By Hammond Green Team Members
Have you ever mixed honey into your morning tea, drizzled some on top of your oatmeal, or brushed the golden goodness onto a warm biscuit straight out of the oven? Chances are you have, and you have honey bees to thank for it. Honey bees are social insects that live in a hive inhabited by one single queen bee and thousands of female worker bees. Drones, or male bees, hang out around the hive and collect neither pollen nor nectar as their sole purpose is to mate with the queen. They live an average of 90 days and die immediately after mating. All bee larvae eat ‘royal jelly,’ and after about three days only the larvae that are strong enough to be queen bee is exclusively fed royal jelly, and that continues for the rest of its life. The larvae who are going to become worker bees are fed honey. The other bees’ diet is mostly nectar and pollen that is collected and stored. The pollen is used to create “bee bread” which provides the worker bees with protein, while the nectar is used to help with honey production. When there are food shortages, honey bees often eat the juices of ripe fruit such as plums, grapes, peaches and apples.
Worker bees collect nectar by climbing onto a flower and sucking up the nectar with their mouths and stored it in a sac called a crop. They also collect pollen from flowering plants. Bees collect pollen on their hairy bodies, but it mostly sticks to their hind legs. The honey and nectar are then taken back to the hive and stored in the honeycombs. Since it is simply held on the bee’s body, loose pollen falls off the bee as it moves from flower to flower. This is how pollination occurs, pollen from the male part of a flower is transferred to the female part of another. Honey bees are considered the most important crop pollinator because of their ability to pollinate on a much larger scale than others. About 80% of flowering plants and ⅓ of our food is pollinated by animals, including bees. Apricots, broccoli, asparagus, cucumbers, apricots, strawberries, apples, tomatoes and almonds, all rely on the pollination of bees to produce. Honey bees alone contribute way over 20 billion dollars to the US economy. It would cost billions for farmers to manually pollinate the way bees do naturally. If bees were to go extinct our diets would change significantly. The majority of fruits and vegetables common to us will no longer be available.
Crops will die, and farmers will go out of business. These insects are crucial to our survival and their extinction will destroy our global food supply. The problem is, the bee population is declining at an alarming rate. Although they aren’t on the endangered list, the widespread disappearance of these pollinators leads experts to believe that if this problem is not remedied soon, they may go extinct. There are many theories as to why honey bees are dying such as: viruses, climate change, habitat loss, and most notably, pesticides. Pesticides are used by farmers to kill bugs that are harming their crops, but it turns out it may be killing the wrong insect. The sprays used to protect the plants are highly toxic to honey bees yet they continue to be used. The problem is, without pesticides a significant percent of crops would be destroyed by pests and disease. Consequently, a healthy medium needs to be found that balances the use of pesticides and the bee population. Without pesticides, harvests will die, but without bees, pollination will decline and so will the number of flowering crops. Therefore, honey bees are a vital pollinator, and their declining population is a serious issue that needs to be resolved fast.
Other Pollinator Species
While bees are valuable pollinators, flies, wasps, moths, butterflies, beetles, birds, and bats also contribute to the pollination of the fruits and vegetables we eat. In fact, about 38% of animals other than bees pollinate the crops we eat. Some of the crops they pollinate include sweet peppers, strawberries, figs, mangoes, bananas, guavas, and agave. Pollination allows plants to produce successful seeds, which are vital to reproduction. Without reproduction, plants wouldn’t be able to produce food for pollinators, humans, and animals, and we wouldn’t have access to many plant-based food items. The key causes of the decline of the pollinator population are habitat loss, invasive plant species, pesticides, climate change, parasites, and diseases. Building infrastructure is destroying pollination sites and the pollinators’ ground-nested habitats. The presence of invasive plant species in the ecosystem distracts pollinators from visiting nutritious native plants, which may result in reduced reproductive capacity and degeneration of native plant habitats. The use of pesticides is dampening pollinators’ ability to forage since these toxic chemicals remain in the environment for months. Climate change is increasing the temperature, which has an inverse effect on the pollination cycle. Lastly, parasites and diseases from foreign commerce and travel are causing pollinators to get severely sick and die at a rapid rate (“Pollinators in Trouble”).
The rapid decline in the population of pollinators is a significant issue that may have a detrimental effect on our lifestyles. Insect pollinators are responsible for the quality and quantity of several crops including vegetables, fruits, nuts, oils and even coffee (Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds). Without these animals, the balanced diets that we currently enjoy and which are important for healthy nutrition could be at risk. Specifically, if all pollinators were eliminated, global fruit supplies would decline by 23%, vegetables by 16% and nuts and seeds by 22%. 71 million people in low-income countries could develop deficiencies in vitamin A and 173 million people may become newly deficient in folic acid (“Science for Environment Policy”). Furthermore, the work that bees do for US farmers is worth about $15 billion a year, and without them, the cost of produce would increase dramatically (Bragdon). In terms of the economy, pollination from honey bees, native bees, and flies delivers billions of U.S. dollars in economic value every season. In fact, between $235 and $577 billion worth of annual global food production relies on their efforts (Contributor). Consequently, the extinction of pollinators is directly linked to our health and lifestyles as humans and should be dealt with accordingly before we reap the consequences.
How to Help
Luckily, several initiatives are in place to preserve the dying populations of pollinators, and there are effective ways for you to help as well. As mentioned in the infographic above, you can plant a pollinator garden in your own backyard, reduce your use of pesticides and chemicals in your lawn, and support local beekeepers by purchasing delicious, organic honey. Here are a few other resources you can refer to when determining how you can support pollinators:
- 10 Ways to Save Pollinators.
- How Gardeners Can Help Pollinators | NRCS
- How to Protect Your Local Pollinators in Ten Easy Ways
- 9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators At Home
Planting a Garden at Hammond
The Green Team is planning a pollinator garden at Hammond! We hope to place it below the parking lot, near the woods, on the right side of the school. The types of pollinators we have discussed in the article are in need of a habitat. The Green Team wants to help them by doing our part to supply a small piece of habitat. We feel we can also use it to educate students in the school, including the younger kids in the Little Bear Nursery, about the importance of pollinators and what types of plants they like. We will include signs about the different types of plants and include other suggestions of local plants people could choose for their own gardens.
Photographs Taken By Green Team Sponsor Mrs. Joan Niland
Are you an artist, photographer, writer, or someone passionate about creative work along those lines? If so, Green Team would love to feature your work in our articles! As long as it relates to the environment, we’ll accept any form of art, including poetry, photography, and paintings! If you’re interested, add your work to this folder on Google Drive: Green Team: Creative Submissions Folder.