The bee is not doing well. That is why there are more and more attempts to save them. However, they often focus on the European honey bee, and that six-legged cattle with wings knows how to manage. Are the other 350 bees facing down?
The number of insects has fallen dramatically in recent decades. This has major disadvantages, even for the largest animal haters. We depend on insects to pollinate most agricultural crops, without which we have no food. And bees are responsible for most of the pollination.
With 'bee' you probably think of the European honey bee, or Apis mellifera. But at least 350 other bee species are found in the Netherlands alone. Among these wild bees you will find impressive large wood bees (2.5 centimeters long), but also bees of just a few millimeters. There are bees in social colonies, but also solitary species that make nests from leaves or mud, or in the ground. These hundreds of species have a problem: they can hardly compete with the commercially kept honey bee.
Bee food is running out
You might say that competition between the European honey bee and wild bees is part of nature. But nature reserves are becoming fragmented and there are hardly any wild plants in farming areas. Both the total amount of wildflowers and the number of species have fallen sharply. The agricultural crops bloom only briefly and are not spread over the year. As a result, bee species that are active outside that limited flowering time will starve.
And who can pollinate the agricultural crops? Farmers use commercially kept bees. These are usually honey bees, although bumblebee species are increasingly being used. Wild bees have to deal with scanty scraps along a single field edge.
Six-legged cattle with wings
It is unfair competition. Beekeepers protect and care for their honey bees. They put their cupboards in other areas when the flowers on which they flew have finished flowering, like cows go to another meadow when the grass runs out. If necessary, they receive sugar as supplementary food. And instead of milk, honey is harvested from these animals.
So this is not about naturally present insects, but about six-legged cattle with four wings.
In addition, the winged cattle only have limited genetic diversity due to selection on tame and honey production. Inbreeding makes them susceptible to diseases. They transfer the pathogens through the flowers to other insects.
Almost every flower is good for honey bees, as long as nectar and pollen can be obtained. But there are more than seventy species flying around in the Netherlands that are oligolectic. That means that they only visit certain flowers. If cupboards full of honey bees near plants where oligolectic species are placed on flies, the competition can even become fierce. The specialist cannot switch to other flowers and can die of hunger because the honey bees deplete their food sources.
Number of bumble bees shrinks
In recent years, more and more studies have appeared that show that wild bees suffer from honey bees. A small selection: fewer bumblebees are found in heathlands where honey bees also fly, according to the English University of Bristol in 2005.
Bumblebee workers who have to compete with honey bees are also clearly smaller, noted the Scottish University of Stirling in 2008. Bad news, because a smaller bumblebee can collect less pollen for the colony. And in an experiment at the German Leuphana Universität Lüneburg in 2015, it turned out that the red mason bee had fewer bee babies if she had to share flowers with honey bees.
Honeybee as a dairy cow
In the meantime, the honeybee is fully supported. Honey bee colonies are held in cities and in the countryside. Are we going green if we are going to be beekeeping en masse? Honey bees have just as much to do with nature as dairy cows.
But the attention that the bee has recently received can also help the snow-covered wild species. The European Union has banned neonicotinoids in the open air. These insecticides are demonstrably bad for bees. The honey bee is helped with less poison, but also wild bees. That is a boost for the more than 350 wild bee species that still fly around the Netherlands.
What do you know about insects? Take this tough test from Quest!