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Celebrating Australia’s busy bees on World Bee Day

May 19, 2021 7:00PM News Corp Australia Network

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Bees are seen on a honeycomb cell at The Urban Bee Hive rooftop site in Sydney ahead of World Bee Day on May 20. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images. media_cameraBees are seen on a honeycomb cell at The Urban Bee Hive rooftop site in Sydney ahead of World Bee Day on May 20. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images.

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Today is World Bee Day, so if you have eaten avocado, an apple, some almonds or perhaps pumpkin soup this week, spare a moment for the small buzzy insect crucial to producing that food and more.

We all know bees make honey, but the humble honey bee is responsible for much more than the sweet, sticky drizzle on your toast – in fact, the bee industry contributes an estimated $14.2 billion annually to the Australian economy.

Australian Apiarists Work To Increase Bee Populations As Habitat Loss And Climate Events Threaten Future Of Vital Pollinators media_cameraBottled honey collected by apiarist Darryn McKay of Bowral Bees. McKay is a ‘farm to gate’ beekeeper with a number of hives hosted in the Southern Highland region of NSW. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images.

First designated* by the United Nations in 2017, World Bee Day aims to highlight the importance of bees as pollinators*, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development.

Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) Chair, Trevor Weatherhead, said beekeepers across the nation want people to better understand the invaluable* role bees play in producing what the world eats.

“It is estimated that one in three mouthfuls of food we eat relies on honey bees for pollination,” Mr Weatherhead said. “If bees became extinct, we would still be able to eat items that do not need them for pollination, such as wheat, rice, oats and potatoes, but our diets would have very little variation because many of the delicious and nutritious foods we consume, foods which are particularly important to our health, would no longer be available.

“There is an aim to have $100 billion worth of farm gate output produced in Australia by 2030 and our bees will have an important role to play in achieving that target.”

Australian Apiarists Work To Increase Bee Populations As Habitat Loss And Climate Events Threaten Future Of Vital Pollinators media_cameraApiarist Vicky Brown of The Urban Bee Hive inspects hives at Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel ahead of World Bee Day. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images.

One third of the food that ends up on our plates is dependent on honey bee pollination and 35 agricultural* and horticultural* industries rely on services provided by commercial beekeepers.

Honey bees also contribute to the meat we eat, with some livestock feed crops dependent on pollination.

However, the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires took a heavy toll on the honey bee in Australia, destroying an estimated 15.6 million hectares of native forest, meaning critical nectar and pollen sources for honey bee colonies were lost.

Incredibly, the resilience and skill of Australian beekeepers meant the nation’s pollination needs were still met, even at this most challenging time.

“It was testament to the ability of our beekeepers they were able to bring their hives back to a strength that was suitable for pollination,” Mr Weatherhead said. “However, we should also be mindful that areas such as the south coast and north coast of New South Wales, which are typically used by beekeepers to support their beehives, were badly burnt out and this will mean beekeepers will need to travel much further distances than normal to find areas to locate their hives.”

Australian Apiarists Work To Increase Bee Populations As Habitat Loss And Climate Events Threaten Future Of Vital Pollinators media_cameraApiarist Vicky Brown of The Urban Bee Hive inspects a honeycomb cell at a Sydney rooftop site. Ms Brown co-founded The Urban Bee Hive along with Doug Purdie and currently has 87 urban hives across the Sydney district. Australian bee populations were decimated by the Black Summer bushfires at the end of 2019 and early 2020 with around 2.5 billion bees and 10,000 commercial beehives destroyed in New South Wales and Victoria alone. Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images/

Recent floods have also impacted the industry, with many hives either washed away or inundated* with water. Mr Weatherhead said these challenges gave added weight to World Bee Day in 2021 and the need for the broader community to appreciate the role bees play in the lives of all Australians.

“We believe that healthy bees equal healthy people and this World Bee Day, we ask Australians to try to identify the food they’re eating that has been pollinated by bees.

“We’re also asking everyone to help protect the welfare of our bee population and that home gardeners and farmers take great care with pesticides which could inadvertently harm bees. “There’s never been a better time to thank a bee for some of the food that’s on your plate,” Mr Weatherhead said.

Thomas Gillard, who is completing a PhD at Sydney University’s Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution (BEE) Lab, said World Bee Day is a fantastic opportunity to learn about both honey bees and native bee species – like the fact that honey bee queens are the longest-lived bee in the colony and can be productive for up to five years. 

“Queens are the mother to all the other bees within a colony, which can be tens of thousands of individuals. They can be so long-lived due to collecting and storing all of the spermatozoa that are required for fertilisation, about six to eight million sperm, on one or two mating flights early in life. 

“Take advantage of free webinars or talks from local beekeeping associations to find out more about these incredibly important insects. Think as well about the challenges affecting bees at home in Australia and overseas, and what we can do to help. Climate change, shifting agricultural land-use patterns, and how urbanisation is affecting the landscape for native pollinators are all important issues,” Mr Gillard said. 

FUN FACTS

  • 140 bees are needed to produce one kilogram of macadamias
  • 69 bees help produce one kilogram of almonds
  • 18 bees are required to pollinate one kilogram of avocados
  • Five bees help grow one kilogram of pumpkin
  • Two bees are needed for one kilogram of watermelon.

honeybee.org.au

GLOSSARY

  • pollinators: insects and other creatures that carry pollen from one plant to another
  • invaluable: extremely useful, indispensable
  • designated: officially give a name or status to something or someone
  • agriculture: science and practice of farming
  • horticulture: garden cultivation and management
  • inundated: overwhelm, flood

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the estimated contribution the bee industry makes to the Australian economy each year?
  2. Which international body launched World Bee Day, when and why?
  3. What proportion of food on the plate is dependent on honey bee pollination?
  4. How much farm gate output does Mr Weatherhead of the AHBIC suggest is the target for 2030?
  5. What took a heavy toll on the honey bee in Australian in 2019/2020?

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Write a Job Advertisement
Job advertisements describe the skills, training, talents and attitudes that make somebody the best person for that job.

Imagine that you are a bee in charge of finding some new honey bees for your colony. Write a job advertisement for some new honey bees that are needed to join your colony to help the farmers in your area.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
List some practical actions or projects that you can do at home and at school to help encourage healthy bee colonies.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
1. Summarise the article
A summary is a brief statement of the main points of something. It does not usually include extra detail or elaborate on the main points.

Use the 5W & H model to help you find the key points of this article. Read the article carefully to locate who and what this article is about, and where, when, why and how this is happening. Once you have located this information in the article, use it to write a paragraph that summarises the article.

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