In general, people find bees terrifying. The screaming and general panic that ensues when a little black and yellow insect lands among a group of people is incredible. For some, this is justifiable as a sting from one of these tiny hymenopterids can induce anaphylactic shock – deeply unpleasant throat closing and sometimes death if not treated by adrenaline injections. For the rest of us bee stings range from irritating to painful.
As many people know, however, a honey bee is not just a nasty stinging creature. Believe it or not, the noble honey bee is crucial to the survival of humanity.
What is a honey bee?
Honey bees belong to the same insect order as hornets, ants and myriad other kinds of the bees (carpenters, bumbles, leaf cutters, masons, cuckoos and stingless), many of which also play a pollinating role. There are about seven different species of honey bee depending on which taxonomist you choose to believe.
What does the honey bee do?
Well, she makes honey – obviously. However, the most important of her tasks is pollination. The list of plants that honey bees pollinate include: Almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon, paw-paw, Brazil nuts, squashes, macadamia nuts, mangos, cashew nuts, cocoa – this is a list of some crops that probably would not survive from one generation to the next without honey bees.
What does this mean? Well it means that roughly a third of the food you eat benefits directly or indirectly from honey bee pollination!
Never mind the innumerable wild plants that they are responsible for pollinating. Amazing to think that our own survival as a species should be so connected to that of the little honey bee.
What is the status of bee populations?
Bees in the US and Europe have experienced enormous declines in the last four years. The causes include habitat loss and pesticide use. Ironically, the more land we need to feed people the more bees we need but the more natural bee habitat we destroy.
Another, more recently discovered cause is climate change. Research shows that warming temperatures disrupt the synchronised flowering of plants and bee emergence from hibernation. Although this research has not yet been accepted as gospel by the mainstream, it is plausible and gathering supporters.
So the next time you find a bee trying to clamber into your coke, don’t drop the can screaming. Let her drink her fill, then help her on her way – you need her as much as she needs you.