Bees: Why they are important, why they are dying, and what you can do

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” – Albert Einstein

Honeybees are responsible for 1/3 of the food that we eat. More than $19 billion worth of crops a year are pollinated by bees, and $150 million worth of honey is produced annually in the U.S. alone. If bees are so important to our ecosystem and economy, why are we letting them die?

We, as humans, are really starting to feel the consequences of our actions and one area we are waking up to is the massive amount of pesticides we spray on our food that is not only making us very ill and even killing us with diseases like cancer, but is also one of the leading causes of a massive die off in the global bee population. Between April 2014 and April 2015, 42% of global bee colonies died off- the second-highest annual loss ever recorded.

Neonicotinoids, one of the world’s most widely used pesticides, are to blame- killing bees at an exponential rate and are the direct cause of the phenomenon labeled as colony collapse disorder (CCD), which is when an entire swarm vanishes without a trace.

There are so many different ways bees can come into contact with neonicotinoids and other pesticides. Pesticides are sprayed directly onto crops that bees pollinate. They are found in soil, even in fields where the chemicals are not sprayed. Bees exposed to pesticides and insecticides transfer contaminated pollen to other plants and crops that may or may not even be treated with chemicals, also bringing contaminated pollen back to their hives, thus contaminating their whole hive.

There have been hundreds of reports of mass bee deaths around the world in the last few years, with a couple of the most devastating being the  25,000 – 50,000 bumble bees that were found dead at a Target store parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon in 2013. They were found clustered under dozens of European linden trees that were mistakenly sprayed with Safari, a potent pesticide. Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist, reported, “I visited the Target store in Wilsonville and found a parking lot full of dead bumble bees underneath blooming European linden trees. They were literally falling out of the trees”. That same month, 37 million bees were found dead at a Canadian beekeeping operation.

The decline in the bee population is terrifying. Bees are easily amongst the most important insects on Earth. They are integral to global agriculture, pollinating ¾ of the world’s crops. We wouldn’t have foods like watermelon, cantaloupe, cocoa, apple, coffee, blueberry, macadamia, cotton, strawberry, avocado, canola, squash, vanilla, cucumber and peach, to name a few, without bees.  Bees also affect the growth of all plants, not just those for food. By pollinating far and wide, bees are able to help sustain plant growth for the entire world. If bees were to be completely wiped out, people are not just looking at a dramatic decline in food crops but a terrifying loss of plants and flowers as well.

Aside from there being a planetary catastrophe if bees were to disappear, we as humans would suffer as well-

  • If bees die, beekeepers who make their living by managing bee colonies will go out of business.

  • Without commercial beekeepers, farmers will not be able to scrape together enough bees to pollinate their fields.
  • Without enough honeybees for pollination, entire harvests will fail and the world would lose a majority or fruits and vegetables.
  • Almonds, which use 2/3 of the nation's managed honeybee colonies, would be one of the first crops to disappear without bees. Almonds are delicious on their own but are also used in cereal, baking, and many other food products — all of which we would lose if almond crops collapse.
  • Clover, used to make honey, would disappear without bees. Lack of bees for pollination can mean the loss of the clover crop, and in turn, a key part of the bee's honey-making diet. The cosmetic industry, which uses honey as a skin moisturizer in many creams, soaps, shampoos, and lipsticks, will also suffer.
  • Oilseeds like cotton, sunflower, coconut, groundnut, and oil palm, which either depend on or benefit from bee pollination would also wither away, eliminating more than half of the world's diet of fat and oil. Cotton makes up 35% of the world's total fiber use and is the leading cash crop in the U.S. Without cotton, the entire world would suffer.


1. Visit and get involved with their bee campaign!

2. Plant food for bees.

To put it simple, bees just aren’t getting enough nutrition these days. With farmland being used mainly for farming one crop at a time, bees aren’t getting the mix of plants they need to be well fed.

Bees eat nectar (which is loaded with sugar and thus is bees’ main source of energy) and pollen (which provides protein and fats). To provide food for bees for most of the year, plant an array of species that will bloom in succession from early spring, when bees first emerge from their nests, until they return to them in late fall. Because bee species have different tongue lengths (adaptations to different flowers), a variety of flower shapes will attract the greatest diversity of bees.

As a general rule, native plants are better at attracting native bees, but older flowers and herbs (when blooming) such as cosmos, sunflowers, hollyhocks, astors, zinnias, daisies, cornflowers, dahlias, calendulas, coneflowers (echinacea), lavender, rosemary, thyme, mint, basil, borage, marjoram, chives, and lemon balm are also good bee attractors. But they need to be the right color. Bees are attracted to white, yellow, blue or purple flowers.

3. Be sure to grow your plants from untreated seeds in organic potting soil, or purchase organic plant starts.

4. Be careful where you are buying your plants from

The Friends of the Earth conducted a pilot study to determine the extent of neonicotinoid contamination of common nursery plants purchased at retail garden centers (including Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Orchard Supply Hardware) in cities across the U.S. It concluded, The findings indicate that bee-friendly nursery plants sold at U.S. retailers may contain systemic pesticides at levels that are high enough to cause adverse effects on bees and other pollinators—with no warning to consumers.”
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