The little insects, that make a BIG impact.
The popularity of the honeybee is well understood; these majestic workers create a substance most have a hard time resisting. We have heard “save the honeybees” and motivate forces through the alluring sweet, sappy goodness we add to tea or desserts. The even more impactful reason why we urge folks to save the honeybee is because of pollination. Bees visit flowers, and bring pollen from the male part of the flower (the stamen) to the female part of the flower (the pistil). All plants require pollination to make fruit and seeds. Some plants have both the female and male part in their flower, this allows for easier pollination, through wind, or one could infer, manually. However, many plants need insects to act as pollinators as the female flower is separate from the male flower. These plants include, apples, pears, plums, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, watermelons, squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and more. This means, without pollinators, fruit and vegetables do not grow… unless you want to walk around to every flower on a tall, spiny; apple tree and cross-pollinate… which may or may not work. Food grown from pollinators has been shown to be more productive and higher in quality, just as nature intended. Pollinators are a potent part of a healthy ecosystem, there is no replacement, and our food sources are dependent on them. Let that sink in for a moment. I’ll give you another moment.
What if I told you that the honeybee, was in fact, not native to North America, and that the honeybee is 1 of thousands of types of pollinators, and that all pollinators are important to the survival of our food sources and environment? Well it’s true. There are in fact over 4,000 species of native bees to North America and Hawaii that are much less documented, but just as, if not more important. And I’m sorry but these native bees do not make honey. These bees are known as solitary bees, differing from the hive dwelling honeybee. They live in the ground, in wood logs, in tree trunks, or find a home in a place I’m sure most would consider inconvenient, deeming them a pest. Cohabiting with an insect known to inflict harm can threaten a cultural norm; however, a paradigm shift is needed, in which these insects are vital to life and worthy of protection.
The Center for Biological Diversity has found that more than half of the native bees are declining and that 1 in 4 are on the brink of extinction. However, this data comes from those species studied, we still lack sufficient data on many of the native species, suggesting the numbers are even worse than understood. As for the honeybees, it’s referred to as CCD or colony collapse disorder in which honeybees are disappearing in mass numbers. Almost 90 percent of wild plants are dependent on insect pollination, making bee’s indispensable pollinators in most ecosystems (1). Bees are an indicator of environmental health, when they are dying; we cannot deny something is drastically wrong.
What is to blame for our pollinator loss? It turns out these insects are appropriately hypersensitive to temperatures and pollutions, as they are intended to be a regulator of an ecosystems health. Without their sensitivity scale, we would likely run ourselves into the ground. We must take their disappearance as a blessed warning that we have to act quickly to preserve our food and plant diversity and bee habitats. It can no longer be denied, the bee declination is due to pesticide use, agriculture, climate change and urbanization. Prioritizing the bees is inherently prioritizing our natural water sources, reducing pesticide, fertilizer, and chemical use, prevents these products from entering our waterways. We can reconcile with the bees by increasing their pollinator habitats, utilizing natural pest and plant control, and preserving our forests and natural lands.
The poetry of Emily Dickinson; “without these tiny, tireless creatures, our world would be a less colorful and interesting place” says it best (1).
1. Pollinators in Peril. A systematic status review of North American and Hawaiian native bees. Authors: Korey Kopec and Lori Ann Burd. Center for biological diversity. Feb 2017.
If you would like to take action further, please see the following links and articles: https://www.vanishingbees.com/host-a-screening/
Taylor Howell has a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science and supports any solution that aids clean water, air, and soil.