Friday, April 14, 2017

Bring Back the Bees

An interesting environmental advertising project - a billboard that produces real honey
for Honey Nut Cheerios.

What is the only insect that produces food eaten by humans? It is nature's most economical builders, bees. In 36 BC, Marcus Terentius Varro argued that honeycombs were the most practical structures around. Centuries later, Greek mathematician Pappus solidified the "honeycomb conjecture" by making the same claim.

The weather is warming and you're probably seeing bees out looking for spring flowers. Hopefully, you are a friend of bees. Of course, there are reasons to avoid doing things that might provoke a bee to go into a defensive mode and sting you. But encouraging bees in your garden and in nature in general is a good thing for all of us and for the planet.

The amazing little bees might surprise you with their good color vision. Flowers have many colors for that attractive reason. Bees especially like blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.

Did you know that honeybees can make out faces the same way we do? They take parts—like eyebrows, lips, and ears—and cobble them together to make out the whole face. It's called "configural processing," and it might help computer scientists improve face recognition technology

We need bees. One in three foods we eat is made possible by bees and other pollinators who spread the pollen that crops need to grow. That includes many of our favourite foods like apples, almonds, coffee, and of course, honey. 70 out of the top 100 human food crops are pollinated by bees

An important part of sustainable agriculture is bees.

There are over 20,000 species of bees in the world. Honeybees have thrived for 50 million years, but colonies recently started dying in large numbers. 42% of bee colonies in the U.S. collapsed in 2015.

Why? Renowned entomologist and bee specialist Marla Spivak reveals four reasons why, and what we can do to help in this Ted Talk.

Common sense actions can restore and protect the world’s bees. Good starting places are:
- Ban the seven most dangerous pesticides.
- Protect pollinator health by preserving wild habitat.
- Restore ecological agriculture.

Cheerios cereal (General Mills) partnered early this year with Veseys Seeds to give away wildflower seeds so that people would plant them and make the world a bee-friendlier place. They quickly met their goal of distributing 100 million seeds.

The promotion hit a snag though because in sending free packets of wildflower seeds to people all over the country, they seem to have failed to take into account that some of the flowers included are invasive species in some areas that should NOT be planted there.  For example, Forget-me-not (which was listed on their site but supposedly not included in the seed mix) is banned as a noxious weed in Massachusetts and Connecticut. And the California poppy is good in California, but listed as an “invasive exotic pest plant” in southeastern states. Some of the flowers on there list are not native to anywhere in the US, so they are not necessarily good matches for our local bees.

Of course, you can still plant wildflowers on your own that are bee-friendly. This guide for the mid-Atlantic states is useful to grow pollinator-friendly plants. For other parts of the country, go to or check the USDA site to see if a plant is native to your state.

I am pleased to see General Mills making efforts for bees, even if this seeds project was less than perfect. By 2020, they expect their oat farms will host about 3,300 acres of nectar- and pollen-rich wildflowers, which are full of the nutrients bees and other pollinators need to stay strong.

Finally, it is important to remember that you can do more than just plant flowers to help create a bee-friendly habitat. Avoiding using pesticides outside on or near the flowers (including if you have a garden or lawn service spraying) is very important.

Also note that bees are not our only pollinators. Bees are the major pollinators - and this includes not just honey bees - but also hummingbirds and some kinds of butterflies, and to a lesser degree spiders, flies and wasps. Even bats who feed on the insects in the flowers as well as on the nectar and flower parts play a role in the pollination of over 300 species of fruit around the world.

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