It’s April, so you know what that means? Right on, it’s Earth Day month! This April I’m sharing a series of posts focusing on some of my favorite nonhuman beings on earth – the pollinators – and why they should be the main topic of conversation at every family gathering or work picnic or basically any situation where there is food and conversation. This series will highlight current issues and corresponding causes impacting the pollinators concluding with solutions that will make us all pollinator super heroes.
And that’s why birds do it, bees do it
Even moths, flies, and beetles do it
Let’s do it, let’s help them pollinate
Plight of the Pollinators and Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy
Spring. It’s the planet’s way of nudging us out of our homes and into outrageous joy. As the budding plant world opens up in vivid, multi-colored, fragrant scented blossoms here in Southern Oregon so goes the cycle of life with animals and insects emerging from a dreamy winter’s slumber. Only days ago a lazy bumblebee found his way into our kitchen. It might have been one of the 40 plants growing on the kitchen table that inspired his arrival, but it was I, with gentle coaxing, who sent him back outside to go about his business of making my world a gloriously floral place.
The plight of pollinators has been in the news now for years, and as I look out onto my garden witnessing the chaotically orchestrated symphony of flowering and flittering on the ground and in the air, I wonder: Despite all the alarming news, I hear little about mainstream America taking a stand for the declining populations of pollinators. What does it take to arouse profound and widespread appreciation for the pollinators? What will it take to change the behaviors of (wo)mankind from pollinator opponents to pollinator protectors?
Let’s first look at pollination, so that we’re on the same page, and keep in mind this has nothing to do with Sugarplum fairies.
Pollination defined simply is the process by which pollinators carry pollen on their bodies from the male part of a flower, the anther, to the female part, the stigma, of another (or the same) flower. Through a complicated process about which I won’t overwhelm here and can barely articulate anyway, fertilization occurs, a seed develops, and a fruit is born.
And here’s something super cool that I had to share: Buzz Pollination
Have you heard of it, buzz pollination? Get ready, this is going to rock your world. It’s the bumblebee’s way of obtaining pollen in partially closed flowers. They get their cute little selves in there and feverishly vibrate their velvety bodies in the note of C against the petals to release the pollen. Yes, folks, that buzz sound you hear is bee music. Beeautiful music.
Check out this video of the Buzz Pollination music by Anne Leonard.
8% of the world’s flowering plants depend solely on buzz pollination.
Did you also know that bees contribute billions of dollars to the world economy?
Putting the world economy aside, there is no price tag that can be placed on biodiversity, because biodiversity is the very essence of plant and animal life, of human health and wellness. If there is a catastrophe in one, it impacts the whole. This is for all life, including creatures like rats and gophers, all vastly underappreciated for their roles in healthy ecosystems.
According to the USDA (this link is a pdf): Ninety percent (90%) of all plant species need the help of pollinators to transfer pollen. By helping plants, pollinators directly contribute to food and habitat for wildlife. Twenty-five percent (25%) of bird species, alone, rely on the seeds that are born from pollination, and pollinators help the reproduction of plants that prevent erosion and that keep waterways clean. They pollinate plants in meadows, forests, and gardens. Most importantly to us humans, pollinators are responsible for about 75 percent of the crop plants grown worldwide for food, fiber, beverages, condiments, spices, and medicines.
One out of every three bites of food exists because of bees.
We enjoy the following foods courtesy of bees:
Apples, cranberries, melons, broccoli, berries, cherries, almonds, grapes (think wine) okra (okay, I could do without okra), kiwi, potatoes, onions, cashews, celery, brazil nuts, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, (this is Capitalized due to my romance with those rotund, green gems), peppers, papaya, safflower, caraway, chestnuts, watermelon, tangerines, oranges, grapefruit, coconut, coffee, squash, pumpkin, zucchini, lemons, limes, carrots, beans, buckwheat, fennel, cotton, flax, mangos, macadamia, alfalfa, avocado, peaches, nectarines, pears, eggplant, tomatoes, and grapes to name a FEW, exist because of pollination. See the full list here.
Who are the pollinators?
Besides the more obvious bees and butterflies, the list of pollinators is quite extensive and includes wasps, bats, and birds. Check out this list of foods and the busy little beings that make it happen.
So, what’s the problem?
Do you remember the Raid commercial? Kills Bugs Dead. It’s a big joke, so it seems, to rampantly and violently massacre insects.
