Why bees are so important for humans

Offbeat and Unique

DES MOINES, Iowa — Many people fear bees, but what we should all fear is a life without bees.

Bees contribute billions of dollars to the United States agriculture sector every year. In fact, more than a third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees.

“They pollinate 100% of almonds, they pollinate squash and cucurbits, so any sort of squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, that sort of thing, zucchini, the bees are out there pollinating that. Most berries are pollinated by bees and most tree fruit,” said Randall Cass, an entomologist at Iowa State University.

But bees are facing several stressors that have contributed to a decline in the bee population, including climate change.

“It impacts precipitation, temperatures, throwing that out of whack. It also throws the plants out of whack,” said Stephanie Shepherd, wildlife diversity biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

When the plants don’t bloom during their normal time, bees cannot do their job of pollinating all the plants we get our food from. In addition to a decline in plants to pollinate, bees are also affected by parasites and insecticides.

“The biggest stressor affecting honeybees is a parasite called the varroa mite. It’s a little mite that lives on their backs and feeds off of the bees, and that weakens them overall,” Cass said.

While most of us can’t help with the parasite problem, there is still a lot we can do to support bees of all kinds such as adding plants to support pollination.

“Especially early season nectar, so thinking about things like some of our native shrubs or even fruit trees, things like that that bloom fairly early in the season, as well as adding things like asters, sunflowers,” Shepherd said.

More facts about bees and honeybees

  • Honeybees can fly up to 20 mph
  • Most of the honeybees you see are female worker bees 
  • A beehive can have anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 bees in it
  • Honeybees carry pollen on their hind legs in a pollen basket or corbicula
  • Bumblebees usually build their nests close to the ground

You can help researchers keep track of what species of bees are where by simply taking a photo and sending it to Bumble Bee Watch

Plants that support pollination

  • Aster 
  • Coneflower
  • Coreopsis
  • Fruit trees 
  • Sunflower
  • Shasta daisy
  • Goldenrod
  • Lavender (also keeps other insects like mosquitos and flies away)
  • Milkweed
  • Snapdragon

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