When is Pollinator Week? To us, every day is pollinator day and every week is pollinator week, because we’re constantly surrounded by — and dependent on — pollinators.
In fact, we think everyone should learn more about how to help save the bees and other pollinators too!
Honey bees are only one of thousands of pollinator species – and they’re not native to the US.
Just in case you don’t know, non-native European honey bees (Apis mellifera) are what produce the honey we all eat. They’re the pollinator species that most people think of when they think of “bees” or “pollinators.”
However, according to the USDA’s Bee Basics: An Introduction to Our Native Bees by Beatriz Moisset, Ph.D. and Stephen Buchmann, Ph.D., there are actually at least 4,000 species of bees native to the United States.
Contrary to popular belief, most bees do NOT live in hives or produce honey. However, they all play an essential role in the particular ecosystem(s) they’re adapted to.
Pollinators put food on our dinner tables
The majority of commercial fruits, veggies, and nuts that you buy and eat are insect pollinated. That means without pollinators, these foods would either disappear entirely or yields would be drastically reduced. (Most grain crops are wind-pollinated, meaning they don’t require insects.)
For some crops (like almonds, peaches, citrus, etc), hives of European honey bees are often bussed in while the trees are in bloom to ensure good fruit set. These tend to be relatively barren monoculture landscapes with no other blooming plants around to support native pollinator species.
Honey bee populations are NOT at risk…
You’ve probably heard about colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honey bees. CCD remains a very serious threat.
Over the past decade in the US, the EPA estimates that about *23% of honey bee colonies don’t make it through the winter. CCD is the likely culprit for about 60% of those losses.
(*Update: A shockingly high 40.7% of honey bee colonies were lost from April 2018 to April 2019.)
Are honey bees imperilled? About to go extinct? No.
While there are fewer managed honey bee colonies than there were decades ago, honey bees are not on the cusp of going extinct. Why? Because people breed and create NEW honey bees and colonies.
In a nightmare scenario in which nearly all bee colonies were wiped out from year to year, honey bees would still likely survive as long as humans continued to make new ones. In short, this is an artificially managed insect population whose total population size directly results from how many new bees/colonies are created by the beekeeping industry each year.
Our native pollinators aren’t so lucky, however…
Native pollinator populations are at great risk and many are already extinct.
What about the populations of native pollinators? Bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, etc.?
Unfortunately, without human beings to artificially prop up their population numbers, America’s native pollinator species are increasingly in peril.
You’ve probably heard about the drastic population declines in charismatic species like Monarch butterflies…
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Dangit. We have about 50 milkweed plants started in containers to raise Monarch butterflies. The plants are still small because we weren’t expecting cats quite this soon, but here they come. Hopefully, we’ll have enough milkweed to sustain this and later generations (this generation will only live about two months and won’t make the southern migration). Beautiful critters. #monarchbutterfly #monarchbutterflies #monarchcaterpillar #savethemonarchs
You’ve also probably heard the news about the “insect armageddon.” Even though population numbers of native pollinator species around the globe haven’t been systematically tracked, throughout Europe and North America there are indeed signs of impending doom.
For instance, a recent report by The Xerces Society details what’s happening with US bumblebee populations:
“Because they are essential pollinators, loss of bumble bees can have far ranging ecological consequences. Alarmingly, recent work by the Xerces Society in concert with IUCN Bumble Bee Specialist Group, indicates that some species have experienced rapid and dramatic declines more than others. In fact, more than one quarter (28%) of all North American bumble bees are facing some degree of extinction risk. While some species have received considerable conservation attention, other species such as the Suckley cuckoo bumble bee and the variable cuckoo bumble bee have been largely overlooked.”
What’s causing the decline in bumblebee populations? From the same report:
“Bumble bees face many threats including habitat loss, disease, pesticide use, and climate change. Unlike honeybees which have large (>10,000 individuals) perennial hives, bumble bees produce smaller annual colonies (50-1,500 individuals). Due to their smaller annual population sizes, life cycle, and genetic makeup, they are uniquely susceptible to extinction.”
3 things you can do now to save bees and other pollinators
Got a lawn? Then you may currently be part of the problem — but you can definitely be part of the solution.
Here are a few steps you can take to make sure native pollinators in your area have safe habitat and food:
1. Say no to synthetic pesticides.
Stop using synthetic pesticides in your yard. Period. Yes, that includes herbicides, not just insecticides.
Per acre, American homeowners actually use twice the quantity of pesticides per acre on their own yards as conventional farms do. Even if you don’t care about pollinators, it makes no sense to use these substances in the environment where you, your family, and your pets live and play.
2. Grow flowers — especially native flowers.
Start growing flowers to feed the bees and other pollinators. Even if the flowers don’t produce edible food for you, they’ll produce nectar and pollen for pollinators.
Plus, edible gardens with lots of flowers around are going to attract more pollinators than ones without flowers, so you’ll end up with more production from your edible plants if you plant more flowers.
The best flowering plants for your native pollinators? Native flowering plants, which vary by region. Many of these flowering plants are perennials that will come back year after year, so you don’t have to worry about replanting them.
Call area nurseries to ask what native flowering plants they have available. While you’re at it, also ask if their plants have been treated with either synthetic or systemic pesticides. (Neonicotinoids are a systemic pesticide often used on nursery plants that are particularly harmful to pollinators).
Just be sure you closely read the labels at your local garden center. Believe it or not, we’ve seen flowering plants being sold as “pollinator-friendly” that have fine print stating that they were treated with neonicotinoids – one of the primary culprits indicated in pollinator population declines.
3. Buy local, organic food & honey.
Buy certified organic produce, ideally from local providers that you know and trust.
For one, organic farms are better for pollinators because they don’t allow synthetic pesticides to be used and they also tend to have more flowering plants.
Also, buy honey from local beekeepers. Supporting and encouraging a diverse, decentralized group of beekeepers is better for honey bee populations than having a few massive, commercial bee operations.
We get our honey from our neighbor 100 yards down the street, and we now have our own hive too. This means even the inedible flowering plants in our yard are producing a food crop (honey), and all of our insect-pollinated plants are getting extra help.
Spread the word!
What else can you do to help? Spread the word to your friends and neighbors. That’s how positive change happens, one person at a time.
Since most people only know and care about honey bees, here’s a simple image you can share to help spread the word, and help save your native pollinators as well:
Thanks for caring and thanks for sharing!
This article last updated on 7/1/19.