It’s New Zealand Bee Week. Yet another promotional plea for another threatened creature.
Surely we can ignore this one – it’s the size of a blowfly, not as cute as a polar bear cub, and it has a sting.
Even our city council says that bees are “dangerous” and “not considered appropriate for the city” (Otago Daily Times 28.3.09).
But hang on, before you get out the can of pesticide, there’s a secret about bees that I want to tell you.
Without bees humans would soon be dead ducks, and probably faster than by climate change.
A world without bees would be a world without humans.
Why? They are the planet’s ultimate pollinators – causing flowers to produce seeds, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
More than 75% of the world’s most important crops need pollinators (mainly honeybees, bumblebees, and native bees).
Without pollinators? No more strawberries, almonds, cherries, pumpkins, blueberries, apples, or honey – much of the colour and vitamins in our diet.
Is this the “dangerous” animal the council warns about?Fewer dairy products and meat, too – bees pollinate the plants we feed to cattle.
Wild plants and animals would also struggle.
Economically, New Zealand probably needs the honey bee more than any other country, because we rely on farming.
About $71 million worth of honey is exported annually, but bee pollination of horticultural and agricultural crops is worth well over a billion dollars.
Worldwide the value of pollination of crops is about $60 billion.
The bad news is, bee numbers are declining all over the world: more than 30% of US hives; about 50% of British and Japanese hives; in Italy a 45% fall.
Much of this is blamed on a mystery syndrome called CCD (colony collapse disorder) in which bees fail to return to the hive.
Research suggests it’s caused by multiple factors, including chemical poisoning, monoculture farming (poor diet), viruses, varroa, habitat loss, GM crops, and climate change.
All of these probably combine to stress the bees – and they are all a result of human activities.
Maybe we are the dangerous animal.
The good news is, you don’t have to be a super scientist to help save the bees – you can do it in your own garden.
he most important impact you can make involves habitat and pesticides.
Firstly, try to create a pollinator-friendly garden.
Plant flowering trees and bushes, and wild flowers – pollinators love the native plants especially.
Instead of mowing madly, leave a portion of your lawn to grow into meadow, which will attract insects. Above all, avoid using pesticides and fungicides.
This means less chemicals on plants, in the air, and also in water – bees have to drink too.
Don’t throw toxic chemicals away where they will be washed into waterways.
Wilson recently warned about the collapse of our environment if we don’t care for the pollinating insects.
His conclusion: “The bottom line is this: be careful with pesticides.”
You might also consider becoming a backyard beekeeper.
It’s not as frightening as it sounds (don’t let the council scare you).
Contact your local bee club.
Yes, bees do have a small sting, but they won’t sting unless you disturb them (let the bee be, and the bee will let you be).
Bees are fascinating, intelligent creatures.
Possibly the only other living thing with a language of symbols (bee dances); capable of memory and learning; able to navigate with a complex kind of GPS.
Their tiny brains have a neural density 10 times ours.
They may hold more secrets yet.
At the very least, celebrate Bee Week by finding a honey bee and thanking it (from a respectful distance) for life on Earth. – Raymond Huber