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Bees are incredibly useful insects. They have a huge impact on our everyday life. Unfortunately, commonly we are not aware of this fact. As pollinators they contribute to 50% crop increase, at average. Without bees’ hard work, we wouldn’t have so many fruits and vegetables as we do have now. Unluckily, their future is uncertain and it is high time we took action to help them survive.

A bee means honey…?

If I asked each of you what is your first association with bees, I am almost 100% sure, you would say “honey”.  Maybe some of you have heard about some other bees’ products, like beebread, propolis, or beeswax. Nevertheless, the importance and the role bees play in human’s economy and life, generally we limit to honey production. Moreover, many of us perceive bees only as stinging insects, not really desirable in our environment. Though there are also some positive connotations with bees like for instance their diligence, only few of us remember of the significant meaning of bees as pollinators. What is more, hardly anyone knows that worth of cultivated plants pollinated by bees is 10-times higher than value of products obtained directly from honeybee!

Pollination specialists

Bees are the only animals, which are strictly specialized in pollination all over the world. Being aware of the fact that 80% of plants in our latitude are entomophilous, the importance of bees cannot be overestimated. Entomophilous plants are dependent on pollinators, because without them they wouldn’t be able to produce seeds and reproduce. The pollinators’ presence is essential to produce fruits as well. But this dependence is mutual. Bees are dependent on plants, because of nectar and beebread, which are the only bees’ food.

But what do we have in common with bees? Does our life also depend on them? Should we really care about bees? The answer is: yes, we do!

Bees pollinate whole plantations of utility plants: fibrous, oil, fodder plants, vegetables and fruit trees. They improve the quality of crops, but first of all they increase them up to 80%! For man in the street it would mean that common and easily available products without bees could become the luxury ones. Food economy, including agriculture and fruit-farming, would collapse only because of lack of such a small and insignificant you might think creature as bee. And who of you does not like the taste of fresh strawberries? What the summer would be without sweet raspberries or juicy apples?

Busy as a bee

The honeybees are social insects, which live in families numbering even 50 thousands individuals. Most of them represent worker bees, drones constitute around a couple of thousands and on the top of the whole family there is a queen mother. Role division is very clear and simple: drones fertilize the queen mother, the queen mother lays eggs and the bee workers work. Some of the worker bee main tasks are:

  • collecting food (nectar, beebread) and water
  • taking care of larvae
  • building honeycombs
  • guarding the entrance

If anyone of you would like to see it live, without putting ones head into the beehive ;), bees’ “Big Brother”.

The army of “bees’ pickers” is working constantly starting from the first days of spring, collecting nectar and pollen from every single flower met on the way. During the one flight worker bee visits 100-150 flowers, giving a stunning result of 10-15 thousands at the end of the day. To produce 1 kg of honey, bees have to collect the nectar from at least 750 thousands of flowers up to 3 millions!

Honeybee is not the only one…

When we are talking about bees automatically we have honey and honeybee in mind. Few of us are aware of the huge variety of these insects. Only in Poland there are around 460 bees’ species. What is more, 80% of them are solitary ones. Solitary female builds the nest, lays eggs and collect food on her own. They build their “houses” under the ground, inside rotten wood or plants’ stems. Bees are one of the best animal architects. Their nests not only have different shapes, numbers and layout of corridors, but they are also built from different kinds of material.

Are bees threatened with extinction?

Unfortunately, since the sixties the extinction of bees’ swarms is being observed in the USA, as well as in Europe. Although, the scientists rack their brains about the reason of this fact, they haven’t found the clear answer yet. There are many theories concerning the swarms decrease, nevertheless none of them have been proved. This problem is complex and there are many of threats that bees have to face. It is known for sure that overusing chemicals in agriculture, especially irrational use of pesticides, causes poisoning of bees and reduce their resistance to pathogens. The over- exploitation of bees’ families, including long distance transport, does not make bees’ life easier. There are also fewer and fewer plants which provide bees with food. To make matters worse, bees are attacked by different viral and fungal infections. Very dangerous are parasites from other continents, for example Varroa destructor. This mite feeds on bees’ hemolymph and leads to disease called varreosis. Technical progress is also bees’ enemy. It is assumed that waves emitted by mobile phones interfere bees’ navigation system preventing them from returning to the hive.

What can you do?

There is one comforting fact that anyone can do something to help bees. Getting involved in bees’ protection is very simple if you finally realize how important role they play in our life. First of all, change your attitude! Bear in mind how useful bees are and stop perceive them only as stinging insects. Do not kill them recklessly. The majority of bees’ species is not aggressive. Sting is the last extreme form of self-defense only in particular situations. Remember that bee does not “bite” for the pleasure but overpay it with own life.  Much more dangerous than solitary bees are the swarms of honeybees. But they also attack only to protect the whole family. So my advice is simple, as in human life, mind your own business and do not stick the nose into someone else.

Moreover, share the space of your garden or even balcony with bees, giving them the place to live.

Do not forget about some basic bees- friendly rules:

  • always leave a small piece of “wild area”
  • grow only native species of plants, particularly those which produce lots of nectar
  • do not use chemical fertilizers and pesticides
  • do not burn grass or last year dry plant stalks, which are the potential places for having nests and shelters for bees
If you feel it is still too little and you wish to do more- build an artificial “house” for bees! Use old pieces of wood, slats, dry stems and imagination to have a good fun playing architect. If you are lack in ideas and need some inspirations click here (pdf). Remember that bees are your friends so take care of them and try to be the best friend you can for them as well.

Katarzyna Łąkowska

Since childhood animal and nature lover. Fascinated by healthy lifestyle. "Activity" is her second nature. Cycling, skating, skiing, yoga and hicking are some of her favourite hobbies.A great fan of healthy cuisine and home-made pastries. For several years, a vegetarian. Interested in ecology, responsible consumption and sharing economy. Graduated from environment protection at the University of Łódź.

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