Bees. More than a humorous Cards Against Humanity card, more than a signal for the welcoming of springtime and absolutely more than an unwanted pest. They’re incredibly complex, intelligent insects. Known best for providing us with honey, they follow intricate patterns all across the planet to pollinate flowers and essential crops. I completely understand a fear of bees if you’re allergic, but otherwise, bees have never bothered me.
Ever since I was a little girl in suburban New Jersey, I’ve been close to bees. My mother maintained a beautiful garden filled with butterfly bushes, which also brought bees in large numbers. Despite being heavily allergic to the pollen they carry, I loved watching their small, black-and-yellow striped bodies buzz past and sometimes land on my shoulders and arms to rest. My town even provides local honey to nearby supermarkets. Despite knowing all about bees from my elementary school science classes and having a connection with the little insects, I never really realized just how important these powerful workers are, or why we need to work hard to keep them around.
Despite the usual feeling of being surrounded by bees in the spring, bee numbers have been on a drastic decline over the past decade. In both Europe and the United States, beekeepers have reported total hive losses of 30 percent or more annually for the past 10 years, with a 2015 United Nations report bringing the numbers up to a staggering 37 percent. Nine percent of bee and butterfly species could even reach extinction.
These losses are the result of modern pesticides and agricultural methods. The large amounts of pesticides on edible crops, like the nearly 26 million acres of soybeans, are drastically affecting hive numbers. When compared to the 4 million honey bee colonies in the 1970s, we are at almost half the number today, with 2.5 million hives. And despite efforts like the $4 million provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2014 to help honeybee populations in the Midwest, bee numbers still aren’t where they should be.
Why should you care about bees, though? Is this really an issue? Actually, it is; it’s a massive issue. Bees are responsible not only for honey production, but for pollination. Their pollination routes affect nearly 70 of the top 100 crops consumed by humans. Foods like avocados, apples, kiwis, cucumbers and melons depend heavily on bee pollination, while some foods like almonds are entirely dependent on bees. While the world will not starve immediately, this could have catastrophic effects on the entire planet. Bees also pollinate nearly 80 percent of the flowering plants here on earth. These little insects have a major impact on the surrounding world.
Now that I have potentially scared you, you might be wondering what you can do. There are many ways to help. Buy locally, ethically sourced honey. The Southern Tier Beekeepers Association here in Broome County has a great website where you can buy honey and even sign up for beekeeping classes. Garden using native flowering plants that encourage bees to stop by, or plant native flowers around the perimeter of your vegetable garden to promote pollination. You could even go so far as to purchase a bee block or hotel to provide a more permanent place for the little creatures to live. Avoid using large amounts of chemicals in your yard, as they often prove toxic. Lastly, get involved and donate to organizations dedicated to bee research and conservation.
Bees do so much for us, so it’s time to step up and lend a hand to some of the most hardworking creatures with which we share this planet. Without them, the world is bound to be hungry and lack its cherished beauty.
Elizabeth Short is a freshman majoring in biology.