Why We Need Bees
by Cecilia Clark
Imagine making 50–100 trips to the grocery store every day. That’s the tough life of a forager bee gathering nectar in spring and summer. At a speed of up to 20 MPH, she can fly nearly three miles a trip to find her bounty. This pencils out to approximately 1,500 trips and 3,000 miles in her life span.
If you think that’s amazing, you’d BEE right! And rightfully so. We need bees.
The museum is sweet on bees!
We recently became custodians of 3,000 to 5,000 honeybees in various stages of development. The hive is outside, next to a museum window so visitors can make a beeline to witness the frenzied activity. The community will swell to 50,000–60,000 bees by the peak of the season in July. By winter, the numbers will drop to 5,000–10,000.
While dining on nectar from a variety of blossoms, the pollen attaches to the bee’s body. She’s quite the weight-lifter — carrying half her body weight in pollen and nectar. As they fly, the bees transfer this pollen between flowering plants to keep the wheels of life rolling along. This pollinating work is critical to the health of many things — starting with us and our ability to eat a healthy and diverse diet, the environment, agricultural, and the economy.
“As pollinators, bees are an essential part of plant reproduction and play a vital role in human agriculture. A world without bees would be a world without many of the foods people rely upon,” said Biret Adden, associate director of education.
There are many types of pollinators but the “busy bee” is the most efficient since they visit so many different types of flowers and carry more pollen than others.
But not all bees are created equal.
There are at least 20,000 different bee species around the world and more than 4,000 in the United States. Bees are famous for being the only insect that produces food eaten by humans. That’s why we’re most familiar with the rock-star honeybee, which produces the deliciously sweet elixir that comes in a variety of flavors, depending on the type of flowers the bee harvested the nectar from.
Bees produce more than 260 million pounds of honey and about 5 million pounds of beeswax annually in the United States. We’re smitten with this sweet raw food. The average person eats about a pound of honey a year.
But there’s some distressing news about bees that really stings!
While 35% of the global food production is made up of crops pollinated by bees, many of the bee populations have been on the decline for some time. Percentages vary — the honeybee and wild bumblebee populations have been shrinking for over a decade but may have stabilized in recent years. The main culprits are pesticides, climate change, mites, habitat loss, and a lowered resilience to infectious diseases from transporting bees across the country.
With 90% of the 369,000 flowering plant species dependent upon insect pollination — it bee-hooves us to pay attention. Bees also help make food available for animals and other food sources and allow for floral growth that provides habitat for animals, and other insects and birds.
“By observing bees at Children’s Discovery Museum, we give families a chance to learn about the amazing world of bees, to watch them closely in a setting that feels safe, and to appreciate the importance of both native bees and honey bees to the natural processes.
We can all help bees and other beneficial insects by adding a few pollinator-friendly plants to yards and planters, and by doing so we help our entire local environment to thrive,” added Adden.
What you can do as a bee-ginner?
1. Add plants around your house that provide nectar and pollen. The more diverse the better. The more bees you attract, the more your garden will grow.
2. Plant as many native plants as possible.
3. Consider replacing your lawn with an abundant garden with places for insects to rest and hide.
4. If you’re really fascinated, become a home beekeeper. There are a variety of beginner kits for purchase to help launch this adventure.