Living a Bee-utiful Life

McKnight Professor Marla Spivak shares five, four, three, two, one important facts about everyone's favorite Apoidea

Gloria Gaynor has nothing on the humble honey bee. The busy little creature is part of the superfamily Apoidea--a grouping of nearly 20,000 species of bees making up seven to nine subfamilies. Found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants, bees have survived as a species for more than 50 million years.

Honey BeeBut now, honey bee populations around the world are disappearing at alarming rates, victims of "Colony Collapse Disorder."

McKnight Professor of Entymology and MacArthur Genius Fellow Marla Spivak is at the forefront of crucial bee research that may help keep the insect on the map...and many of our most popular foods and goods on supermarket shelves.

On December 7, Dr. Spivak will lead the LearningLife Saturday Morning Seminar, Bees at the Tipping Point: Creating Bee-Friendly Flowers and Habitat, where she will help participants better understand the crucial role this little insect plays in our ecosystem and what each and every one of us can do to create bee-friendly flowers and habitats in our own backyards.

In the meantime, however, she joins the Living a LearningLife blog with five, four, three, two, one fun factoids about bees that you may not know.

FIVE fantastic bits about bees

    • More than 1/3 of the world's crop species (and our diet) depend on bee pollination

    • There are 20,000 species of bees in the world

    • Honey bees, Apis mellifera, is the only species that produces honey

    • Honey bee products are not just tasty--they are also useful! For example, some have medicinal value, such as propolis,the reddish brown resinous substance bees use to fill crevices and to seal and varnish honeycombs. An antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, propolis has many uses, including for canker sores, and for certain bacterial, viral, fungal, and protozoal infections. Propolis is also used for cancer of the nose and throat; for boosting the immune system; and for treating gastrointestinal problems.

    • The wax for beeswax candles is produced from glands in the bees' abdomen


FOUR big bee bogeymen:

    • Pesticides

    • Bee diseases and parasites

    • Lack of bee-friendly flowers

    • Monocultures


THREE easy things you can do to make the world a bee-lightful place:

    • Grow bee-friendly plants, including: flowers such as asters, clover, marigolds, zinnias, clematis, sedum, dahlias, hollyhocks, and tansy; edibles including cilantro, thyme, rosemary, blackberries, cucumbers, squash, wild garlic, and peppers; and trees and shrubs like privet, honeysuckle, poplar, alder, hawthorn, maple, and willow.

    • Do not apply pesticides to your flowers and gardens

    • Support your area beekeepers--eat local honey!


TWO reasons helping bees helps you:

    • In general...bees improve our health and nutrition through their pollination of fruits and vegetables

    • Farmers, orchardists, landowners, home owners, and land managers who engage in bee-supportive activities gain improved soil fertility; an increase in beneficial insects by providing pollen and nectar; and, of course, they'll have pretty flowers that also reduce soil erosion and create visual appeal!


ONE other way people are helping out:

    • The Bee Squad! The Bee Squad is committed to bringing back a bee friendly world by educating, training, and assisting people engaged in helping bees thrive. The Bee Squad provides on-site mentoring to beekeepers, and educational programs on protecting wild bees and planting bee-friendly floral landscapes. You can learn more about the Bee Squad (and even join!) at