Field of sunflowers
The birds and the bees need our help!

Now onto the bees. In part I of the Birds and the Bees, we talked about the birds, but now let us discuss the bees. The bee population is on the decline as well. We rely heavily on honeybees, so let’s help them out too! We also cannot forget about the other bees, such as the Long Island natives, which include bumblebees and mason bees. Honeybees are considered invasive to Long Island, so we must give a little more TLC to our natives. Regardless, all bees are important and need our help. With 17 different species of bees on Long Island, our work is cut out for us, so we must act now! 

Bumblebee on a Happy Single Dahlia
Credit: John, Flickr CC

What would happen if we didn’t have any bees left?

If bees were to go extinct, the environment and human life would suffer tremendously. Bees play an unimaginable role in the cycle of reproduction all over the world. Plants rely on bees for pollination and humans rely on bees to pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat. Without the bees, there aren’t many other mechanisms for plants to transfer their pollen from one plant to another. It would be a very scary future without the bees! 

We are stressed out and so are the bees!

We know what it feels like when we are stressed out and it’s not good, so just imagine how a bee feels. Imagine what it feels like to have all of the following stressors affect you on a daily basis:

Stress 1 – Pesticides

There are contact pesticides and there are systemic pesticides. Contact pesticides are pesticides that are sprayed on plants that kill bees upon contact. Systemic pesticides are pesticides that are incorporated into the soil and or seeds, which result in the growth of plants that carry the pesticide in their pollen, stem, leaves, and nectar. Systemic pesticides are extremely harmful to bee colonies because the bee does not die immediately when it comes into contact with the pesticide, but instead, it carries the pesticide back with them to the entire colony. This can result in colony death. Pesticide use results in colony collapse disorder. Agencies such as the EPA and European Food Safety Authority  are working towards banning and limiting the use of pesticides that are toxic to bees. There is also another type of pesticide called the neonicotinoid. New research shows a connection between bee decline and this insecticide that was once believed to be more environmentally friendly compared to other pesticides being used.

Stress 2 – Invasive species

Invasive species like the external parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, threaten the bee population. This mite feeds on bees’ circulatory fluid, which then leads to the spreading of the mite to the colony. The mite spreads viral diseases and bacteria that can kill colony after colony. This one particular mite was discovered in Southeast Asia in 1904 and has since spread worldwide. 

Stress 3 – Habitat Loss

As our human population increases we continually destroy natural habitats that are home to many plants, animals, and insects. We impact the natural environment through fragmentation, degradation, and destruction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature predicts a global loss of 20,000 flowering plant species over the next couple decades. This will in turn lead to the decline of pollinators that depend on these plants for survival. Habitat diversity is key to the survival of many species including the bees. 

Stress 4 – Climate Change

Bees rely on natural cues within the environment  to make certain decisions, but because of climate change, those natural cues have been thrown off. Due to climate change, there has been a loss of bee habitats. Normally, bees would migrate to cooler areas and establish new hives, but because of climate change, bee territories have shrunk tremendously. The rise in temperatures has also affected the timing of when flowers bloom, which has created a food source issue for bees. Bees are ready to feed on pollen at a certain time, but due to climate change, that timing of when flowers bloom and the bees are ready to feed are no longer matching up. The stress of climate change on the bees can also cause bees to be more susceptible to infections. 

Other stressors include: parasites, viruses, bacterial diseases, malnutrition, and queen quality.

There are way too many stressors that the bees have to deal with. Unfortunately, we are the cause of many of these stressors that affect the bees. However, we all have the ability to make bees’ lives a lot less stressful, so let’s do our part.

Here is what you can do to help the bees survive and thrive!
  1. Stop using pesticides and herbicides! There are alternatives to pesticides that won’t harm and kill the bees. The following link may be helpful when choosing an alternative method:
  2. Plant wisely! Bees are attracted to blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow flowering plants.
  3. Plant strategically! Bees depend on plant pollen and nectar throughout the growing season, so plant plants that will bloom throughout the growing season.
  4. Perennials and herbs are good sources of nectar and pollen for bees, so plant them and don’t forget, plant native. Bees need and love native plants, not the fancy exotic non-natives. 
  5. Ditch the fully groomed lawn! Give yourself and the bees a break and let those clovers, dandelions, and violets grow all over your lawn.
  6. Again, plant native! Fun fact, the Pine Barrens white-flowering low bush blueberry is a great source of food for the bumble bee. They have a symbiotic relationship, which means they both depend on each other for survival. Some plants do have the ability to self-pollinate, but cross-pollination is much better. 
  7. Other Pine Barrens native plants that are co-dependent with bees,  are the Sweet pepper-bush, Sheep-laurel, and the American-holly. 
  8. Bee informed! Research local stressors to bees in your area and get involved in recovery efforts.
  9. Support local beekeepers who are respectful and thoughtful to the bees and buy local chemical-free honey! We do not want to support beekeepers who treat their bees inhumanly and use chemicals. 
  10. Bees are thirsty too! Leave a small water dish or a water-filled bird bath out for the bees.
  11. Sign petitions, speak up, and vote to support the bees. Our local, state, and federal government must hear and see our support for the bees so that changes will be made.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and follow along throughout the entire month of May, where we are featuring native plants each week.

By: Claire J Moran, Long Island Pine Barrens Society