Aside from Arctic and Antarctic regions, pollinator bees are located everywhere, playing a vital role on our planet. The largest family of bees is called Apidae, containing at least 5700 species of pollinators. The most well-known species of bees are the honeybee (from the genus Apis) and the bumblebee (from the genus Bombus). Such bees are essential ecosystem service providers.
Bumblebee colonies have at least 50 individuals, whereas honeybee colonies have at least 20,000 individuals. Honeybees and bumblebees are social, gentle, and cooperative creatures, with colonies comprising three types of bees:
The Worker Bee
Ninety-nine percent of a hive’s population consists of worker bees. They are sexually undeveloped females with many responsibilities, such as feeding newborn larvae, tending to the queen’s needs, cleaning and building the hive and honeycomb, collecting and pollinating food, as well as ensuring the security of the colony. Despite their essential duties, a worker bee can only live for a few weeks.
The Drone Bee
Drone bees exist to mate with a queen bee, dying once they have finished mating. If they have not mated successfully, drone bees are released to fend for themselves, which helps make the most out of the resources stored in the hive during winter months. Drone bees only live for a few weeks as well.
The Queen Bee
A queen bee is created by feeding a larva a concoction of special nutrients called royal jelly. It will then become the only fertile female member of the colony, with a bumblebee queen laying less than 20 eggs per day and a honeybee queen laying up to 2,000 eggs per day. A queen bee will govern the populations’ behavior through the release of specific chemicals and pheromones. A bumblebee queen can live for about a year, whereas a honeybee queen can live for 2 to 3 years.
Since 2006, bee populations have faced significant vulnerability. Several factors can cause bee population instability:
Chemicals poison bees, especially such called neonicotinoids. Seeds are coated with insecticides that spread throughout plants upon germination. Pesticides are also distributed amongst plants through dust that is accumulated and dispersed by crop machinery. Bees are weakened each time they encounter toxins. This state makes bees much more susceptible to contracting deadly parasites and diseases, such as the Varroa mite and the microsporidium Nosema pathogen. Thirty-five percent of land is encompassed by agricultural space. The large size of crops containing pesticides kills bees faster, as they are forced to ingest chemicals in larger quantities.
Climate change is another reason why bee populations tend to suffer. With the global temperature having risen, warmer weather urges bees to come out of their hives earlier during the winter season. This causes malnourishment in bees, since plants have not yet begun to grow at such a time. Since the Industrial Revolution, the global temperature has increased from around -3.0˚C to a little more than 1˚C, which is largely due to the amount of fossil fuel burning. This causes changes in weather patterns, ecosystem functioning, ocean levels and currents, resource availability, and more.
As more industrialization occurs, wild bees struggle with habitat loss as well. Most species would migrate once an environment becomes unhospitable for them. However, bees rely on their hives, and moving can put a queen bee in danger.
Bee colonies are highly efficient systems that benefit both the global environment and the human population. Unstable bee populations can cause serious problems:
Around 90% of plants require insect aided pollination for processes such as fertilization and reproduction. Bees provide a function called cross-pollination, transferring pollen from a plant’s anther to its stigma and to other plants using their nectar tubes. Only 2% of bee species are responsible for pollinating 80% of all flora. Since bees rely on the nectar and pollen from plants to bring back to the hive, one trip of 30 minutes to four hours can allow them to treat 50 to 1000 flowers. This efficiency is rarely found elsewhere. Many animals also depend on abandoned beehives as a source of protein and nutrients, such as bears, birds, raccoons, bats, and opossums.
The Human Impact
Commercial bees die at a rapid rate each year, which are trained specifically for crop production. The relationship between bees and plants is a necessity in order to maintain a little over one third of humanity’s food supply, such as apples, almonds, strawberries, celery, broccoli, avocadoes, and tomatoes. As a result, around 75% of crops suffer. The animals in dairy and meet production are greatly affected too, as their fodder is composed of the fruits and vegetables that are undergoing depletion. Bee venom also possesses medicinal properties that can be used to treat illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, fibromyalgia, cancer, and epilepsy.
There are ways to help save bee populations that people can try.
Gardens, Bee Blocks, and Preservation
Use a section of your yard to grow specific plants that attract bees, such as Salvia, Lavender, Clover, Yarrow, Echinacea, Bee Balm, and Buttercup. Bees are highly drawn to yellow, blue, and purple flowers. Double-pedaled flowers are difficult for bees to enter, making them a poor choice for planting. There is no need to worry about luring any harmful pests to the garden, as bees outside of the Apidae family (e.g. wasps and yellow jackets) do not pollinate. Setting up a bee block can be a good idea to help pollinating bees of the burrowing variety, which is a piece of wood with different sized holes. Bee sanctuaries can be made by returning some land to its natural state, allowing bees to have part of a healthier environment.
Agricultural Changes and Supporting Beekeepers
The most important step is to stop using pesticides and to start searching for alternative methods of keeping pests away. Ridding of pesticides and taking a biodiverse approach to farming will make bees more attracted to the plants for pollination, producing higher quality fruits and vegetables as a result. In addition, air deflectors can be installed in the machinery used to tend to crops, which avoids rising clouds of dust in the fields. Supporting local beekeepers by buying their honey is also a great way to help bee populations flourish as well.
Honeybee and bumblebee populations are vulnerable. These bees provide numerous benefits, and they are gentle species that tend to suffer due to many reasons. However, there are multiple solutions to stop or to at least slow down the consequences of their population instability. There are ways to live environmentally friendly and to create a suitable habitat for bees to live in abundance. If you enjoy arts and crafts, The Blackberry Rabbit has a free cross stitch pattern of a bee, which I enjoyed stitching!