Bees in the Ecosystem
The score was eight to seven. My team had the lead. The last batter from the other team was at the plate. One more strike and the batter would be out. I was ready to play the ball if it came to me. I was focused on the game until that darn bee decided to pick on me. It flew all around me like it was checking out its next victim. I knew it was trying to sting me. I took my eyes off the game to shoo this little pest away. The next thing I noticed was the ball rolling past me. I had missed the play. Yep, you guessed it. They scored a home run and we lost the game to the Stingers all because of me and that darn bee.
After the game, I went outside to give the flowers a drink. Before I began to spray the flowers, I noticed many bees were gathered at the centers of the flowers. They were attentively working on a task until I turned on the hose and water poured down on the flowers. In a swarm, the bees flew away and only one stayed behind. I knew this one was after me. I frantically waved by hand side to side as this little pest buzzed in my ear. I would not let this bee sting me.I began to wonder why God put this little beast on Earth. I knew it was not there just to bother me; after all, that is what brothers and sisters are for. I thought every creature was supposed to have an important purpose in the environment.
Bees are actually very essential to the way the ecosystem works. Let me tell you why.
Bees are an excellent example of symbiosis known as mutualism. Mutualism is the association between unlike organisms that is beneficial to both. Bees can't survive without the flowers and the flowers' existence depends on the bees.
For the bees, the pollen and nectar from many flowers is an important source of fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The nectar is a source of energy.
Bees gradually switched from eating other insects to flowers as their source of food. With the passage of time, bees have become completely dependent on flowers as a food source.
As bees travel from one blossom to another, pollen clings to their fuzzy bodies. It is then transferred to the other flowers of the same species. This pollinates or fertilizes the plant. Plants then can produce their own fruits and seeds.
Many animals and insects that spread pollen have disappeared from the land as it has been destroyed. The honey bee has taken over as the main pollinator of these flowers. Scientists believe that over the years bees have helped create the wild variety of flowers that exist today by spreading the pollen. The honey bee is the primary source of pollination for approximately one-quarter of all crops.
There are tons of fruit crops that rely on the honey bee for its role in pollination. This large group includes almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, blackberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, pears, raspberries, strawberries, and watermelon.The seeds of many vegetables also depend on the honey bee. The value of crops that rely on the bee has been estimated as high as ten billion dollars annually in the United States. The queen (head bumble bee) hibernates during the winter season and begins a new colony in the spring. Bee scientists have developed a way for the queens to skip their hibernation and produce colonies year round. Colonies of bumble bees are used extensively in greenhouse pollination of crops such as strawberries and tomatoes.
Honey bees are an excellent source of honey and beeswax. These substance are used to make many objects that are useful to humans such as candles, polishes, and ointments. Beeswax can be used to make gum, inks, lipsticks, and crayons. Honey bees produce a gummy substance called propolis, which they convert from tree sap. In addition to its anitbacterial properties, propolis also contains royal jelly and pollen for human consumption. Honey bee venom is extracted and used in the production of antivenom therapies. This is being investigated as a treatment for several diseases of the muscles, connective tissue, and immune system. This also includes multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
The bees' dance language is an important survival strategy that has helped the honey bee be such a success as a species. A bee will go out of the hive and try to find a new source of food such as a field in bloom. The bee will then fill her sac with nectar and return to its nest or hive. It will perform a vigorous but highly standardized "dance." By doing the "dance," the bee communicates with the others to tell them where the new food source is located. Every movement such as moving in a circular shape or wagging the abdomen means something different and important to the bees. Other bees will follow the dancers in its movements. Workers will smell the fragrance of the flowers from the nectar which was collected in the "dance." After learning where and what it smells like, the bees journey out to find the source. Workers collect pollen from flowers and take it back to the colony in pollen baskets on their hind legs.
The nectar from flowers is carried in a special part of its stomach. Enzymes are added during the digestive process and the nectar becomes honey. It is then later regurgitated into the cells of the comb within the hive. When the honey is thick and dry, the bees cap the cells with wax to preserve it.
That is right! Honey is a bee's throw-up. I might think twice before I put honey on my toast.
The next time I see a bee, I will know that it probably is not out to drive me crazy but rather it is busy doing its very important job for our ecosystem.
Bees do have many enemies even though it may not seem that way. Animals such as bears and Argentine ants may destroy a hive in search of honey. By eating the wax in a honeycomb of a weak colony, the wax moth may also ruin it. Animals prey upon individual honey bees which sometimes may weaken colonies. Honey bees are subject to parasites and diseases. Two widespread contagious bacterial diseases called American and European foulbrood attack the bee larvae. Nosema, a protozoan parasite, and virus, can cause dysentery and paralysis in adult bees. Mites, also called honey bee mites, have destroyed thousands of hives in Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Thousands of bees are killed each year by insecticides meant to kill other insects. Weed sprays destroy an important source of food for the bees by killing weeds and their flowers. I can not help but imagine what would happen to the environment and ecosystem if all the different species of bees disappeared. This little creature which everyone looks on as a nuisance would change the ecosystem so much for the worse.
If the bees began to disappear, we would rely more on other insects and mammals to spread the pollen of flowers. The pollination process of the flowers would begin to slow down and eventually some species of wild flowers would begin to become extinct. The flowers would not be the only ones to suffer from this. Many animals would also suffer from a loss of food. In return, this group of herbivores would begin to thin out. The process of elimination does not stop here. Many carnivores that feed on the herbivores would have a hard time finding food and could die of starvation. Now you can see what an important and necessary role the bees have in the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
Humans would be affected by the loss of this species. Some of the plants and flowers that produce fruits and vegetables would begin to disappear. This means that some fruits and vegetables would become scarce and prices would most likely go up on these items. We would have to live without some of the other products bees help make.
The next time I step outside on a summer day, I will most likely come face-to-face with a bee. I will still think they are a nuisance and a bother, but I will also think much more of them. I have begun to realize whether it is big or small, beautiful or ugly, it serves a very important and unique purpose in the ecosystem. Whether it is a bee or any other inhabitant on Earth, it is there for a reason. When I see a bee and I am ready to stomp my foot down on it or spray a weed killer, I will think twice about it. I will remember how essential the bees and flowers are to the delicate balance of the ecosystem and that God truly does not create junk!
Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, "Bee," 1993.
LaMond, Emily. Illustrations. January 1998.
Lecht, Jane. Honey Bees. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1973.
Mairson, Alan. "America's Beekeepers Hives for Hire," National Geographic, vol. 183, (May 1993), 73-93, Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia, "Bee," "Bumble Bee", and "Honey Bee" U.S.A.: Microsoft Corporation, 1997.
World Book Encyclopedia, "Bee," volume 2, 200-206. U.S.A.: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1996.
More About This Resource...
Less than 1 period.
Supplement a study of biology with an activity drawn from this winning student essay.
- Survey the class to find out if they would prefer to live in a world free of bees. Why or why not?
- Send students to this online article, or print copies of the essay for them to read.
- Have students write a one-page response to the article, detailing whether their original opinion about a bee-free world changed has and why.
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