Everyone has had a bee in their bonnet at one point or another over something that annoyed them, or maybe they got so hungry that after class that they made a beeline to Schnipper’s. One may have been told by their grandparents to mind their own beeswax when they became too nosey. Now that the semester has kicked off, everyone is a busy bee in their own way. Putting English sayings and colloquialisms aside, those furry little buzzers contribute to society in a plethora of ways. Bees are more than just insects that kids run away from in the spring and summer or the unsuspecting killers of Thomas in the 1991 American classic My Girl. They have and will continue to do more important work than we ever can or will.
Bees are of critical importance. There are, of course, reasons for this that everyone knows—they help pollinate flowers and they make delicious honey, but these are not the only way bees are beneficial. According to New York Agriculture News, bees helped produce $500 millio n worth of crops in the United States. One can only imagine how many crops they helped yield globally. These include vegetables and fruits like asparagus, cucumbers and watermelons, as well as almonds.
To bees, their honeycombs are a way to store their food supplies for the winter. But for humans, collecting their honeycombs is the first step to having a sweet treat. In 2013, the honey crop was worth an estimated $317.1 million.
New York has an avid beekeeping community with 20 clubs for hobbyists to join. With the increase of these “backyard” beekeepers, the bee population has been kept steady.
For a long time, the fate of the bees was a heavy concern for environmentalists because of how they are a staple not just to wildlife and nature, but also to the economy. Huge farms to small gardens would all suffer without them. For a number of years, Colony Collapse Disorder was seriously affecting the bee population. CCD brought about lower crop yields and less flower pollination and that meant less of the foods that both humans and wildlife eat.
CCD occurs when a majority of the worker bees abandon their queen, which seems to go against their natural instincts. They leave behind younger bees and their honeycomb food supply, leaving the hives, which are not self-sustaining, to eventually die. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, apiaries started noting the high amount of lost hives in 2006 and those numbers remained high until about 2015. While the number of lost hives has gone down in recent years, it still remains high during the wintertime.
The causes of CCD have not been hammered down specifically, although multiple theories do exist. These include problems with the invasive species varroa mite, new diseases like Israeli Acute Paralysis, pesticide poisoning and habitat destruction. Then there exists the fact that bee colonies are actually moved around the country, which can cause harmful stress. These problems are exacerbated by different states’ apiary inspection programs, which are not always up to par with the standards needed to keep bees healthy, let alone happy.
It is clear that bees are important to the planet. There is so much that New Yorkers can do to help and support their local beekeepers and bee population. After being outlawed in 1999, beekeeping became legal again in 2010 and anyone with a serious interest in it should join one of the clubs. In 2014, Yahoo! News reported on the popularity of “office hives,” which is a uniquely urban type of wildlife supported by everyday New Yorkers who register with the Department of Health.
You can enroll in a beekeeper-training program at places like the Brooklyn Grange Farm and work your way up to managing local hives for places like The Best Bees Company.
If one does not want to have so much of a hands-on approach, it is always helpful to spread the word about why bees are so important. Conserving bees is as important as protecting endangered species or saving the rainforest.
Maybe next time, instead of swatting at a bee, the friends you educate will simply let the bees go about their very important business.
Is that not just the bee’s knees?