We all love bees (until they sting you!) for the sweet honey they make and the nutrient rich beeswax we put on our skin. But really, we should start appreciating them even more-- because did you know bees are responsible for approximately ⅓ of the fruits and vegetables we consume through pollination including watermelon, apples, oranges, asparagus, raspberries and many more? (Chances are if it grows in the ground bees aid in its pollination).
Pollination is simply the transfer of the pollen grain from the stamen (the male part of the flower) to the stigma and egg (the female part of the flower). It is through pollination that plants are fertilized and able to produce the next generation of plants.
Since plants can’t move, they have to utilize other tactics to ensure pollen is carried from one flower to another. Some pollen is carried through the air by wind or water to other plants, while others are self-pollinators, meaning they produce both sets of reproductive cells in the same flower. The majority of plants, however, rely on insects and other animals to carry pollen across flowers. Bees are among these animals, and arguably the most significant pollinators in nature. We know that bees are attracted to flowers because of the nectar and pollen they consume. So when a bee visits a flower for nectar, pollen will in turn stick to the hair on her body. Then she moves on to the next flower the pollen is rubbed off making plant reproduction possible. Pretty cool right?!
There are other insects and animals such as bats, which take part in a similar process, but bees are exceptionally well suited for pollination. When bees are on a foraging flight to collect nectar they will only go to one type of flower and deposit it in different honeycomb cells. They never mix nectar within a single honeycomb cell (we are the ones that do that when we harvest the honey). So, take for example a bee that is on a foraging mission to collect nectar from orange groves. She will continuously visit orange blossoms and spread pollen from flower to flower. This is so interesting and crucial to plant reproduction because if a bee was just going around willy nilly to any old flower, the correct pollen wouldn’t transfer. The pollen from a raspberry bush wouldn’t help out an orange blossom all too much. Instead, on a single foraging flight, a bee will visit a wide array of the same plant transferring pollen as she flies from flower to flower. Based on a Cornell University study on the importance of honey bees as pollinators of U.S crops, a 35% increase in food production was found when bees are present in orange groves versus when they are not.
It is important to understand just how magnificent of creatures bees are, not only for the honey they make, which satisfies our sweet tooth, but also for all the other crops they aid in pollinating. So next time you're enjoying some watermelon or oranges, take a second to think about how bees have helped in making that delicious treat possible!