by Rebecca E. Hirsch
104 pages; 12 - up
Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner, 2020
Bees are disappearing, and it’s not just honey bees. Bumble bee populations are in decline, too. For those of us who like to eat, this is a problem because bees pollinate 75 percent of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the United States – about $3 billion worth of crops each year. Plus, they pollinate plants and fruit trees that provide food for birds and other wildlife.
In this book, Rebecca E. Hirsch dives right into the pollinator crisis. Sure, there are lots of animals that pollinate plants – birds, bats, beetles, and butterflies – but bees are the most efficient. And that pollinating efficiency is important to farmers and gardeners. Some flowers, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants hold onto pollen so tightly that only bumble bees can shake it loose using a high-pitched buzz.
What would gardens and orchards look like without the work of native pollinators? Hirsch describes apple orchards in Sichuan, China, where decades of pesticide use has killed off the the natural pollinators. Now orchardists have to pay people to climb ladders and hand-pollinate the blossoms.
She devotes a chapter to the research on bumble bee decline and another chapter to the problems that neonicotinoids presents to wild bees. Even at low doses, neonics are harmful because they are long-lived and mobile. Bumble bees exposed to neonics in farm settings produced fewer queens, and another type of wild bee laid fewer eggs.
You can read an interview with Rebecca here - and look for an upcoming interview in STEM Tuesday next month.
Here are some ways you can Bee active:
Get to know your local bees. Most bees are so intent on collecting pollen that they won’t notice you, so you can get close enough to get a good look. If you have a camera, click bee pics so you can identify them later. Make sure to jot down notes: Is the bee as big as your thumb? Smaller than your pinkie nail? Skinny or fat? Smooth or furry? Striped? And definitely note time of day, as some bees are early risers.
Become a Citizen Scientist. You can help scientists learn more about native bees by counting bees and other pollinators in your yard or neighborhood. Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to track and conserve bumble bees in North America. The Great Sunflower Project relies on volunteers to count the number and types of pollinators visiting plants (especially sunflowers). Learn more about pollinator conservation at the Xerces Society.