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Your Favorite Food Might Not Exist Without Bees

Your Favorite Food Might Not Exist Without Bees

As species go, insects are generally not the most beloved. In fact, bug is a word that has become synonymous with bad. Whether its a stomach bug, a computer bug, an annoying schoolmate on the playground (stop bugging me), our vocabulary is full of references that define bugs as things to be avoided, even eradicated.

To be sure, some bugs do some great damage – the emerald ash borer is killing off forests in North America, and infected mosquitoes transmit deadly diseases such as malaria and yellow fever throughout the tropics. But with our convenient short-hand, that paints all bugs in the same undesirable light, we dismiss the critical roles that these little creatures play in our ecosystems – and unwittingly send the wrong message to our kids.

Encounters with insects can provide fun, memorable and teachable moments for our children, as I was recently reminded in a strawberry patch.

As I’ve posted before, seasonal fruit picking (strawberries in spring, peaches in summer, and apples in fall) is a tradition in our family. A few weeks ago, we visited our favorite local farm to harvest strawberries at their peak – berries so sweet, juicy and ruby-red throughout that they (thankfully) bear almost no resemblance to the varieties lining supermarket shelves throughout the year.

It was a glorious sunny day, and since our excessively cold winter and spring had delayed the berry season by a few weeks, we were anxious to get picking. As we headed into the fields, we saw a swarm of bees. Everyone’s first instinct: yuck, run.

But then my husband (who participates in these farm outings somewhat begrudgingly) surprised me by saying to our daughters: “without them, there would be no berries.” How true! Nearly 30% of the world’s crops rely on pollination from bees and their brethren! And bees are dying off at an alarming rate. Without them, not only would we be without berries, but also melons, squashes, cocoa, and many nuts.

Ah-ha, I thought: another great educational opportunity at a local farm – the importance of insects, even those (like bees) we might want to avoid!

While panda bears and dolphins may be cuter, more popular objects of children’s desire to protect animals, Earth’s littlest creatures can be equally essential – and they are often more accessible. With summertime upon us, there are lots of fun and easy ways to engage children in learning about and appreciating insects. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Dig for earthworms. These amazing subterranean dwellers are work-horses that help produce great soil by breaking down organic matter and aerating the earth. When our girls dig them up, we discuss the important food source they are for birds, then toss them into the compost pile or vegetable garden, where they can do more good.
  • Catch fireflies / lightning bugs. No matter your age or what you call them, these summer evening visitors provide classic entertainment, and a non-messy, safe bug interaction for the squeamish. Use the experience to discuss animal adaptations and communication (don’t their blinks seem like Morse code?).
  • Observe spiders. With very few exceptions, spiders are non-threatening. Examining their intricate webs and – if you are lucky – the prey they catch, reinforces understanding of their beneficial role in controlling other insects, including pesky mosquitoes. If outdoor observation isn’t possible, you could always begin your appreciation of arachnids by reading or watching the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web.
  • Raise butterflies. My daughters received a book and butterfly house as a gift and quickly started identifying caterpillars in the backyard (“look, mom – an “Eastern Black Swallowtail”) and building them safe harbors where they could morph into butterflies before being set free. Even city dwellers can partake in this activity, as chrysalises can be ordered online. Ladybug houses and ant farms are space-saving alternatives.

But don’t stop there – your nearby park or library offer a host of other opportunities to experience and learn about insects, and thank the many beneficial ones for the important roles they play.

PS. This week is National Pollinator Week. You can learn more about pollinators with The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere program, which has a lesson plan on declining bee populations called “Bee Detective – Discover the Culprit Behind Declining Bee Populations” and a gardens activity guide on creating habitat for pollinators.

By Sarene Marshall

Sarene Marshall is a Senior Advisor for The Nature Conservancy. She she frequently blogs about her career in nature conservation and climate change from her family’s perspective.

Image credit: Royan Lee via Flickr Creative Commons

Read more: Children, Environment, Family, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, Outdoor Activities,

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65 comments

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11:15PM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

Save the bees!

4:06PM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

Thank you for sharing

2:41PM PDT on Jun 30, 2014

thank you! i hope we can still reverse it!

1:53AM PDT on Jun 28, 2014

thank you

8:14PM PDT on Jun 27, 2014

Considering how long this problem has persisted already, I can only hope that it isn't too late to ban the toxic chemicals that are to blame.

8:05AM PDT on Jun 26, 2014

Petition signed

6:58PM PDT on Jun 21, 2014

shared because it is informative and people are stupid

11:36AM PDT on Jun 21, 2014

petition signed.

9:32AM PDT on Jun 21, 2014

We only need bees if we want to eat. They pollinate plants to provide more plants to grow more food to pollinate to provide more plants...............see where this is going?

It's essential that we learn to get along with our environment and fellow passengers on this planet or it will turn against us - if it isn't already too late.

6:17AM PDT on Jun 21, 2014

Wowww...i love it always.Thanks for sharing!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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