Most of us are familiar with bees thanks to their signature "buzzing" and dreaded sting. Still, we often underestimate these small creatures, not understanding their vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
Honey isn't the only foodstuff that bees produce; they play an integral role in producing an array of plants, from fruit and nuts to chocolate and coffee. In addition, they make our landscapes more beautiful and help to create balance in nature. Here is why bees are so crucial for humans and the environment.
Why Do Humans Need Bees?
Bees are the perfect pollinators, helping plants to grow and produce food. Humans need bees because most of the food we eat relies on pollination to develop a sufficient number of plants. Bees transfer pollen between these plants, creating an endless circle of life.
From apples to vanilla and coffee, many of our daily staples come from the bumble bees' hard work. If you're wearing cotton clothes, you have the bee to thank for pollinating the cotton plant. And don't forget that honey supplies would be severely limited without bees.
Honey isn't just a tasty treat; we've been reaping its benefits for thousands of years. Research has demonstrated this substance's antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties. And there is a range of non-scientific applications of honey for treating illnesses such as throat infections, hemorrhoids, and hepatitis.
Aside from honey, humans use various other bee products for health practices, including bee pollen, royal jelly, beeswax, and propolis. And a 2020 study showed that melittin - a component of honeybee venom - can kill cancerous cells.
Why Are Bees Important for The Environment?
Some plants rely on specific types of bees for pollination. Without these flying workers, the plants would struggle to survive.
And the diversity among bee species means they have particular adaptations for different types of plants. For example, the bumblebees in your garden are particularly good at pollinating deep flowers like foxgloves and honeysuckle because their long tongues can reach right inside the plant. Meanwhile, the red mason bee plays a significant role in the pollination of apples, providing a free service to many commercial growers.
Evidence suggests that natural pollination by the correct kind of bee can improve the crop's quality on measures such as shelf life and nutritional value.
And bees aren't just a food source for humans; they make the world more beautiful by pollinating vast amounts of flowers. In Europe alone, bees are responsible for pollinating 80% of wildflowers, so our world would be far less colorful without them.
These creatures also offer a fascinating insight into society and the environment; we can apply their intelligence and social interactions to various human situations. For example, some researchers think that observing bees' behavior can help us develop better emergency evacuation plans.
Can We Live Without Bees?
Bees aren't the only pollinators on Earth; flies, beetles, moths, and wasps, along with some species of birds, lizards, and bats, also contribute to this vital work. But there is a crucial difference between these species and the hardworking bumblebee. Other creatures only visit enough plants and flowers to feed themselves, whereas bees also gather pollen to stock their nests.
This means that bees visit more flowers, making them one of the most efficient pollinators on Earth. Without bees, experts predict we could lose a significant number of everyday crops, diminishing our stock of coffee, cocoa, tomatoes, apples, and nuts.
Bees are essential for sustaining plant life. Plants provide one-third of all human food and half of our oils, fibers, and raw materials. In addition, they keep waterways clean, create medicines, and provide food and cover for other wildlife. Plants are also significant in the battle against climate change as they absorb CO2 and help counteract global climate change. Plus, they provide the oxygen we breathe.
In theory, we can survive without bees, but we cannot live without plants. As bees are responsible for up to 80% of all pollination, humans would face a very uncertain future without them.
What Would Happen If There Were No Bees?
If every bee on Earth disappeared, human beings could find a way to survive, but it would make our existence more precarious, and we would have to adapt our methods of producing food. Without bees pollinating many significant crops, we would have increased costs associated with manufacturing many foods, and prices would rise worldwide.
An economic study in 2012 estimated that around $34 billion of work is provided by pollinators each year, with a significant chunk of that figure credited to the humble bee. Without these vital insects, we would have to find an alternative source of pollination that could cost billions of dollars annually.
In addition, this significant loss in pollinators could lead to a lower crop and wild plant availability, creating a shortage in macro-nutrients that we require for a balanced diet. If this happened, we would likely see increased numbers of people suffering from iron and vitamin A deficiencies.
In addition, the world would be a far duller place. Bumblebees are at the heart of nature's garden; without their excellent pollination skills, we would lose many species of plants and flowers.
How Can We Protect Bee Populations?
Bee populations worldwide suffer from habitat loss, climate breakdown, and exposure to pesticides. To protect the lives of these vital insects, we need to acknowledge their importance in our world and strive to make it a better place for them to live.
Green spaces are vital for bees, so reducing landscaping activities can help to increase available vegetation for them. Growing native flowers in your garden and leaving weeds to grow provides food and shelter for bees.
Be mindful of the chemicals and insecticides that you use in your garden. Read the labels and always follow the instructions. Avoid spraying chemicals near flowering or budding plants, which bees are more likely to visit, and dispose of chemicals correctly.
Build a beehouse for native species. Most bees are solitary creatures, with 70% living underground and 30% living in hollows of trees and stems. You can create a stylish condo for your local bees by providing tube "apartments" in an undisturbed area. You can also create a "bee bath" to hydrate these friendly insects by creating a shallow bowl of water and adding stones or pebbles for the bees to stand on and take a drink.
Educate yourself and learn how to be bee friendly. Little changes can make a big difference, and when we educate ourselves about a cause, we can share that information with the people around us, which helps to create a better planet for all living creatures.