For US National Honey Bee Day (August 17th), we decided to show some love for our hairy, six-legged friends by creating this infographic.
“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”
Its true that bees are in decline, and we don’t know exactly what’s causing it, but we do know that you can help stop the rot and help support the bee population – and its easier than you might think:
Honeybees are remarkable insects. They live in colonies of up to 60,000 bees, which consist of thousands of female workers, a few hundred male drones and a queen. Along with ants and termites, honeybees are social insects, which means that they have evolved complex behaviours to enable them to live in large, self-organising family groups.
Worker honeybees have developed an unusual method of communicating with one another in the hive. When a scout worker bee finds a good foraging location, she flies back to the hive and starts dancing in a figure of eight formation. The duration and direction of her ‘waggle run’ can accurately inform the other bees of the location of the forage.
Honeybees are a major pollinator of multiple food crops, which makes them a vital component of the food production process. Around 35% of food crops require some bee pollination, with apples, broccoli and onions being 90% dependent on bees and almonds 100%. Honeybee pollination adds $15 billion per year to the American farming industry and is the sole source of income for beekeepers who provide pollination services to farms.
In 2006, commercial beekeepers began to notice a sudden decline in honeybee populations. Hives were being abandoned by their worker colonies, leaving behind only queens, the unhatched brood and stores of honey and pollen. Scientists began to term this phenomenon ‘Colony Collapse Disorder.’
“monoculture in farming has meant that foraging diversity for bees in rural areas is increasingly limited.”
There is no single cause of CCD, but it is likely that a combination of many factors may be involved. Neonicotinoid insecticides are thought to interfere with honeybee navigation, which has resulted in usage restrictions of these chemicals in several countries. Parasites like the varroa mite have been responsible for the death of entire colonies in the U.S. and Canada, and monoculture in farming has meant that foraging diversity for bees in rural areas is increasingly limited.
What can you do to help?
So what can be done to help the declining honeybee population? Many charities are encouraging people to start their own honeybee hives, but the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex has found that this may not actually be beneficial to honeybee populations due to a disproportionate lack of foraging material available to the colonies. One of the best ways to help bees in your local community is to plant a variety of bee-friendly flowers in your garden, which will help to improve the diversity of their foraging material. You could also encourage your local town or city hall to use bee-friendly flowers in public spaces. A simple change from pelargoniums to everlasting wallflower, marjoram or lavender could transform a flower bed into a buzzing haven of insect activity.
A reduction in grass mowing can also be beneficial to foraging insects as it will encourage wildflowers to grow. Increases in intensive farming in recent years have caused a decline in the proportion of hay meadows, which are the perfect environment for bees, butterflies and other insects. Why not contact your local government and encourage them to mow some areas of their parks less often so that hay meadows can develop?
Another way to help the honeybee population is to support honeybee researchers. The Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex carries out research into bee foraging, nestmate recognition and controlling bee diseases. Click here to find out more.