The next time you bite into a sweet slice of watermelon, be sure to thank bees. And when you see a beautiful flower, you can thank bees for that too. That’s right. If bees didn’t do such an excellent job of pollinating fruit trees, vegetable plants, and flowers, we wouldn’t have so many yummy foods and pretty blossoms to enjoy.
Although pollination is very important for people and for plants, it’s not what bees set out to do as they fly from flower to flower. What they’re really doing is collecting pollen and the sweet liquid nectar inside flowers to feed themselves and their young. As they do this, pollen sticks to their hairy bodies and gets carried to other flowers they visit. Everybody wins! Pollination makes it possible for the plants to reproduce, bees get the food they need, and people and wildlife get many delicious and beautiful rewards too.
There’s something else that might surprise you. Most of the bees in North America don’t live in hives or make honey. Honey bees were brought to this continent from Europe by settlers who arrived in the 1600s. But chances are the bees you see in your neighborhood aren’t honey bees; they’re native bees. Those are the bees that evolved right here along with native plants and other native animals to form a healthy ecosystem.
There are more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America. Most of them don’t live in large groups the way honey bees do. Instead, they live solitary lives going about the business of being bees—pollinating the plants that give us so much delicious food and so many beautiful flowers. And because of that, we all have plenty of reasons to say, “Thank you, bees!”
Photos: (top) ingimage, (all others) Kim Phillips. Illustration: Sherry York.