 million beehives in the world, each beehive p r o d u c i n g approximately 20 kilograms of honey per year. The production of one kilogram of honey requires one million flowers and 50,000 bee flights. One honey bee can visit between 50 and 1,000 flowers in one trip. If we do the maths, a honey bee colony comprising 25,000 forager bees, each one making 10 trips a day, can pollinate up to 250 million flowers a day. That’s a mind-boggling amount of flowers!

Alongside honey, these small black-and-yellow-striped insects also produce pollen, propolis, beeswax, and bee venom. These products have been used for therapeutic purposes since ancient times in various countries, such as Egypt and Greece. For example, propolis, also known as the “bee glue”, is a resinous-like substance produced by bees collected from plants, that is used to protect and maintain the structural integrity of the hive. It is a powerful natural antibiotic used to treat a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including laryngitis and psoriasis. Other byproducts we regularly use, such as healthcare products, candles, and drugs, also contain bee products.

Bees contribute to one-third of the food we eat. As pollinators, these small flying insects play a significant role in every aspect of the entire ecosystem and food chain through their pollination action. Pollination is a very important part of the life cycle of plants and the production of fruit and seed crops. It consists of transferring pollen grains to flowers of the same species for sexual reproduction. Fertilization is possible through this process, and flowers setting fruits can develop. More than 80 percent of the world’s plants need pollinators to reproduce. Bee pollination improves both the quality and quantity of crops. Many of the foods we need to survive benefit from this input, including almost all fruit and grain crops: strawberries, avocados, pumpkins, carrots, apples, zucchini, cucumbers, grapefruit, and cocoa among many others. Blueberry, almond, and cherry crops are entirely or highly bee-pollination-dependent. In Brazil, the entire annual production of Brazil nuts – 40,000 tonnes per year – depends exclusively upon the Euglossa bee. Without these buzzing insects, our food choices would be radically limited.

Bees and forests are intimately linked. The growth of trees and many other plants relies on the cross-pollination carried out by bees. Flowers of forest trees supply honey bees with subsistence, such as pollen and nectar, while forests physically provide shelter to beehives as well as other creatures. A study conducted in Western Africa has shown that the presence of beehives near the cashew trees had increased the yield of cashew nuts by two to three times.

Despite the importance of bees, we have witnessed a dramatic and sudden decline in bee populations in the last decades. Worldwide beekeepers have been reporting hive losses of 30 percent or higher every year. The decimation of bee colonies poses a threat to global agriculture. If bees went extinct, there would be a massive decline in the production of crops which would affect global food supplies. It would also mess with the delicate balance of the planet’s ecosystem.

The number of bees has been dwindling at staggering numbers due to a combination of several factors. Among different reasons, chemicals, such as herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers, used in agriculture to control pests and disease or promote growth, are severely harmful to bees and other pollinators. Bees are very sensitive and delicate insects; they require certain specific conditions to thrive. Pesticides impair bees’ behavior, including their ability to navigate and recognize flowers or communication within bee colonies. Bees’ habitat has also been damaged by human tampering, including agriculture, resource extraction, and human settlement. Protecting bees should be our absolute priority to maintain ecological balance and preserve our food supply and our future.

Hopefully, now you can appreciate bees and everything they do for us to keep our yards blooming and help plants provide us with delicious fruits and vegetables.

You won’t bee-lieve that!

China is the world’s biggest producer of honey, achieving almost 30 percent of global production. However, while bee populations plummet, much of the honey made in China is counterfeit, by being artificially produced with sugar syrup to enhance honey producers’ profit margins. Although Asian honeys have been banned by the European Union, a lot of fake or tainted honey is still pouring into many supermarkets. So always check the origin of the honey you purchase!

Lucile Guéguen


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