Updated: Jun 4
Worldwide, there are around 25,000 different types of bee species. This huge number is divided into over 4,000 subdivisions of bees, which are then further divided into just nine families of bees. They are part of the biodiversity that is essential for our planet. The Apidae family is the most well-known family, with familiar members such as the honeybee, carpenter bee, and bumblebee. Honey bees are among the most countless and efficient pollinator species in the world, considering that the average honey bee can visit more than 2,000 flowers in one day.
It is their part as a pollinator that makes them so vital for us. The importance of bees and their role in the environment is largely vital, yet, also overlooked. Bees pollinate our plants helping them reproduce, even helping them survive by preventing inbreeding. Pollinators help plants survive, and plants themselves are of great importance; they produce ⅓ of our food supply by giving us countless fruits, vegetables, and nuts, they provide ½ of the world’s oils, fibres, and other raw materials, many are used to create fundamental medicines, they provide food and cover for wildlife, keep waterways clean, prevent soil erosion, produce the oxygen we breathe, and also absorb CO2 helping to counteract global climate change. Without help from animal pollinators, at least one-third of the staple foods we have come to rely on would no longer be available. A few examples include: broccoli, asparagus, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, blueberries, watermelons, almonds, apples, cranberries, and cherries. Bees not only provide high-quality food but also other various products such as pollen, beeswax, propolis and honey-bee venom. According to bee experts at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, a third of the world’s food production depends on bees. Bees are also responsible for pollinating about one-sixth of the flowering plant species worldwide and approximately 400 different agricultural types of plant. Pollinating flowers and contributing to the beautification of the planet’s floral landscapes may be the bees most aesthetically pleasing action. Apart from that, beekeeping is also an important source of income and livelihood for many rural families.
We need bees to keep our crops and earth healthy, but in recent years their numbers have been decreasing by the billions and that too very alarmingly fast. This decline has been linked to several factors, including parasites such as varroa mites, which bite bees and infect them with fatal viruses, the use of pesticides which poisons bees, and monoculture farming, which prevents them from having a varied diet. Native bees also fall victim to these circumstances and are struggling just as much as honey bees. This has led to many species being endangered and a few have already gone extinct. Air pollution is another factor affecting bees. Preliminary research shows that air pollutants interact with scent molecules released by plants which bees need to locate food. The mixed signals interfere with the bees’ ability to forage efficiently, making them slower and less effective at pollination.
In May 2018, the European Union upheld a partial ban on three insecticides known as neonicotinoids to mitigate the lethal threat they pose to bees and their trickle-down effect on pollination as a whole. Some actions you can take to help preserve bees and other pollinators include: planting nectar-bearing flowers such as marigolds or sunflowers for decorative purposes on balconies, terraces, and gardens, buying honey and other hive products from your nearest local beekeeper, raising awareness among children and adolescents on the importance of bees and express your support for beekeepers, setting up a pollinator farm on your balcony, terrace, or garden, preserving old meadows, which feature a more diverse array of flowers, and sow nectar-bearing plants, cutting grass on meadows only after the nectar-bearing plants have finished blooming, using pesticides that do not harm bees, and spray them in windless weather, either early in the morning or late at night, when bees have withdrawn from blossoms.
Now more than ever we must find new and innovative ways to protect these natural treasures so we can preserve the balance of our ecosystem. World Bee Day (20th May) raises awareness of the essential role bees, and other pollinators play in keeping the environment and our planet healthy. The date coincides with the birthday of Anton Janša, a Carniolan apiarist and painter, who in the 18th century pioneered modern beekeeping techniques in his native Slovenia and praised the bees for their ability to work so hard while needing so little attention. To be able to give so much while receiving so little.