By Rose Elizabeth Dodd
Whilst bees and wasps share a couple of commonalities: their classification as Hymenoptera, their golden/black colouring, the fact that they can both fly, and yes… they can both sting, they also have their differences.
Firstly, wasps are far more aggressive and inclined to sting than bees are. This is partly because they can sting numerous times whereas a bee can only sting once often resulting in its death. A wasp’s aggressiveness also results from its diet; wasps are carnivores (meat-eaters) but bees are essentially vegetarians. In other words, when a bee comes buzzing around us, it means no harm; to come with aggressive intention would be a suicide mission. Although I must disclose, regardless of a wasp’s more violent tendencies, neither wasps nor bees set out to sting us. Nonetheless, it is a little more understandable to fear wasps but why are so many people afraid of bees?
Perhaps our irrational fear of bees comes down to the fact that so many of us lack important information about bees. Well, it’s time to clear that up. Bees provide essential services that aid in the survival of humankind. 1/3rd of the food we consume every day requires pollination. Pollination is when the male part of the flower/plant (the stamen) comes into contact with the female part of the plant (the stigma). This process is fully dependent on the physical transfer of pollen that pollinating bees accomplish. Fruit, veg, nuts, coffee, tea, plants that are turned into oil such as rapeseed or sunflower, crops grown as fodder for livestock that we go on to eat, are all examples of dietary essentials that bees pollinate before our consumption. Bees are also necessary for the pollination of cotton plants necessary for masses of fabric production.
Many flowering food crops in the UK rely on honey bees for service. Honey bees contribute 165 million pounds annually to the UK economy, through pollination, honey production and components included in pharmaceuticals. Even if a crop doesn’t directly depend on bee pollination, there are still massive benefits as a result of thriving in an environment in which bees work.
Bees are not only critical for mankind; they also make an invaluable contribution to global ecosystems. Bees require flowers for food whilst flowers also require bees for blooming. Birds and small mammals eat seeds, fruits and berries, also requiring a bee’s cross-pollination for growth. Ultimately, nature thrives in coexistence, but this is dependent on bees.
There are 25 species of bee native to the UK; bumblebees, honey bees, mining bees and mason bees are just a few examples. This number is unfortunately far lower than it should be and is rapidly declining as a result of extinction and endangerment.
The number of bees has significantly dropped. This decline is multi-causal stemming from a range of human-driven activities including deforestation, land usage resulting in a reduction of available and satisfactory habitation, use of toxic pesticides, climate change, and non-human threats such as pathogens and parasites (although these are enhanced through keeping practices and climate change).
A reduction in the population of bees results in the reduction of plant reproduction, population and dynamics in natural areas and ecosystems. Thus, ultimately impacting essential plant-based carbon sequestration and soil retention, as well as human and animal food supplies. The observable and unfortunately ever declining reduction in bees is thus taking its toll on foods that are essential for mankind, as well as on cultured ecosystems. We need bees and the fact that we are losing them is critical to the future of the planet as we know it.
So, how can we help? There are several solutions to this problem. First and foremost, don’t be afraid of bees, and never kill them – they are harmless, innocent and crucially helpful! Keeping bees yourself or supporting local beekeepers; donating, volunteering, and buying locally produced honey are great ways of helping to increase the bee population. If you come across a bee that looks like it’s struggling, give it a teaspoon of sugary water. Grow a bee-friendly garden with lots of flowers using no chemicals, fertilizers, herbicides or neonicotinoids (all of which are harmful to bees).
There is nothing to be scared of when it comes to bees. A future without bees is bleak; food would be processed and ecosystems and wildlife would be non-existent. We must cherish them. Look after them. They’re precious. They’re essential. They’re important.
There are some great books available to further educate on the importance of bees, these include both factual books and cleverly written, informative yet fictional books. Three I would highly recommend are listed below.
- Maja Lunde – The History of Bees.
- Laline Paul – The Bees.
- Bill Turnbull – Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper.