Bees. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Bees? Those creepy insects that sting? Why is everybody so interested in bees? That was my initial reaction when I heard the word “bee.” Now I’m writing about how great they are! Well, what if I told you that one in three bites of everything you eat is made possible by bees? It’s true. When I heard that, and that bees were beginning to die out, I knew there was so much more to lose than honey.
Bees are insects. They start out as tiny eggs, then hatch into their larva stage, in which they are white, helpless grubs. They will do nothing but eat, which they will do a shocking 1,300 times a day! Within five days, they will be over 1,500 times their original size. They’ll soon be covered with beeswax, and they’ll spin a cocoon. In doing this, they are moving on to the pupa stage. The bees don’t stay like that forever, though! As they are pupae (plural for pupa), they will go through a series of changes, transforming from grubs to the bees we know. The pupae develop eyes, wings, and legs. They gain the proper coloring, and finally, they chew their way out of the cocoon to join the other bees. This is called the adult stage.
Bees live in beehives, wondrous, busy homes. Take a look inside and see tens of thousands of bees with many different roles. Some are setting off to collect pollen, a substance coming from flowers that bees use to feed the hive. Others are doing a type of dance, telling other bees where to find many flowers. Bees called nurse bees feed the larva. These bees, the most common in the hive, are female worker bees. They do not lay eggs. That job is for the most important bee in the hive, the queen. There are male drones who mate with the queen, but there are only a few hundred of them, a small amount compared to the workers. Along the hive, there are many beeswax hexagonal cells, called honeycombs. These honeycombs serve a variety of purposes, including housing the eggs, larvae, and pupae. They also store honey. Beekeepers may remove these cells to harvest honey.
What are the bees outside of the hive doing? Bees are pollinators, like butterflies. This means that they move from flower to flower, collecting pollen. Bees even pollinate flowers just by flapping their wings! They will use the pollen they collect to feed the hive. What’s really important is the honey they drop on flowers. Why? When bees drop pollen, the pollen they leave on the flowers helps the flowers produce seeds. A seed will grow into a new plant. This plant may be the shade for another species, a food for humans and other animals, and even a source of pollen for other bees. And so the cycle goes on. This process is necessary for the health and well being of the creatures on our earth. It keeps our gardens and ecosystems diversified, as well as providing food for the many creatures on this planet. Let’s not forget about the delicious honey provided by these magnificent creatures.
Making honey is the opposite of easy. Bees must visit 2 million flowers just to make a single pound! That’s 55,000 miles of flowers. Wow. I’ll never think of honey in the same way again.
Unfortunately, bees are dying out. Why? This is happening for a variety of reasons. One is because plants are being sprayed with pesticides. This is bad in many other ways, too. Pesticides pollute the water that many people drink. They can damage soil. Plus, do you really want to eat food sprayed with chemicals? Pesticides can pose a serious health issue to humans. Bees are also dying because of diseases. I’m not going to list them all because there are sadly so many. One common threat to bees is the varroa mite, an insect that can kill an entire colony. It is small and crablike, and is visible from the back of a bee. It can carry illnesses such as the deformed wing virus.
No bees means a lot of things. Bad things. Remember when I told you that one in three bites of everything you eat was made possible by bees? Well, having no bees would mean not as many of those juicy, delicious fruits you have come to enjoy. It would mean less access to those savory vegetables, crunchy or leafy, that keep you strong. No bees would mean not having diverse and colorful gardens.
So what can you do to help bees? Try to buy organic foods. Start a diversified, colorful garden. If you can, give bees a home and keep them near your house. Spread the word about bees and how important they are. Next time you take a bite of food, savor a sweet spoonful of honey, or admire a beautiful beeswax candle, think about how a bee made it possible. Think about how these black and yellow, buzzing creatures - even though they are small - manage to pollinate our plants, enrich the beauty of the earth, and feed the world.