As a child I always thought of bees as a summertime nuisance but in all reality they are, in large part, responsible for the survival of many plants, seeds and food crops. If honeybees didn’t exist our world and how we live would be greatly altered due to their large contribution to the pollination of our food and our food’s food. It all begins with the honeybee’s need for nectar for survival, which in turn acts as a fertilization messenger, going from plant to plant and allowing flower reproduction. This is possible due to the bee’s furry body that picks up pollen and brings it to the next flower. These little furry insects are pretty amazing creatures and do much more for us than we give them credit for.
The image of the lily below shows the various parts of a flower. The male part is comprised of the anther and filament which together are called the stamen, whereas the female part is called the ovary, which is comprised of the stigma and style. The ovary is found at the base of the flower, an area called the carpel. The pollination process starts with the pollen grain being brought over by the bee or other pollinators (bats, birds, and insects) and coming into contact with the sticky stigma. The pollen then flows down the style that is then joined with the male sperm nuclei. At this point the male sperm fuses with the ovules, that then turns into a seed and the ovary develops into fruit. This process is called cross pollination which is responsible for 30 percent of the global food crops and over 90 percent of wild plant growth.
This may be hard to believe, but bees contribute to the US’ “humming” economy through the agricultural sector. Over 15 billion dollars a year in crops produced in the US are known to be pollinated by bees – which doesn’t include the 150 million dollars a year in honey sales. With the large decline in the honey bee population, crop yields have also been declining at a loss of 5.7 billion dollars a year. Along with what bees provide directly to humans, indirectly they are responsible for the pollination of alfalfa and clover which is what cattle feed on. So bees contribute a great amount to our meat and dairy industry as well.
Bees play a major role in what and how much we consume but they also provide other important products like pollen, a superfood that is said to be the “life giving dust.” It contains a large amount of nutrients that humans need for survival like proteins, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, carotenoids and bioflavonoids, which are antibacterial and help strengthen capillaries. Bees also contribute to the production of other products like beeswax, candles and propolis, also called bee glue, which is used in cosmetics. These insects may be small, but as you can see they play a large role in our lives.
So, one may wonder why I chose to write about honeybees and the important role they play in the production of food and other goods. The answer is because sadly, the population of honeybees is and has been in a rapid decline due to Colony Collapse Disorder, a condition in which there are abnormally high die-off rates. It is responsible for 25 percent of managed honeybees’ disappearance since 1990. Issues that cause this collapse include things like a changing climate, increasing usage of harmful pesticides, habitat degradation, and parasites. Most of these issues are being addressed through organizations like PAN (Pesticide Action Network), a group that focuses on reducing the influence of biotech corporations on farmers’ production practices – namely the use of great amounts of pesticides that can lead to major health and economic burdens. There are so many other organizations out there and I encourage anyone and everyone to get involved and informed about what is going on regarding the magical honeybee.
-Posted by Jessica