By Baher Kamal*
Amazingly organised social communities, bees ensure food chain. ‘Bee’ grateful to them… at least in their Wold Day!
While the (surprisingly) still called homo sapiens continues to destroy Mother Nature, bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, carry on performing their vital role as one of the most marvellous, unpaid, life guarantors. See what the world community of scientists and specialised organisations tell about them.
Pollinators allow plants, including food crops, to reproduce. In fact, 75 percent of the world’s food crops owe their existence to pollinators. But they not only do contribute directly to food security: they are key to conserving biodiversity–a cornerstone of life.
And they also serve as sentinels for emergent environmental risks, signalling the health of local ecosystems.
In the specific case of bees, the product that most people first associate with them is honey. However, bees generate much more than that: they contribute to the maintenance of biodiversity as well as the pollination of crops, these being perhaps their most valuable services.
In short, honey is just one of several different products that can be harvested—in fact there are many others such as beeswax, pollen and propolis, royal jelly and venom, and the use of bees in apitherapy, which is medicine using bee products. Good to remember that pollinated crops include those that provide fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils.
In charge of all the vital missions, there are more than 20,000 species of wild bees alone, plus many species of butterflies, flies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and other animals that contribute to pollination.
Quite dramatically, in spite of their vital function, scientists and world bodies continue to ring strong alarm bells about the growing threats to bees.
In fact, they are increasingly under threat from human activities–pesticides, land-use change (and abuse), and mono-cropping practices that reduce available nutrients and pose dangers to them, the whole thing motivated by the dominating voracious production-consumption-based economic model.
Pollinators are also threatened by the decline of practices based on indigenous and local knowledge. These practices include traditional farming systems.
The risk is big: close to 35 percent of invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, and about 17 percent of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats, face extinction globally.
The ‘B’ Day
In a symbolic recognition of their indispensable role as life transmission chain, specialised organisations commemorate on 20 May each year the World Bee Day.
As a way to get you a bit more familiarised with these wonderful creatures, here go some key facts and figures about bees:
- 20,000 – Number of species of wild bees, only 7 of them are honeybees There are also some species of butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and other vertebrates that contribute to pollination.
- 75% – Percentage of the world’s food crops that depend at least in part on pollination.
- 235 billion dollars–577 billion dollars – Annual value of global crops directly affected by pollinators.
- 300% — Increase in volume of agricultural production dependent on animal pollination in the past 50 years.
- Almost 90% — Percentage of wild flowering plants that depend to some extent on animal pollination.
- 1.6 million tons – Annual honey production from the western honeybee.
- 16.5% — Percentage of vertebrate pollinators threatened with extinction globally.
- +40% – Percentage of invertebrate pollinator species –particularly bees and butterflies– facing extinction.
- In addition to food crops, pollinators contribute to crops that provide bio-fuels (e.g. canola and palm oils), fibers (e.g cotton), medicines, forage for livestock, and construction materials. Some species also provide materials such as beeswax for candles and musical instruments, and arts and crafts.
- Every third bite of food you eat depends on pollinators.
A wonderful social community!
Honeybees are social insects that live in colonies, each consisting of:
- The queen, whose main activity is egg-laying, up to 2,000/day,
• 20,000–80,000 workers, all of which are females and
• 300–1,000 males (drones), whose sole responsibility is fertilisation.
• The queen will normally live for between 1 and 4 years, while a worker bee will live for 6–8 weeks in the summer and 4–6 months in the winter.
• Without a queen, the colony will eventually die.
• The workers perform a multitude of tasks, including tending to the queen, feeding larvae, feeding drones, nectar ripening, producing heat, collecting water, beehive-cleaning, guard duty, and field collection of pollen and nectar. A single honeybee may collect 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.
• The “drones” would die of starvation if the workers stopped feeding them.
• Bees have personalities! Despite the phrase “busy as a bee”, even within a colony there will be workers and shirkers!
• Honeybees’ wings beat 11,400 times per minute, this making their distinctive buzz.
• Bees can recognise human faces.
• Bees are nature’s most economical builders – honeycombs are among the most efficient structures in nature; their walls meet at a precise 120-degree angle, making a perfect hexagon.
• Bees fly outside the hive normally when temperatures rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius).
• Honeybees do not hibernate, but cluster for warmth. They remain active all winter.
Now that you know them a bit better, please take due note of the fact you can do something to protect the bees and, by the way, a key ring in the life transmission chain
Please love bees, don’t panic if they fly close to you, they would not harm you unless you attack them.
And always remember that they are working to ensure your food, your health and, by the way, alleviate the huge suffering that homo sapiens is causing to Mother Nature!