11 Bee Facts That Will Have You Buzzing
Bees do more than just produce honey, which is why Earthjustice is in court fighting for the survival of the bees, the beekeeping industry—and our nation’s food supply.
Earthjustice is representing the beekeeping industry writ large in the first case challenging the EPA’s approval of a known bee-killing pesticide, sulfoxaflor. We are arguing this case as the beekeeping industry across the country struggles for survival and faces the costly effects of pesticides on their businesses. Here are 11 reasons we are fighting for the bees.
- Everything’s Better With Bees: Honeybees and other pollinators are game-changers for self-fertile crops. They simply make things better. Exhibits A-D: When honeybees and other pollinators pollinate oil seed crops, they increase oil content. When honeybees and other pollinators pollinate fruits, the fruits are more nutrient-rich and aromatic. They increase fruit sets and reduce fruit drops. And they also enhance plants’ resistance to diseases and adverse climate factors.
- Our Food Systems Depend Upon Bees: One in every three bites of food depends on bees for pollination, and the annual value of pollination services worldwide are estimated at over $125 billion. In the United States, pollination contributes $20–$30 billion in agricultural production annually. And in California alone, almonds crops—entirely dependent on bees for pollination—are valued at over $3 billion.
- The Queen Bee Runs the Baddest Matriarchy the World Has Ever Known (Sorry, Beyonce): She lives for up to five years. She lays up to 2,000 eggs a day. The whole hive revolves around her. The other females, all the worker bees, do all the important work. They live for several weeks, produce all the honey, and vastly outnumber the males. The males are the drones. They are kept around for mating, and once that’s done, they’re kicked out of the hive. When the queen bee dies or gets sick, the rest of the females choose a baby successor with traits of a queen and feed her a special concoction of pollen and natural secretion called “royal jelly.” The queen bee mates once and rules and expands her empire for the rest of her life. Read more on Backyard Beekeepers’ website.
- Behold the Bee’s Effects on Avocados, Blueberries and Cucumbers: According to the Pollinator Stewardship Council, when honeybees and other pollinators pollinate avocado, they increase the plant’s fruit yield by 350 percent and fruit weight by 18 percent. Blueberries in New Jersey can see an increase in gross revenues of $112 per acre if one acre of vacant land is available to native pollinators. A honeybee hive working a hectare of cucumbers can yield 3 times more fruits than plots without bees.
- They Would Fly 55,000 Miles Just to Bee…: Bees fly an average of 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey, but they don’t know how to make honey when they are born. They learn it in the hive.
- They Have Phenomenal Eyesight: Bees use their five eyes to see an incredible amount more than humans. They can perceive movement at a rate six times that of humans. If bees were watching a movie with humans, they’d see it one frame at a time, where all the frames run together for us. Bees can also see ultraviolet light, which is invisible to humans. See like a bee here, and look at flowers through the eyes of a bee here. Read more fascinating bee vision facts here.
- They Love Caffeine as Much as We Do: Science tells us that caffeine is actually a chemical that a plant produces to repulse harmful insects… except for bees, which are attracted by it and therefore help the plant with pollination. The caffeine helps bees find the flowers to pollinate.
- They Know How To Benjamin Button, and They Can Teach Humans How To Unlock the Secret to Brain Youth: In 2012, a team of scientists out of Arizona State University discovered a wild phenomenon in bees: They can age backwards. “Honeybees effectively reverse brain aging when they take on nest responsibilities typically handled by much younger bees,” reported the scientists. Their findings show that “tricking older, foraging bees into doing social tasks inside the nest causes changes in the molecular structure of their brains.” The proteins in the bees’ brains actually changed. Scientists found a protein also found in humans that can help protect against dementia – including diseases such as Alzheimer’s – and another protein that protects from brain damage caused by stress. Researchers are hard at work now trying to figure out ways to recreate these effects in new drugs to treat Alzheimers and dimentia.
- They Could Out-Dance Michael Jackson: Bees have invented a dance scientists call the “waggle dance” to communicate with each other about where to find the best sources of food. The bees even take into account the angle of the sun, and by moving their midsections in figure eights at specific angles, they inform their hive mates of the distance and precise location of the forage. “We realized that the honeybee truly is the only animal who can tell you where it has collected good food,” apiculture scientist Dr. Margaret Couvillon of the University of Sussex in England told National Geographic. “Listening to the bees could therefore give us information relevant to helping not just them, but also a wide range of pollinators.”
- Frank & Mies & Walter & Corbu … Have Nothing on the Bees: NPR took a fascinating look into why bees store their honey in the hexagonal honeycomb. Their honeycombs are not just composed of hexagon-like shapes, they are perfect hexagons, each angle at 120 degrees. NPR explains that in 36 B.C., Roman scholar Marcus Varro cracked the math and postulated in his “Honeybee Conjecture” that hexagons, of all shapes, can hold the most honey with the least amount of structural material, aka wax.
Honeycombs endure today as muse to all sorts of modern architectural applications. Evolutionary biologist, sustainability expert, and passionate biomimicry expert Tamsin Woolley-Barker, PhD, writes, “The ancient Greeks understood that modular hexagonal honeycomb makes the most storage possible with the least amount of material. Architects and designers are tapping this for all sorts of applications. Panelite, in New York, offers hexagonal ClearShade insulating glass. It passively regulates heat, while still letting in lots of light. The Sinosteel skyscraper in Tianjin, China uses honeycomb windows the same way.”
- Bees Are In Trouble, and They Need Us To Save Them: Nearly one-third of all honeybees in the United States have died in the last few years. Scientists don’t know the exact cause, but a growing body of independent science links a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids (neonics) to widespread bee die-offs, both alone and in combination with other factors like disease and malnutrition. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 800 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines. The U.S. EPA continues to rubberstamp approval of these pesticides, even though there’s enough scientific evidence to force a second look and further research.
Pretty incredible, aren’t they?
Earthjustice is also representing a coalition of food safety and environmental health groups in a case against the state of California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation for its approval of neonicotinoid pesticides and failure to study the science around harms to bees. Acccording to environmental horticulturist Laura Anne Sanagorski, less than 5% of the world’s insects are harmful to humans or crops, meaning that 95% of insects killed by blanket applications of pesticides are not pests and may even be beneficial.
Help us save the bees. Take action now.
View our infographic on Bees’ Toxic Problem.
Look at our Photo Essay The Perfect Crime: What’s Killing All the Bees.
Read more about this in our Feature Story, The Case of the Vanishing Bees.
Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.