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That buzzing is the sound of bees pollinating your next meal

Posted 6/22/2009

Bumble bee on a flower

By JoAnne Skelly

People like to eat. Many folks take the food they eat for granted, because it is always available at the grocery store. Rarely do people think about how food is grown or how important honeybees are in food production.

Bees pollinate two-thirds of the food we eat directly or indirectly. Without these valuable pollinators, there would be no fruits, vegetables, nuts or grains available to us. Animals would not have food to eat, so we would have very little milk or meat. Plants couldn’t produce seeds for us to plant crops.

Man has domesticated honeybees in order to have a ready supply of pollinators for crops. Many farms have their own colonies of bees that they carefully maintain to ensure crop production. Others hire beekeepers to move their bee boxes from field to field to supply these essential pollinators.

Not all bees are domesticated honeybees. There are approximately 4,000 species of native bees. Since honeybee colonies are rapidly declining due to Colony Collapse Disorder and mite infestations, researchers and beekeepers are looking at whether native bees will be able to fill the gap.

Honeybees are social insects that live in colonies that may contain 60,000 to 120,000 individual workers, a few hundred drones and a queen. Honeybees are about a half inch in length, orange to yellowish-brown in color with black bands on their abdomens. Their legs, antenna and eyes are black. Their thorax, abdomen and legs are densely covered with hairs. They build their nest of wax, and nests may be located inside such structures as bee boxes, walls or trees, or they may hang from protected locations on trees or other structures. Whether in walls or exposed, the nest is a series of double-sided wax sheets that are arranged in patterns. Unlike Africanized honeybees, they will not nest in the ground.

Like most bees and wasps, honeybees will defend their nests when disturbed. They can only sting once because their barbed stinger remains in the individual or animal they sting, ripping off the last segments of the honeybee and killing it. When disturbed, a few hundred bees will emerge from the nest and attack the intruders.

Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a novice green thumb, you can join the fight to save the honeybees by planting your own pollinator-friendly garden this spring, according to Ginger Pryor, horticulture specialist with Penn State’s Cooperative Extension. “You can do your part on an acre or in a window box. Pollinator-friendly practices can be applied in any size gardening space,” she says.

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