Why Are Bees Dying And How You Can Help Save The Bees
Bees are often feared by kids and adults given their ability to sting, but what we really should be fearing isn't the bee, but life without them. With 1/3 of our global food supply relying on pollinators like bees, as well as many of our favorite herbs and flowers, a world without bees would result in a food security emergency and a much less beautiful planet.
So rather than fearing bees we should be celebrating and protecting them, and teaching our children to do the same. But in order to do that we first need to talk about why bees are dying in the first place and what we can do to save them.
Why Are Bees Important?
While there are many different kinds of pollinators like butterflies, hummingbirds, other insects and bats, bees are our most effective pollinators and are directly responsible for 1/3 of all the foods we eat, with 75% of all crops grown globally relying at least in some part on pollinators, and 90% of all flowering plants.
This means that bees not only play a key role in our food security and maintaining biodiversity (which is essential for combating our climate crisis), they also are responsible for supporting our global food economy.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, pollination is the highest contributor to increased yields worldwide outweighing all other agricultural management practices and technologies. With 87 of the leading food crops produced globally relying on pollinators (coffee, almonds, apples, etc.), the economic outcome of effective pollination results in more than $500 billion USD globally per year.
These numbers not only represent the food security issues that a life without pollinators would represent, but also the global economic implications for sustaining livelihoods across the planet.
The Many Different Types of Bees
There are many different types of bees that all work to help ensure that our native flowers, plants, trees, fruits, and vegetables are pollinated, and that biodiversity is maintained. While some we may be more familiar with than other, all bees have their role in helping to maintain biodiversity on this planet.
Honeybees, like the name suggests, are famous for making honey and are a colonizing bee that is excellent for farming as they are easy to contain and move from farm-to-farm for pollination. Honeybees, however, are not native to North America and were brought to North America during colonial times for their honey and wax producing capabilities that made them highly valuable.
But while honeybees may be high on peoples priority list for protection (as they should be) there are more than 4000 other native bee species living in North America alone that are primarily responsible for pollinating our native plants and have been the silent backbone for maintaining biodiversity.
The most well-known native bee in North America is the bumblebee, which is also the only social native bee that lives in colonies (similar to honeybees) and has a fuzzy coat that makes it capable of withstanding colder climates. All other native bees prefer to be solitary and will live on their own with 75% actually making their homes underground.
Other kinds of native bees include:
Mason bees: These bees love berry plants and fruit trees and will live in hollow wood or stems.
Leafcutter bees: Will cut small round holes in plant leaves and in return pollinate your garden. These bees love native flowers, melons, milkweed and alfalfa.
Sweet Bees: Sweet bees are ground-nesting, meaning that they make their homes underground and are great for your garden as they love pollinating vegetables and wildflowers.
Carpenter Bees: These bees are large and one of the most common types of bees in North America. They love pollinating vegetables and wildflowers, which makes them a great friend for your home garden.
Mining Bees: Mining bees love wildflowers and native perennials. These bees will dig into the ground and into lawns, which is why keeping your lawn free of pesticides is so important.
Your Favorite Foods That Wouldn't Exist Without Bees
Many of our favorite foods that people around the world enjoy daily and rely on for optimal nutrient intake would be at risk of extinction if bees did not exist. While these foods aren't the only reason why we should care about protecting our pollinator friends, they sure are good motivation for how a life without bees could impact us personally, and why we should care and act!
and many other fruits and vegetables
So the next time you see a bee, consider what life would be like without coffee or berries, and imagine if your grandchildren had no idea what biting into a juicy peach tasted like. Our food system as we know it would change drastically without bees, and it's up to us to stop that from happening.
Why Are Bees Dying?
There are many environmental and man-made issues which could be responsible for why bees are dying, but researchers have identified a few issues that should be viewed as our biggest concerns when it comes to our dying bee populations. While bee population decline varies depending on geography, in Vermont a new study found that roughly 50% of native bumblebees have disappeared or are at risk for going extinct. Unfortunately, these statistics are not unique to the Green Mountain State with an estimated 40% of honeybees nationwide reported lost after this past winter.
