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Why humanity needs to pay attention to bees


What do most of us really know about bees? Stephen Buchmann, a pollination ecologist specialising in bees, certainly knows a thing or two.

His new book What a Bee Knows: Exploring the Thoughts, Memories, and Personalities of Bees delves into the ‘incredible, amazing life histories of bees’.

An adjunct professor with the departments of Entomology and of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, Stephen says, when it comes to bees, “humanity definitely needs to pay attention”.

“There’s a quote that was attributed to Einstein about, if all the bees are gone, all the humans die off,” he said. “Einstein never really said that but about a third of the world’s food, fibre and beverage crops are either helped or created from that intimate pollination, that mutualistic dance between flowers and bees that has been going on for about 130 million years. As dinosaurs were lumbering along there were bees visiting flowers during that time. So, for the about 1400 agricultural crops grown around the world, at least 80% require pollination by, not just honey bees but native bees, flies, wasps, beetles, butterflies and then some vertebrates too – honey birds and nectarbats. So, we do need to pay attention.”

Stephen helps us put a new face to a name that makes a few jumpy.

“Even for the so-called ‘killer bees’ the African honey bees… if one of those bees is on a flower, she’s just collecting nectar or pollen and you can literally flick her off the flower with your finger and she’s not going to come back and zap you between the eyes,” Stephen explains. “The dangerous thing is to go near one of their colonies where you can experience the guard bees and then they can be reacting to the CO2 on your breath, dark colours, fast movement – so that’s why beekeepers like to look like the Pillsbury dough boy so you need to be in white overalls and move slowly and carefully. If the bees interpret you as a bear or a skunk which is going to come in and steal their honey, they’re going to act appropriately which is to defend their food and their home.”

For more from the pages of What a Bee Knows, catch up with my deep dive podcast with the author.

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Written By

Marc is Editor-at-Large for Innovators Magazine and host of INSIDE IDEAS, his OnePoint5Media video podcast show. Marc is a member of the World Economic Forum Expert Network, Resilient Futurist, and award-winning Global Food Reformist.

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