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Five Reasons Bees are Important and Amazing

Have you taken the time to stop and notice the work of a bee? You may have seen them buzzing around your flowers, but have you considered the chain of events happening right before your eyes? These hardworking insects contribute to the food we eat and are constantly at work, boosting healthy ecosystems and thriving economies. Let’s take a closer look at these insects and find out why bees are our friends and should be protected.

1. Bees Are Important Pollinators

While foraging for nectar on a flower, the hairs on a bee’s body attract and dislodge pollen. Then, the pollen travels to the reproductive system of that same flower or takes flight with the bee to another flower, aiding in cross pollination.

Pollination happens when pollen travels from the male to the female part of a flowering plant, which fertilizes the plant and helps it reproduce. Otherwise, plants wouldn’t produce fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and more plants. Most of the food we eat comes from flowering plants, and it’s estimated that more than 80% of flowering plants are pollinated by bees alone.

Without pollinators, we wouldn’t have fresh produce. That means no more strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, pumpkins, broccoli, almonds, and more. About a third of the food we eat in the United States comes from crops pollinated by honeybees. And speaking of crops, bees contribute at least $15 billion per year toward the United States agricultural economy by increasing yields—a direct result of pollination.

2. Honeybees Are Skilled Communicators and Interpreters of Information

With honeybees, there is no miscommunication. They’re masters at sharing, interpreting, and remembering information as well as following directions.

In the 1940s, German-Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch discovered that honeybees effectively communicate with each other by performing dances known as the “round dance” and the figure-eight–shaped “waggle dance.” After finding a good source of food, a honeybee will return to the hive and dance in a specific pattern to share the location of that source.

The round dance is performed for nearby food sources. The faster the dance, the more the food. If the food is farther away, the waggle dance is performed. The angle of the waggle dance communicates which direction the bees need to fly in relation to the sun and the hive. Afterward, bees that haven’t been to the new food source will fly to the exact location described in the dance. 

3. Bees are Master Architects and Engineers

For centuries, mathematicians, architects, and engineers have marveled at the bee’s construction skills. A closer look at a honeycomb reveals several genius, inspiring design choices. The hexagonal shape used in the construction of honeycomb is not by chance. The hexagon provides the strongest structure possible for storing honey while creating the maximum amount of storage space with a minimum amount of building material. Even the angle of the hexagon’s sides keep the honey from spilling out. 

Bees efficiently repeat the hexagon without fail. This shape saves time and precious energy needed for other jobs, like gathering nectar, cleaning the hive, pollination, and making honey. 

4. Bees Are Master Mathematicians

Aside from the fact that each hexagon in a honeycomb requires mathematical precision to function as a whole, bees have figured out how to solve what’s known as the “Traveling Salesman Problem.” The traveling salesman problem concerns finding the fastest possible route through a series of destinations. This sounds relatively easy to compute, but it’s actually a complex mathematical equation. Yet bees effortlessly solve this problem every time they’re out among flowers to gather nectar and pollen. 

We may be tempted to write these little creatures off as simple-minded, especially since their brains are less than two cubic millimeters, but a bee’s brain power is astounding.

5. Bees Provide Honey

Let’s not take for granted that honey comes from bees, and without honeybees, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy this natural, golden wonder. Just like the little insect that makes it, honey comes with a series of mind-boggling benefits.

We’ll start with the fact that honey doesn’t spoil because of its low moisture content and chemical makeup. Honey also contains a host of antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. Raw honey contains amino acids, along with several vitamins and minerals, such as niacin, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, potassium, iron, calcium, zinc, and more.

Studies suggest honey may have an anti-cancer effect. It’s also used topically to heal wounds and treat burns, in part because of its antibacterial properties. Moreover, honey’s ability to soothe upon contact puts it in the running as an ingredient for several cough aids (drops, suppressants, and syrups). Research also indicates honey can have a protective effect on brain function because of its ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress while decelerating cognitive decline. 

Header image by Aaron Burden via Unsplash