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Bees help produce up to one-third of the food we eat — but their population is declining
A bee gathers pollen from a dandelion plant. (Vickie Babyak photo for Tube City Almanac)
Vickie Babyak of Dravosburg writes:
Every third bite of food that we eat depends on pollination, and bees — including honeybees — are among the most important pollinators for crops. But bee populations are declining worldwide, due to overuse of pesticides and environmental factors such as climate change.
Last Saturday (May 20) was celebrated by environmentalists as “World Bee Day.” World Bee Day commemorates the birthday of Anton Janša, born in 1734, who was a pioneer beekeeper from Slovenia. Janša learned bee-keeping from his father and made one of the first scientific studies of bees and their behavior. In 1770, Empress Maria Theresa appointed him head beekeeper for all of Austria.
World Bee Day shines a light on bees and their habitat so we can improve conditions for the survival of bees and other pollinators. This year’s theme was “Bee engaged in pollinator-friendly agriculture production.”
Beside our food supply, bees help to pollinate crops used for half of the world’s fibers, oils and other raw materials. Their work allows the creation of different types of medicines, provides food for wildlife and helps prevent soil erosion.
I never thought about this before, but bees are the only insects that directly produce food — honey — consumed by humans. Did you know that a honeybee can fly up to 15 miles in an hour?
A single bee visits between 50 and 100 flowers every time it leaves the hive. Bees need to visit at least 2 million flowers — a total trip of 55,000 miles — to produce a single pound of honey.
Honeybee hives contain about 60,000 to 80,000 bees with three different kinds of bees: workers (also called foragers once they begin to leave the hive), drones and a single queen.
Bees transfer the pollen they collect to sacs or baskets on their hind legs known as corbicula and when it is full, it can contain more than 1 million grains of pollen. (Vickie Babyak photo for Tube City Almanac)
A queen bee almost never leaves the hive and is fed and cared for by worker bees so she can focus on her primary role — laying eggs. She lays up to 2,000 eggs per day and on rare occasions, queens leave their hive early in their lifecycles for a mating flight in search of male bees — drones.
Unfertilized eggs develop into males and fertilized eggs produce either female workers or queens.
Male bees don’t participate in worker behaviors. They are unable to sting, are fed by the workers, and their main purpose is to mate with swarming queens in mid-flight. When winter approaches and mating season is over, drones are driven out of the hive.
Although many people are afraid of bees, they are vital to our environment, and there are many places to learn about their importance — and the different ways that scientists are working to save the declining bee population. The United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization has set up a World Bee Day website where you can learn more information.
Pollen can be seen covering a bee as it feeds on nectar and pollen from the bee balm flower. (Vickie Babyak photo for Tube City Almanac)
Vickie Babyak is a photographer and freelance writer from Dravosburg. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Originally published May 27, 2023.