So the question really is, why are bees dying and how do we save the bees?
Neonicotinoids and Glyphosphate
Pesticides, in general, are harmful to bee health because their very reason for existing is to kill insects and unwanted plants in our gardens and on farms. Neonicotinoid insecticides, however, are particularly harmful to bees as they are absorbed into the plant, making the entire plant toxic to bees and have been directly linked to a decline in our bee population. This class of insecticides was banned in Europe entirely in 2018, yet continues to be used in the USA and in other agricultural countries around the world today.
Additionally, glyphosate (commonly known as Round-Up) is another harmful herbicide that is heavily used in the USA after known carcinogenic effects have been found to be associated with glyphosate exposure, as well as it's toxicity to bees.
These two chemicals are the most important to avoid and advocate for policy change to eliminate, both for our health, the health of our soil, and protection for the bees.
The rapid changes in climate that we are seeing today are impacting many aspects of our environment and bees are not immune to these changes. Changes in weather patterns, impacts on plant biodiversity, and changing seasons are all contributing to a disruption in our bee populations and are believed to be connected to their colony loss. And to make matters worse, this connection is one that scientists have been writing about for decades and could have been positively impacted through progressive climate policy and action.
Bees require a wide variety of biodiverse plants and forage to really flourish, and monoculture agriculture provides quite the opposite. Instead of providing a wide diverse array of plants for the bees to feed on and pollinate, instead, they provide just one type of plant, which over time can result in poor nutrition and a stressful environment for the bees which makes them even more susceptible to disease and pesticides that they may encounter.
Commercial development is another factor impacting our bee populations as it is directly contributing to a loss of biodiversity in our native landscapes that can span large geographic areas. So the more we continue to develop our wild landscapes, the more we can expect to see a drop in our native bee populations which use to call them home.
What You Can Do To Help Save The Bees
There are so many ways that you can help save the bees right within your own home, community, and state. In fact, I would argue that starting at home and then expanding your advocacy locally is the best place to start. Every single movement has local roots attached to it and is powered by motivated, passionate individuals. Which is why often the best place to begin advocating for change is right within your own home and local community.
Eliminate Pesticides and Herbicides At Home: One of the best things you can do today is stop using any kind of pesticide or herbicide on your property that could be harmful to bees and other pollinating insects and animals. While keeping pests under control without the use of pesticides can be more challenging, there are many natural ways to reduce pests without killing bees, ruining our topsoil, and contaminating our water supply.
For more information on natural ways to deter pests at home, check out this great resource by the Northwest Center For Alternative To Pesticides.
Plant Bee Friendly Plants: Planting bee-friendly plants can help provide the bees with adequate nutrition and biodiverse landscapes to forage. Some of our favorite bee-friendly plants are native perennials, wildflowers, herbs like lavender, sage, mint, lemon balm, chives, borage, and rosemary
Buy Local Honey: Beekeepers are doing us all a great service to protect and support our declining honeybee populations and they need our help! By buying honey from a local beekeeper you will be supporting their work to protect the bees and will be getting the best possible honey for your body in return.
Advocate For Bee Protection At Local, State And Federal Level: Use your voice and advocate in favor of bee protection policies in your local town, state, and at the federal level. Some ways that you can do this are:
Attend town hall meetings and bring town policies like banning glyphosate and neonicotinoids from being used in your town.
Propose community garden projects that encourage the plants of native, bee-friendly plants.
Email your congressional representatives and senators to advocate in favor of the H.R. 1337 Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2019
Educate Your Friends and Family About How They Can Protect Bees: We need more people to be more aware of just how much they can do to protect the bees. By educating your friends and family you can help move people from being afraid of bees to celebrating and supporting them.
Buy Organic/Local: Support your local farmers who are using organic agricultural practices, and when possible opt for organic at the grocery store. While research surrounding the difference between conventional and organic foods from a health perspective is still limited, the research showing the negative impacts conventional agriculture is having on our pollinators and the environment is well researched and backed by science.
Have other ways that you support bees in your daily life? Leave a note in the comments!