A bee-ckoning to protect pollinators

Bees play an essential role within the contexts of food production and environmental stability. Besides honey, bees factor into the growth of over 90 flowering crops and the widespread availability of grocery store food on shelves. (Josh Stanavage/The Daily Campus)

Since childhood, I’ve enjoyed summertime swims in my family’s outdoor pool. Perhaps I could’ve followed in the footsteps of a certain namesake were it not for my fear of some minuscule, striped aviators. As these pests approached my youthful, vulnerable body, I would either duck my head underwater or leap out of my pool as if my bathing suit had caught on fire. Whenever I felt more courageous (or at least an urge to “protect” innocent bystanders), I would even attempt to murder these invaders of my relaxing environment.

As I’ve matured, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for and knowledge of bees: After all, they benefit us and our environment tremendously. Unfortunately, pollinator populations have been dwindling drastically, and multitudinous misconceptions have instilled an unjustifiable stigma surrounding bees. However, we all can take feasible, effective action to overturn such discouraging trends.

Bees play an essential role within the contexts of food production and environmental stability. Regarding our consumption habits, we can attribute approximately one out of every three bites of food to agricultural pollination. Besides honey (valued at $317.1 million in the U.S. in 2013), bees factor into the growth of over 90 flowering crops (e.g. apples, avocados, citrus crops, cucumbers) and the widespread availability of grocery store food on shelves (80 percent, to be exact). Even nonhuman animals, including bears, birds and insects, obtain nourishment from beehives and larvae. Furthermore, pollinators and flowers function symbiotically: Bees transport pollen among flowers to aid in their reproduction, which creates more pollen and nectar for food and honey. Lastly, the declining pollinator population alerts us to, and thus allows us to act upon, environmental instability.

Several factors compromise bees’ survivability. For example, the Sierra Club proposes that parasites like the “Varroa destructor,” which “sucks out bees’ ‘blood’ while also transmitting the deformed wing virus,” inflict significant damage. Beekeepers’ attempts to remedy this issue through the use of various pesticides have backfired, weakening bees’ immune systems. Neonicotinoids, for example, are insecticides that pose a particularly high threat to both pollinators and their habitats. Furthermore, bees’ diets, which consist predominantly of sugar and corn syrup, do not provide ample protection from disease. According to the Sierra Club, another roadblock to proper nourishment stems from “a reduction in the variety of flowers on which bees feed because of monocultural farming and suburban development.” To recap, a combination of malevolent organisms, toxic chemicals, poor nutrition and habitat loss contributes to America’s bee crisis.

Much of the negative buzz surrounding bees lacks justification. The popular assumption that all bees exhibit aggressive tendencies is inaccurate. For one, only female bees (and there are not many of them, at that) can sting, and in most cases, they won’t do so, provided that we don’t provoke them. This fact, coupled with bees’ inability to sting us more than once, should eradicate our concerns regarding pollinators’ harmfulness. Also, because bees and wasps are separate entities, we shouldn’t attribute wasps’ aggression and relative uselessness to bees.

Beyond generating “Bee Movie” memes (although an admittedly worthwhile pastime), we can illustrate our appreciation for pollinators. Common sense practices, such as engagement in community service, education of both ourselves and others and avoidance of harmful antibiotics and pesticides are crucial elements of bee preservation. By dining at restaurants and purchasing products that partake in pollinator-friendly practices, we can vote with our wallets also. As a member of UConnPIRG (yes, that group that both hobbles into dining halls and pins multiple copies of the same flyer adjacent to each other, one for each extra pair of eyes that you don’t have), I can attest to the fact that even those of us who feel less capable nevertheless can stimulate positive societal changes. Last semester in particular, my service at the nearby Spring Valley Student Farm, where I and other members of the Save the Bees campaign planted noninvasive pollinator-friendly plants, was an incredibly empowering experience (and I’m living proof that even those of us with noodle arms can perform manual labor).

Although bees may inflict temporary pain upon us occasionally, their extinction would induce an even more severe, prolonged sting. If we unite as a capable student body, then certainly we can preserve pollinators and consequently ameliorate both our and our environment’s well-being.


Michael Katz is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email michael.katz@uconn.edu.