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What do bees do

By Rachel England Thursday 14 August 2014

Many of us would run a mile if a bee came a ’buzzing around us, but our little furry flying friends actually play an essential role in our eco-system, pollinating the crops that form our food, and also the wild plants that feed wildlife and cattle. The fact that our bee buddies are under threat is quite serious, as if they die out we’ll lose the ability to grow nearly a third of the food we currently eat.

That’s why National Honey Bee Day, on Saturday 16 August, has been designed to raise awareness of their plight.

But bees aren’t just pollen deliverymen. Check out these fascinating bee facts and read on to learn how to do your bit to keep the bee population bright and buzzing.  

The Buzz about Bees

Amazing facts about bees

Their sting isn’t all bad

In fact, the toxin in bee venom may prevent HIV and ease the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. And it’s not just the sting that’s useful for us. The resin bees used to reinforce their hives – called propolis – can be used by humans to relieve cold sores, herpes, cavities and even skin conditions such as eczema.

Their brains are ageless

Scientists have found that when older bees do the jobs usually reserved for younger bees, their brains stop ageing.

They recognise human faces

Honeybees identify faces the same way we do, by taking separate parts such as eyebrows, eyes and lips and putting them together to form a whole picture – it’s called ‘configular processing’.

They have their own personalities

Bees might seem like interchangeable drones, but researchers have found that some bees are more thrill-seeking than others, and even that agitated bees can display pessimistic tendencies, which may suggest that to some extent they’re capable of feelings.

They are good at maths

Figuring out the shortest distance between several visiting points is known as the ‘travelling salesman problem’ to us humans, and it’s a dilemma that can stump even the brightest brains. Bees have got it covered, though, instinctively taking the shortest route between flowers every time. They’re the only animals known to solve this problem.

They’re the world’s best builders

Mathematical thinkers have long lauded the merits of the honeycomb structure, and it’s now generally accepted that they’re the most efficient in nature, using the least amount of wax, with walls meeting at perfect 120˚ angles. 

How can you help the bees?

It’s clear then that bees are more than worthy of a helping hand from us, and there are lots of ways we can give it.

1. Give them a chance!

Bees aren’t out to get you, and will only sting you as a last possible resort, so try not to flap around when one comes over – and definitely don’t squash it! Sit still and it’ll be on its merry way soon enough.

2. Plant bee-friendly flowers

One of the biggest threats facing bees is a lack of habitat due to intensive monoculture-based farming practices, the destruction of natural environments and a trend towards pristine, landscaped and flower-free gardens. Simply planting a few flowers and plants in your garden will give bees a place to rest and forage. 

3. Don’t mind weeds

A lawn full of dandelions might not look very appealing, but it’s great news for bees. Besides, it means less weeding for you!

4. Say no to pesticides

Avoid using chemicals in your garden as these can cause damage to the bees’ delicate systems, result in Colony Collapse Disorder and make bees unwell, not to mention affect the honey that we humans eventually consume. Pesticides are a problem on a much larger scale, too, with many farmers and food producers spraying them widely on crops and fields. But several organisations are fighting this. Learn more about the Soil Association’s efforts to ban bee-harming pesticides here.

5. Revive a bee

If you come across a lethargic, wet or bedraggled bee on the ground, all is not lost! You can help revive it by taking it somewhere dry where it’s not too hot or cold, and presenting it with a solution of sugar and clean water (one part sugar to two parts water). Don’t use honey, which may contain traces of viruses that can be passed on to the bee.

You’ll need to put the solution in a tiny bee-sized receptacle such as a bottle lid or teaspoon, near the bee, which will hopefully perk up after a sip. They’re pretty resilient creatures so even the saddest-looking bee might surprise you by buzzing back to life!

6. Become a beekeeper

More and more people are tapping into the joys of beekeeping. It’s an inexpensive hobby that offers great enjoyment for people that love nature and the outdoors, plus you get the added benefit of free honey! The British Beekeepers Association is a great place to find out more. Not sure about a whole hive? Put up a bee house, available from garden centres, that offer refuge and hibernation spots for bees on the go.

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