The unbeelievable work of the bees

The sun has started to shine and flowers are blossoming. With the world becoming quieter because of the Coronoavirus, wildlife is flourishing. The hum of traffic is now replaced with the characteristic buzz of the bees.

Zigzagging from flower to flower, these busy bodies are hard at work pollinating plants. A single honey bee can fly up to 6 miles to find nectar and can visit up to 1,500 flowers a day. Now that the air pollution has fallen dramatically, more rare wildflowers are blooming, and the bees are taking advantage of this. The air is cleaning allowing them to smell out the nectar from much farther away.

Bees are responsible for pollinating about 80% of plants, most of which are used for our consumption. This means that one out of every three or four bites of the food you eat is thanks to the humble bee. It is estimated that bees contribute £400-£651million to the British economy every year (the latter figure is apparently £150million more than the Royal Family brings in through tourism!) and around £150billion per year globally. It’s clear to see that bees play a pretty crucial role in the world.

This is why May 20th marked World Bee Day. Initially proposed by Slovenian beekeepers, the United Nations picked it up and unanimously declared May 20th to be World Bee Day. It would be day for people across the globe to appreciate the importance of bees in the ecosystem.

In other recent bee news, there has been new evidence that has shown how cunning these tiny black and yellow creatures can be. When they are in desperate need of pollen, they damage an unflowered plant by biting the leaves in a specific way. This damage somehow fools the plant into flowering up to 30 days earlier than it should.

Scientists tried to copy this technique, however they were unsuccessful. Bee bitten plants flowered 30 days earlier compared to non damaged ones, and up to 25 days earlier than the ones damaged by the researchers. They suggest this could be because of a secretion the bees produce, but are still uncertain. Who knew bees were so sneaky?

While there are many types of bees, we enjoy the sweet sticky taste of honey that is created by the honey bee. But it actually takes a lot of effort to produce. A single honey bee will only produce about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its entire life. However a whole hive create around 50kg of it in a year. To make this golden liquid it requires the most of the colony.

A worker bee will head out in search of nectar, and use its long tongue to get right into all the corners of the flower. Once ingested, a special stomach with special enzymes begin the process of converting nectar to honey. Upon its return, the bee will regurgitate its contents to anther bee, who will then do the same. This rather gross method allows the nectar to break down even more.

Once thrown up and eaten enough times, the fluid is still rather liquidly so it’s placed in the hives honeycomb and the bees will beat their wings to create an air current. This allows any water to evaporate and thicken the concoction. Beeswax is then used to cap the liquid in its cell so it can continue to transform into the thick rich gold we all enjoy.

Just like us, they love eating their honey which they so longingly made. When times are tough and food is scarce (like in the winter) honey is a great source of sugars to fuel the bees through the cooler months.

However the number of these little flying insects are declining. Knowing how hard they work and how important they are to the economy, it is vital that we save them.

There are a number of threats that are causing this loss. One of the main being habitat loss. With increased amounts of development going on the world, the green blossoming areas needed for bees to thrive are being taken away.

Just like us humans, there is a disease that is spreading throughout the bee population as well. Chronic bee paralysis virus 10 years ago was only found in a few hives in Lincolnshire, but is now found in bees in most counties in the UK. It affects a bees ability to fly and is spreading fast. There are also many other diseases and mites that effect a bees ability to fly home and even die.

Pollution, pesticides and climate change are all other factors that are killing the bee population. Although it all seems doom and gloom, there are things that can be done to help encourage our little workers to survive.

As usual, reducing our carbon emissions can greatly improve the survival of bees. This can already be seen now from the effects of global isolation. There should also be laws against the use of the most dangerous and harmful pesticides. While much action can be taken by governing bodies to encourage more ecological agricultural methods, there are things you can do from your own homes to entice more bees to come visit.

Building or buying small wooden bee houses can be a great way to welcome bees in need of a place of refuge. Plating bee friendly flowers and trees in your garden. Lavender, sunflowers, apple and maple trees are all good plants for bees to pollinate. If you don’t have a garden, don’t worry! Simple flower pot plants like sage, mint and thyme can be grown from your window box and will all hopefully let you see those busy bees. Check out this list of bee friendly plants for more options.

And by all means do some fundraising and donate the money to conservation organisations or take action into your own hands and encourage local councils to set aside more green land for nature to flourish.

Hope is not lost for these little creatures. If unprovoked, bees will not sting you, so don’t let the thought of those sharp rare ends scare you. Without them, our world would be a lot less colourful place. Many plants have evolved over years to be the perfect shape, size, colour and smell to attract passing pollinators.

This lockdown has allowed us to see how much we affect wildlife. Lessons should be learnt from this to ensure nature can continue to thrive. Bees haven’t been having the best of times recently, but with a little help from all of us, we can ensure future generations will hear the low drone buzz of the humble bee.

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