Posted on July 17 2020
The lockdown has its good sides, too. Experts reported that this year bee populations are buzzing through our meadows, forests and gardens in particularly large numbers. Bees are essential for the environment and not least for us humans.
In one of our previous blogs we talked about insect mortality and highlighted its fatal consequences for humans and nature. Bees are among the species that suffer particularly from human intervention in the environment and climate change. Without bees, however, people would be pretty much lost. That is why this blog is dedicated to the peacefully buzzing bees, which we absolutely must protect.
Bees: wild, tamed and interesting
Bees are a species of insect that belongs to the so-called hymenopterans. For us, bees are mainly honeybees. For thousands of years, humans have lived on the diligence of bee colonies, which were already kept in Pharaonic Egypt. But there is not only the honey bee called "apis mellifera". About 30'000 different species of bees are known, and many of them do not collect honey and live solitary lives. Their performance as pollinators is nevertheless remarkable.
Honeybees are state-forming insects – a "colony" of up to 70'000 bees gathers around the queen, who is also the "mother of the nation". This is because each queen bee founds her own colony after the wedding flight, during which she stocks up on sufficient seeds from the male bees, the drones. The larvae that hatch from the queen's laid eggs become workers, drones – or new queens – through different nutritional quality.
Little power flyers
The tiny insects are only a few millimetres in size, but they can transport their own weight of pollen and map their environment by excellent vision, but also by leaving scent marks. Once a flower has been harvested, it does not need to be flown to again. Bees are also incredibly efficient at communicating. Through complex "dances", honeybees inform their conspecifics about where worthwhile "hunting grounds" can be found.
The astonishing performance of bees can be illustrated in a few facts:
- Worldwide economic benefits of pollination performance: approximately 270 billion US dollars
- Kilometres covered for 1 litre of nectar or 500 g of honey: 120'000 km, three times the circumference of the earth
- "Taskforce" for 55 g honey: about 20'000 bees
- Trips per bee per day: about 10x, with 0.05 g of nectar harvest per flight
- Rest period: up to 8 hours daily
Why bees are not wasps
Among the thousands of species of bees, there are relatively few that live in states. The majority of wild bees live alone, some of them join together only for rearing larvae, hibernating or repelling enemies. There are also big differences in nutrition. The honeybee and some other state-forming bees lay down food supplies, while many wild bees live "from hand to mouth".
The choice of food plants also varies – some species are restricted to a single plant species. Honeybees, on the other hand, fly to whatever is in bloom. Although they are true to their species and harvest the flowers of a plant before starting a new "project", they are not choosy.
Bumble bees belong to the state-forming "real" bees, while wasps and hornets are a separate subfamily of hymenoptera. They too are state-building insects that build complex nests – they prefer nectar for food, but they don't stop at other insects or even meat.
Threat of parasites and loss of habitats
Beekeepers mean the loss of entire bee colonies when they talk about the death of bees – but conservationists refer more to the endangerment of the numerous wild bee species. The industrious flyers are often threatened.
The infestation by the so-called Varroa mite is dangerous for them. However, this can spread especially in the beehives of "industrial" beekeepers. The highly bred "useful bees" cannot offer them much resistance. Old bee species prove to be much more resistant to the mite and are therefore increasingly being rediscovered.
More difficult for the insects is the loss of habitats. Flowering meadows and untouched natural landscapes where seasonal flowering plants thrive need them to survive, but nesting sites are also becoming scarce. Old walls or fallen tree trunks, often also burrows, are often used by the loners among the wild bees. A diverse landscape with "retreat areas" is what bees need. Prepared lawns or front gardens strewn with gravel rob them of their habitat.
In addition, the use of pesticides and herbicides kills entire bee colonies, unfortunately not only in large-scale agriculture but also in private gardens. Quite a few beekeepers notice every summer when the crowd of holiday home owners in the surrounding area set out to garden. Then the bee colonies are in a bad mood.
Simple contributions to bee protection
If you do without chemicals in your balcony and garden, you are already helping the bees a lot. It is even better to allow them a corner in the garden – a feral patch where mowing is not done and where wild flowers can thrive. Stacks of wood or even a "bee hotel" with drilled holes are also popular nesting sites.
Early flowering plants are especially important for feeding wild bees and bumblebees. This is because the insects fly out already in the last days of winter and start looking for food.
By protecting the bees, we ensure our survival
Bee protection protects people. Because the small pollinators are one hundred percent responsible for the flourishing of important cultivated plants. What not everyone knows: pollination by bees also improves the yield of plants and the quality of the fruit. In comparison with mechanical pollination, clear differences became apparent. The close symbiosis between plants and bees therefore still holds many secrets.
At the same time, bees with their richness of species and diversity of life forms are of course a wonderful example of the fascinating world of insects. Despite their ability to defend themselves, they are seldom really aggressive and enrich your garden as well as large biotopes.
We at NIKIN are mainly concerned with sustainable materials in the fashion industry and want to fight against global deforestation. But it is important to us to motivate people to rethink their lifestyle in other areas as well and possibly make it more sustainable.
The impressive film „More Than Honey“ shows how important bees are for biodiversity and our environment.