"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”
-quote attributed to Albert Einstein and Rudolph Steiner
• Bees are responsible for pollinating 1 in every 3 bites of the food that we eat. Food like apples, oranges, mangoes, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, avocados, and tomatoes all require bee pollination. Food, such as barley and alfalfa, which the animals eat that produce meat and dairy is also pollinated by bees.
• Bees contribute over $20 billion to the value of the U.S crop production, and in the past decade there has been a 300% worldwide increase in the production of crops that require bee pollination.
Why are bees disappearing?
The same factors that are causing Colony Collapse Disorder, the mass die-off of honeybee colonies, effect all pollinators. These factors include:
Loss of forage and habitat due to mono-cultural crop production creating pollinator 'food deserts';
Impaired immune and neurological function due to prevalent use of pesticides- making bees less resilient to fight off mites and viruses;
More extreme weather shifts to survive due to climate change.
Learn more about the different kinds of bees!
Did you know that there are 2500 different species of bees in the US? When we think of bees, most of us imagine honeybees living in a hive with many other bees working collectively to make beeswax and honey. But not all bees live in a colony with one queen or make honey. In fact 90% of the bee population are solitary, which means that they live solitary lives, nest individually and each female bee is her own queen. Solitary bees include mason, leaf cutter, carpenter, digger, and sweat bees. Social bees (like honeybees and bumblebees) live in colonies with a queen. All bees are wonderful pollinators.
Solitary bees make up approximately 90% of the bee population and are very efficient pollinators.
Solitary bees, unlike honeybees or bumblebees, do not have a queen: every bee is a worker and every female lays eggs. Without a large hive or queen to protect, solitary bees are non-aggressive and non-territorial. They are too busy about their work to bother with humans.
They do not make honey or honey comb, instead they nest in the ground or house themselves in found holes (ex. hollow reeds or beetle tunnels) A few types of solitary bees can even drill their own nesting holes (ex. carpenter bees).
They live one generation at a time, leaving the cocoons with enough food to hatch and fully mature in time for spring
This year, 7 species of solitary bees were added to the U.S endangered species list.
Honeybees are a social species with one egg-laying queen. A honey bee colony normally consists of 40,000-50,000 bees, with one queen, many workers, and several drones (male bees).
Honeybees are primarily the only type of bees that live perennially.
The honeybees fill their hive with honeycomb, built from beeswax that they "sweat out" and manipulate with their mandibles to create hexagonal compartments for the nursery and food storage (pollen and honey).
During the winter months, the bees rely on their honey stores to have enough energy to keep the hive warm and survive the winter.
When the hive populations get too high, another queen with be raised and the hive will split. The old queen swarms with half the hive to find a new home. Swarms are quite docile when searching for a new home. If you spot one, call your local beekeeper, who will most likely be happy to come collect the bees.
Bumble bees are a social species, with one egg laying queen; the hive normally consists of 50-200 bees.
Often they will nest in abandoned mole holes in the ground or hallowed tree trunks; insulating these nests most commonly with dry brush or dead leaves.
Like the Honeybees, Bumble Bees do create a hive structure, but it is bubble-like and far more disorganized, used only as a nursery.
Bumble bees can buzz pollinate, which is a rare adaption made to retrieve the pollen from certain types of flowers such as nightshades. The flowers will only release their pollen with vibrated at a specific frequency. Some plants, such as tomatoes, will only release pollen when a bumble bee buzzes a certain note.
They do not create honey as winter food storage because each generation passes on in the winter months. The winter-surviving new queen will hatch and fly off in spring to find new nesting options.
Bumble Bees are on watch-lists around North America to help monitor populations. In January of 2017, the rusty patched bumble bee was the first bumble bee to be placed on the U.S. Endangered Species List.
Wasps and Hornets
Most people mistake wasps and hornets for bees. Wasps will occasionally drink the nectar of flowers like bees. However unlike bees, they have very little hair on their bodies to collect pollen and therefor are very poor pollinators. Instead, wasps are primarily carnivorous predatory insects; eating grasshoppers, katydids, stink bugs and flies; a natural pest control.
Wasps are considered aggressive, but they are actually just territorial. Just like honeybees, social wasps are territorial within vicinity of their hive (ex. paper wasps, yellow jackets).
80% wasp species are solitary, meaning that they are non-aggressive because they have no queen or hive to protect.
Did you know that not all bees sting?
Only female bees have stingers.
Honeybees have barbed stingers. The barbs cause the stinger to stay in the skin and pull out of the honeybee's body. So, if a honeybee stings you, she will die and so she will only sting if the hive is threatened.
Solitary bees do not have a hive or queen to protect, so they will only sting if you threaten them directly or squish them. Some solitary bees do not have stingers even capable of stinging humans.
Most likely, if you have been stung, it was by a wasp or hornet, not a bee. Wasps and hornet stingers are not barbed, so they can sting multiple times and their venom is much stronger than that of bees. So we know, that hurts.
If you are stung, a handy remedy is to find a common weed, the plantain, and mash the leaf up and place over the wound. This takes the pain out of the sting.