The Importance of the Honeybee

The endangerment of honeybee populations has been well-publicized in the news, and most people are aware of the threat that their extinction would pose to human lives. Environmental conservationists have known for some time the vital role of honeybees play in successful agricultural production. However, if most people were asked what exactly honeybees do for humans that is so important, they might have trouble answering the question in detail. To help you answer these questions in the future, listed here are some honeybee facts that can help you be(e) more active in the effort to support these vital creatures.

What’s a Honeybee?

This may seem like a simple question, but the truth is that not every bee-looking creature that you come across is a honeybee. There are a variety of kinds of bees, including but not limited to carpenter bees, mason bees, bumblebees, and blueberry bees. You can identify a honeybee visually primarily by their color; their abdomen features a deep golden, brown-red color that resembles its namesake, honey. Most other kinds will be either very yellow or markedly black. 

Honeybees are not native to North America but were imported to provide pollination services for imported agricultural crops. Most do not form nests in the wild, instead residing in artificial colonies kept by professional beekeepers. Honeybees may stray 3 miles or more from their colony in search of pollen.

Although honeybees do have stingers, you should not worry about an attack. They usually only sting when actively threatened. In fact, their stingers are attached to their digestive tracts. Stinging therefore carries a great cost, as one defensive move will cost them their life.

What do Honeybees do for Us?

Pollination is the process of plant reproduction, and flowers are a plant’s tool for reproduction. Pollen (germ cells) made by the “anther” of a flower must come in contact with the “stigma” for fertilization to create seeds. While foraging flowers for food to bring back to their colony, pollen sticks to the honeybees’ hairs. The bee carries this pollen to the next plant, dropping a little off in the process. A symbiosis exists between these two life forms; the bees collect food in the form of flower pollen and nectar, while mediating fertilization events for plant reproduction.

80% of the US crop is dependent on the pollination work of honeybees. About 1/3 of the food we consume daily relies on pollination, from bees and other insects. We can enjoy strawberries, blueberries, apples, broccoli, nuts, asparagus, and soybean products because of the work of honeybees. We also feed livestock with the alfalfa plants bees help fertilize.

How you can help.

Fewer honeybees in our environment means less plant reproduction, severely hindering our ability to produce food on the mass scales needed to keep our country fed. Within the past 10 years, beekeeper colonies have declined sharply, and some subspecies have been driven to the edge of extinction. Shifts in the climate, environmental changes introduced by industrial agricultural practices, and the use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids have contributed to sudden abandonment of hive colonies, termed Colony Collapse Disorder. Advocates are fighting for government policy to help reverse these trends by ending harmful practices. The next time you see a honeybee, considering offering a wave in solidarity rather than a swat in annoyance.

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