So, what’s the problem?
The problem is that humans are killing off earth’s beneficial insects to control the 1% of those pesky insects that disturb our sensibilities for any number of reasons including: they’re eating our plants or they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, like inside our homes. The problem is that people find it easier to eliminate things we don’t understand and generally fail to take the less convenient more holistic thus longer and healthier path to dealing with our pest insect issues. The problem is we don’t understand the importance of insects. And the problem is in mainstream America, not enough people are discussing the insectogenocide that happened and is currently happening right this very minute. But the real problem, I think, is that our current society moves so quickly and keeps us so busy that we don’t stop and notice problems until they are out of control and they impact our day-to-day living. It’s during a crisis when we tend to react with great passion and urgency. This isn’t a terrible thing except it’s kind of like playing Russian Roulette. There are some crises from which we won’t recover.
Here’s the thing. We are in crisis.
Beneficial insects are being killed off right now.
If Americans are not concerned about the fact that one-third of bumblebee species are threatened if not critically endangered and that we eat because of bees, what exactly will it take to motivate us to help bees or any of the beneficial insects like the Monarchs who are also in dire straits? What will it take to get us wildly up in arms and running in circles about this? How many disasters to force us to change our behaviors? If so, will it then be too late? Will we have missed the bee boat?
In Oregon, just this one little state out of 50, there have been catastrophic bee kill-offs in the past few years. In fact, the largest bee die-off in recorded history occurred in Wilsonville, Oregon, June 2013, when 50,000 bees died in the parking lot of the Wilsonville, Target. What a legacy, do die in the parking lot of a big box store.
The story of Target’s bee massacre
The 55 Linden trees in the parking lot, in bloom had aphids. What the news does not readily share is that the problem was not the trees with aphids, because in a healthy ecosystem, predators of aphids will come in and eat the aphids. No, the problem was that the aphids were pooping. The civil term for aphid poop is honeydew. Frankly, I’ve never seen aphid poop, because I can barely see aphids they’re so miniscule. I envision aphid poop to be about the size of a hydrogen molecule. People were complaining about aphid poop on their cars. Someone made the call and out came the landscaping contractor and their spray truck filled with the insecticide, Safari, a neonicotinoid aka Spray of Death (my words). Gotta eradicate the insect that’s leaving microscopic poop on the cars, right? Spraying insecticide can be dangerous. Spraying insecticide when a tree is in bloom and when all the pollinators are out there in full force is disastrous. This is what led to the tragic death of 50,000 essential beings, bees. Folks reacted by blaming the contractors, but they are not alone in their complicity.
Another bee die-off in 2013 in Hillsboro, Oregon, and a series of bee die-offs in Portland in 2015 are merely contributors to the cumulative onslaught against bees, resulting in a 40% collapse of bee colonies (Colony Collapse Disorder – CCD) in the US in the past 10 years, according to Natural Society. Silent Spring Part II: History repeating itself.
Is the collapse of 40% of bee colonies not a monumental disaster? Apparently not, because people continue to contribute to the decline of bees in a few major ways. My next post will introduce Kristina Lefever, a woman I endearingly refer to as the Pollinator Goddess. I interviewed Lefever, and she shines a light on the four major contributing factors to the decline of bees and other beneficial insects.
In the meantime, as you bite your nails eagerly awaiting my next post, check out the first of its kind conference, Pesticides, People, Pollinators, and the Planet: Safer, Healthier Practices and Policies right here in Southern Oregon! Spearheaded by Pollinator Project Rogue Valley, this day-long conference will be held at SOU on Saturday, April 16. Bee a part of this day-long conference where more than 20 national and regional experts (including Phyllis Stiles founder of Bee City USA) will bee sharing their knowledge about the effects of pesticides on people and pollinators and inspiring with examples of how people all around the US are doing amazing things to improve their cities, creating a safer and healthier world for all of us.
“Not a single bee has ever sent you an invoice. And that is part of the problem – because most of what comes to us from nature is free, because it is not invoiced, because it is not priced, because it is not traded in markets, we tend to ignore it.”
~Pavan Sukhdev, United Nations report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
It’s a strenuous and thankless job, said the butterfly quietly to the bee.
Yes, yes, this is true, but this is what we’ve been placed on earth to do,
he replied with dignified uncertainty.
~Kenda Swartz Pepper