What’s All The BUZZ About?

Post by Erika K.
Featured Image by katja

If you were to know one thing about my grandma it would be that she loves to keep an entire wilderness of flowers in her backyard. She has everything from ferns to tulips, and several flowers that I swear she genetically modified herself. She loves her garden. Period.

Every summer my parents would ship my siblings and I off to stay at Grandma’s for several days, and she would instantly put us on weed pulling duty.  Now, I would have been begrudgingly fine with flinging my little body into thorny plants if only I could have avoided the scariest thing in my little 5-year-old mind. Bees.

Every time I would hear the little “BUZZZZZZ!” of a miniature stinging demon I would flail my arms in an octopus fashion as run and fast as I could, all the while ignoring the fact that a bee could easily pursue my chubby-legged pace if it wanted to.

It was not until several years later that I realized that bees are actually really cool, and it was not until recently that I realized that bees were doing much more than just terrorizing me everytime I saw them buzzing around.

Bees in Our Ecosystem

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, around the world forager bees make between seven to fourteen trips per day, and each trip can last anywhere between thirty minutes to four hours. That being said, a colony with twenty-five thousand forager bees, each making ten trips each day, are able to pollinate two-hundred fifty million flowers. These flowers vary from fruits to vegetables to Amazonian flowers in the rainforest. Each bee focuses on a certain species of flower and pollinates only within that kind.

With such a wide range of pollination prospects bees are known as major pollinators, and without them tropical forests, savannah woodlands, mangroves, temperate deciduous forests, and many species of plants and animals would not survive if bees did not exist.

While bats and birds tend to pollinate rainforest areas because of cold environmental conditions, bees are essential for pollinating cultivated crops and maintaining biodiversity in non-cultivated areas. Bees are also essential to many animal species in that other animals depend on their honey, pollen or wax, are parasitic to bees, or live within their nest.

What is Pollination?

BBC defines pollination in their article “Would We Starve Without Bees?” as “the vital process in flowering plant reproduction involving the transfer of pollen grains from the anther (or male part) to the stigma (or female part) of the same, or another plant of the same species.”

The Food and Agricultural Organization goes on to say that some plants are known to be asexual and pollinated themselves, also known as self-pollination. Other plants need wind or animals to transfer pollen between different flowers or different parts of the plant, which is called cross-pollination. Although some plants are fit either of these pollination methods most plants can be pollinated both ways.

As mentioned before bees direct their pollination methods by species, and in doing so they only target certain types of flowers.

For example, flowers pollinated by bees often bloom in the daytime. They also like to pollinate bright colored flowers, but rarely red being that they cannot see red objects. Honeybee pollinated flowers have long nectar tubes not more than two centimeters long and each flower has nectar guides that direct the bee towards the nectary, and often have a soft landing place for the bees to cuddle into. Bees are also especially attracted to white, blue and yellow flowers because they see in ultraviolet, so these flowers offer more direction for bees to access the nectar and pollen.

Bees + Flowers = ❤

Overtime flowers and bees have adapted to one another to accommodate each others’ needs. Bees, for instance are incredibly hairy, as far as insects go, and this is an adaptation to make them more efficient at collecting pollen and nectar.

Each bee hair has a branched structure that catches pollen with ease, so as honeybees fly between flowers it will brush itself up against the pollen grains to arrange them into pollen baskets made of stiff hairs on its hind legs. When the bee takes flight it will regurgitate some nectar and mix it with the pollen it collected to keep it from falling during transportation. This is why pollen balls collected by bees have such a sweet taste.  Although some bees do not have pollen baskets, and instead carry the pollen on the hair of their abdomen.  When the honeybee lands on the next flower there will be pollen left on the bees hairs to pollinate the new flower, therefore completing the pollination cycle by delivering the pollen to the new flower’s stigma.

Fertilization of the seed takes place when the pollen grain grows a small tube in the stigma the flower’s ovary. Then the male parts of the flower can finally travel through the tube to fertilize the egg cell, and start the development of a living seed. For many plants, fertilization does not take place on the first interaction with a bee, and in most cases plants need to be visited by bees at least 5 times to actually make fertilization successful.

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Photo by Wikipedia

If there are not enough bees to fertilize, not all of the seeds will develop correctly, which makes the fruit of the plant small and weak in appearance.

So, Why Should We BEE Worried?

On a first glance it is hard to access the purpose of bees, and most people sum bees up “stinging spawns of satan”, but little do they know that bees are the reason we exist.

As of right now there are about seven billion people in the world. With the human population on this planet growing precariously foods have been genetically altered to meet the demands of the people.

As a result pesticides, herbicides, and other harmful chemicals have been created to make crop harvesting more efficient and abundant, but people do not understand that by killing off insects they are killing off plants’ natural life source.

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In the Washington Post article “A Reason Millions of Bees Are Dying” author Terrence McCoy states that “last year […] 37 million bees — 37 million — had died […] at a Canadian beekeeping operation. That same month, Oregonians arrived at a Target to find 25,000 bumblebee corpses in the parking lot.”

McCoy goes on to claim that studies suggest that “the culprit behind such deaths are widely-used pesticides called neonicotinoids.” Chemicals like these are killing bees in mass numbers, and if use of these substances are not regulated bees may eventually die out.

The tragedy in this murder is not only the death of millions of bees, but also that average citizen do not care. As a society we have become apathetic to the organisms that give us the ability to live and breathe, and we simply choose to look at bees as I did when I was little; as nothing more than a small pest hiding in the bushes.

But that does not mean we have to keep the importance of bees hiding in the bushes along with them. By learning more and spreading positive facts about bees we can take big steps to help protect our little fuzzy friends, no matter how small and insignificant some people think they may be.

For more information on the importance of bees in our society, please feel free to watch the Dino Martin’s National Geographic segment on the importance of insects.

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