Large bees and small bees and mid-sized bees – bees, bees, bees. Although most of us picture honeybees when the subject of bees arises, there are more than 4,000 species in North America (over 25,000 species worldwide) of which honeybees are but one.
Honeybees aren’t even native to the Americas, they’re an Old World species that was brought to the Americas by early settlers who greatly valued the honey and the beeswax that the species produces.
Beside those valuable products honeybees have a much greater value as a pollinator of many, many plants – including a lot of our important food crops. But honeybees aren’t the only bee species that pollinate our food crops, the numerous species of wild bees also pollinate plants that produce food for humans, in most cases wild bees do a better job than honeybees. Wild bees live in small colonies or are solitary and include bumblebees and a host of smaller species.
Bumblebees, those large black and yellow bees that aeronautical engineers supposedly say shouldn’t be capable of flying, are major pollinators because of their large size –
The many species of smaller bees that are even more abundant than bumblebees are also important pollinators –
But bees are in trouble worldwide due to pesticides, agricultural monocultures, modifications in land use, and the changing climate. Some formerly abundant and widespread species of bees have virtually vanished throughout their entire range. As bee populations decline so will the production of agricultural crops dependent on pollination by insects.
Do you like apples? Pumpkins? Watermelon? Blueberries? Almonds? Cranberries? Cucumbers? Pickles? Cherries? Thank the bees that pollinated the flowers that produced the fruit. And thank those bees for a lot of other things you eat, since about one-third of the foods we consume are dependent on insects, primarily bees, for pollination. Those crops are reported to be worth $19 billion in the U.S. In addition to food crops bees pollinate about 170,000 species of plants including many forest trees.
So thank a bee and celebrate World Bee Day on May 20th. You may ask why May 20th is World Bee Day. It’s May 20th because that’s the birthday of Anton Janša (1734-1773) who led the way to modern beekeeping. He wrote books on beekeeping and taught in a beekeeping school in Austria. He encouraged the then new idea of keeping honeybee colonies alive through the winter rather than killing them in late fall by taking all their honey and wax as had been common practice.
Next time you bite into a crisp apple, enjoy blueberry muffins or spread honey on toast – thank a bee and on May 20th take a moment to think of all the good that bees do.