Bees are amazing insects, not only providing us with honey and beeswax but also providing a vital ecosystem service through pollination.
So what’s the story on bees?
There are about 20,000 known species of bee in the world today. Many more likely await discovery, yet the current global figure equates to the roughly the combined number of of described mammals, birds and amphibians. The diversity of bees extends far beyond that of the well-known bumblebee and honeybees. The yellow and black banding that springs to people’s minds when they think of bees is far from the whole story. Bees occupy a wide range of ecological niches, and exhibit a fascinating variety of adaptations. However, despite their apparent success, the past fifty years have seen thing take a turn for the worse, with bees declining globally in both species richness and abundance.
Okay, but why are bees declining?
There are several key pressures implicated in global-scale bee declines. For example the invasive parasitic mite Varroa destructor is the biggest problem facing domesticated honey bees worldwide. This mite has been responsible for the collapse of millions of honey bee colonies over the past decade. A colony of 50,000 to 60,000 has been wiped out by V. destructor in as little as two years. Mites cause damage by sucking their “blood” (haemolymph). This deprives honeybees of nutrients, causing them to lose weight and shorten their life span.
Furthermore, the application of pesticides, whilst necessary to maintain high crop yields, does have undesirable effects on honeybees. One particularly nasty branch on insecticide, called neonicotinoids, causes bees to have paralysis and cause eventual death. The loss of wildflowers is another major factor threatening the lives of bees. Bees needs flowers to obtain nectar and pollen. However, the conversion of flower-rich meadows to crop important food plants for agriculture has greatly reduced the availability of these resources and continues to do so, particularly in the US and the UK.
Oh no! So what do Cheerios have anything to do with it?
In order to create a more bee-friendly environment, Cheerios is encouraging customers to plant over 100 million wildflowers this year with its #BringBackTheBees initiative.
By signing up on their website, Cheerios will send you 500 wildflower seeds for free to help save the honeybee.
General Mills removed mascot “Buzz” the bee from their Honey-Nut Cheerios cereal boxes to raise awareness for the declining bee population and their global initiative.
The Cheerios website says: “Buzz is missing because there’s something serious going on with the world’s bees. Bee populations everywhere have been declining at an alarming rate, and that includes honeybees like Buzz.”
Whoa! So what else is being done to save the bees?
By planting nectar rich wildflowers, you can encourage bees to come foraging in your garden. Farmers are increasingly being encouraged to to maintain hedgerows at the margins of fields for the habitat value they provide for wild bees. Much emphasis is being placed on citizen science in effort to conserve bees. There is a need for more amateur recording of bee sightings in order to better monitor the changes in the abundance and distribution of bees. For research and conservation to continue, future generations must be educated about the organisms in need of saving. Educational outreach programmes to increase awareness are just one way in which museums have helped to tackle what is one of the biggest biological challenges of the twenty-first century- the decline of bees.