As you’ve probably heard, the population of bees and other pollinators has been declining in recent years. In fact, according to a recent international study, our buzzing friends are getting closer and closer to extinction. This is a situation we need to do our very best to reverse, as the truth is, our lives would be unimaginably different — and far more difficult — without these incredible insects. Here are 21 reasons we should be thankful for bees and work to protect them.
They are the foundation of the world’s food supply
More than a third of the world’s food supply depends on bees, including crops like apples, almonds, avocados, oranges, blueberries, and coconuts. Although bees and other pollinators work for free, the annual value of their services is estimated to amount to over $125 billion. And it’s work that only they can do!
They’re important neighbors for many plants and animals
Bees and their work are not only essential to humans. According to a Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report, bees play a very important, but little recognized role in a wide variety of ecosystems, and “many species of plants and animals would not survive if bees were missing.”
Honey bees brew the “nectar of the gods”
I think you knew honey would be on this list somewhere. This magical elixir not only makes everything it touches delicious, it’s also linked to health benefits like improved digestion, reduced inflammation, and speedy wound healing.
They produce beeswax
Honey isn’t the only amazing product we can thank honeybees for; they also produce beeswax. On the abdomen of every honeybee there are wax-producing glands that convert sugar from the honey that bees consume into beeswax. Beeswax, like honey, is medicinal, and is sometimes used in skin-care products. But it’s more often used as other waxes would be: in candles, polishes, and as a lubricant.
They may hold the solution to hair growth
According to a 2014 study performed by researchers from Hokkaido University in Japan, a substance called propolis that honeybees use to seal their hives from outsiders may also nourish specific cells involved in hair growth. After rubbing the sticky substance onto shaved and waxed mice, the researchers found that their hair grew back faster than mice that hadn’t received the treatment.
Their sting hurts, but their venom may heal
Bee venom was used medicinally by a number of different ancient cultures including the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Chinese. Modern studies are beginning to investigate the uses of bee venom further — with surprising results. So far, research on bee venom suggests that it may help with arthritis, Lyme disease, and other inflammation-related conditions. But just in case this needed saying, it’s probably best not to attempt this remedy on your own.
They keep our surroundings beautiful
Bees and flowers have a unique, symbiotic relationship where bees depend on flowers for food (nectar and pollen) and flowers depend on bees for pollination. According to the USDA, 75 percent of flowers depend on animal pollinators. If flowers aren’t pollinated, they can’t produce seeds. And no seeds means no flowers.
They do the waggle dance
Honeybees do a dance dubbed “the waggle dance” by scientists, which communicates the exact location of the best sources of nectar and pollen to other bees. The weird and wonderful dance involves a complex combination of crawling in a figure-eight pattern and vigorous butt waggling.
They are at the center of a beloved pastime
Beekeeping is growing in popularity in many places around the world, including in urban areas. According to beekeepers, the benefits include fresh honey, a more beautiful and bountiful garden, free beeswax, and the unmatched entertainment of watching bees do the waggle dance.
Even our clothing depends on them
Bees don’t only contribute to the food we eat, they’re also partly responsible for the clothes on our back. How? Cotton is one of the many crops that bees pollinate, and one study concluded that having bees nearby can boost production on organic cotton farms by almost 20 percent.
We can thank them for smooth, healthy skin
Many people use raw honey topically to treat issues like acne, redness, hyperpigmentation, dry patches, and to improve the overall quality of skin.
They’ve taught us a lot about the dangers of pesticides
We are learning more and more about the dangers that pesticides pose to bees. In March 2016 alone, scientists discovered that 57 different pesticides that are legal in Europe are poisonous to bees, and that even small exposure to pesticides affected how efficiently bees pollinated and how quickly they learned the skill of pollinating. Could the harmful effect of pesticides on bees finally be the reason we get our act together and reduce our use of these toxic chemicals?
They’re gentle creatures
Although the first thing we learn about bees is generally to stay away from their painful sting, most bee species (with the exception of Africanized bees) are calm, gentle and will only sting if very threatened or scared. Some species of bees can’t sting at all!
One word: Matriarchy
Honeybee colonies are always ruled by a queen, whose purpose is to reproduce, reproduce, and reproduce some more. The only sexually developed female in the colony, a queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. She also lives longer than the other bees in the colony. (Long live the queen!) She can live up to five years, at which point the bees must select a new queen from the larvae of worker bees.
They have a unique social system
In honeybee colonies, most of the work is also done by female bees, who are called worker bees. Worker bees perform tasks like foraging for nectar and pollen, producing honey, comb building, caring for the queen, feeding the brood, guarding the hive, and ventilating and cleaning the hive. Males (drones), on the other hand, have only one task: inseminating the queen. Once they succeed in doing this, they instantly die.
They’re hard workers
The worker bees are, at least! Worker bees, which make up about 95 percent of the honeybee colony, live for only six weeks. Their short lifespans consist of pretty much nothing but work and sleep.
Their eyesight is incredible
Bees have five eyes, which can perceive ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths and see color faster than any other animal (4–5 times as fast as humans). Researchers think the bees use their supersonic vision power to identify flowers and keep track of changing light patterns as they zip through foliage.
They are just as addicted to caffeine as us
A study published in the journal Current Biology found that bees and humans have at least one thing in common: they can’t resist caffeine. The study, which observed the behavior of honeybees who consumed caffeinated nectar, also found that caffeinated bees tended to act “busier,” but they didn’t actually accomplish as much as non-caffeinated bees. (Sound familiar?) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the caffeinated bees were also more likely to waggle dance their little butts off.
They’re incredible engineers
The intricate and complex structure of honeycomb has fascinated scientists and mathematicians for centuries. Honeycombs are composed of many tiny “perfect” hexagons, where all hexagons are the same size, and all sides are of equal length. Why? Hexagons, as opposed to, say, squares or triangles, provide the most useable space for the least amount of building material, something honeybees figured out long before we did! Even Charles Darwin himself once wrote that the honeycomb was “absolutely perfect in economising labor and wax.”
They may help us unlock the secret to cognitive health
In 2012, scientists discovered something peculiar about older honeybees: they could effectively undo brain aging when they took on tasks normally performed by younger bees. The researchers thought the discovery might help them develop new treatment options for conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s in humans.
They need our help
This year, scientists warned that bees and other pollinators are moving closer and closer toward extinction due to the overuse of neocotinoid pesticides, the decline of crop diversity, and climate change. Click here to find out more about why this is happening, and what you can do to help!
Teresa is a freelance writer and yoga teacher currently living in Sri Lanka. She loves to write about policies, ideas, and practices that promote a healthy planet and create healthy people.