In a bee-free world, the first thing you'd be is hungry, because bees pollinate about a third of the foods we eat. Without that simple act those foods simply won't grow. That makes the mysterious continuing loss of bee colonies around the world a big deal and new word of a possible cause big news. Here's what to know and how to help.
Since about 2006, beekeepers have been puzzled by a spooky phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD) in which the bees in seemingly healthy hives fly off for a day of work and never return. With up to 90% of the colony gone virtually overnight, the hive collapses along with nearby farmers' hopes for the pollination needed to produce the many fruits and vegetables upon which our dinners depend.
This sudden scarcity of bees has no shortage of suspected causes. Mites, malnutrition, viruses, overbreeding, and more have all been implicated. Now recent studies are suggesting that we move a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids to the top of the list.
According to a study just published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the equipment used to coat corn seed with neonicotinoids during planting fills the air with enough particles of these chemicals to produce the effects seen in CCD. Another study at Harvard University recently found that low levels of the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid caused CCD-like hive symptoms. And twin studies in Europe have just produced evidence linking certain neonicotinoids to the loss of crucial hive queens and bee homing abilities.
While the debate about whether bees are being fatally stung by neonicotinoids continues and increasing calls to ban these pesticides go answered, it's left to us to take action. And act we should because pollination and the creatures that perform it for us are essential to life as we know it. Here's how you can help your local bees flower:
- First, don't fear bees. Unlike wasps, hornets, and their yellowjacket kin, honeybees, bumblebees, and other pollinating species are non-aggressive and don't generally sting unless directly threatened. Be nice to them and they'll be nice to you.
- Stock your flower beds and planters with a diversity of locally native flowering plants whose blooming times overlap to cover the entire growing season. Stay away from hybrid plant varieties, which often are unable to produce pollen.
- Plant things in bunches and intersperse different species of different heights so bees can avoid predators as they fly quickly between food sources.
- Bees need water. Provide it by creating a small water garden with floating plants in a half barrel or other container.
- Leave a few spots of bare soil in your garden for those bees that nest underground. And let your garden litter lie—it's great habitat, too.
- If they're not bothering anyone, leave bee nests alone and give their inhabitants sanctuary around your house.
- Don't be so quick to pull flowering weeds, which can be a good food source. And don't mow so often to give clover and other low-lying flowers a chance to bloom.
- Build a few bee boxes. It's simple to do. Just remember that different species require different homes. This guide (pdf) has all you need to know.
These steps can turn your home into a pollinator-friendly paradise. Take them and help make the difference between bee-ing and pollination nothingness.