What if the bees died out?

Dogs might be man’s best friend but bees are our lifeline.

A single bee makes a measly one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime, but losing the sweet stuff is the least of our problems. Dozens of crops are pollinated exclusively by bees, and unless we want to start transferring pollen from flower to flower by hand, we need these little guys to keep our supermarkets stocked.

One colony of bees can carry pollen between 300 million flowers in a single day, and hives are transported between fields across the world to fertilise 70 per cent of our most widely consumed crops. They give us almonds, apricots, blueberries, cardamom, coriander, cranberries, grapes, kiwis, peaches, pumpkins, strawberries and vanilla, to name just a few. They also help plants to produce better crops, increase yields and trigger fruits, nuts and seeds to grow larger. It’s not just fruit and veg that would go missing from our kitchens if the bees died, either. Our livestock are fed crops like alfalfa and clover, which bees also pollinate.

The bee-pocalypse wouldn’t be the end of food altogether, though. Legumes such as peanuts and soybeans are self-pollinating, so they can reproduce without any outside help. Grasses such as wheat and rice spread their pollen in the wind, figs transport it via wasps and agave plants (the key ingredient in tequila) are pollinated by bats.

Flies, birds, moths and butterflies are all important pollinators too, and could keep up supplies of cashews, mangoes and papayas. But, unlike bees, these animals can’t be carried conveniently from field to field in hives. If all of our hives collapsed, there could be global food shortages, fruit and vegetable prices would skyrocket, and we’d have to find new ways to produce the foods that we know and love.


For more information about science and technology, pick up your copy of Issue 106 from all good retailers or from our website now. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works magazine, subscribe today!

We need more bees – and more bee species!

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