Written By Joshua VanBrakle.

Posted on May 3rd, 2016.

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It’s June, and here in upstate New York, that means strawberries. But I might not be eating strawberries at all were it not for the help of an insect that gives a lot of people the heebie-jeebies: bees.

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It’s June, and here in upstate New York, that means strawberries. They’re the first summer fruit to become available locally, and I have a big bowl of them on my desk even as I write this.

But I might not be eating these strawberries at all were it not for the help of an insect that gives a lot of people the heebie-jeebies: bees.

Bees are some of our most important pollinators, animals that help plants reproduce. When pollinators move from flower to flower to feed on nectar, they transfer pollen at the same time. Plants use that pollen to develop fruits and seeds that ultimately yield new plants.

Pollination is critical to plants’ survival—and to ours. Globally, 75% of flowering plants rely on pollinators. Those plants include many of the fruits and vegetables we eat every day, including strawberries, a crop worth $2.4 billion in the US alone.

Bees are critical to making strawberries bigger, redder, and longer-lasting. Technically, strawberries can pollinate themselves, but the resulting berries are small. That’s because a strawberry is really a collection of tiny fruits that all meld together into one delicious morsel. Each of those tiny fruits has to be individually pollinated. Without bees, that doesn’t happen.

And it takes a lot of bees. To get a full-sized strawberry, more than 200 individual tiny fruits need to be pollinated. To hit them all takes at least 20 bees visiting the same flower, and as many as 60 are required to get the largest strawberries. The bees need to be different species too, because some bees like the base of the flower, while others prefer the top.

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A bee pollinates a strawberry flower. It takes up to 60 bees from multiple species to produce a single full-sized strawberry.

Fortunately, we have an amazing variety of bees. In North America alone, there are about 4,000 species. Don’t worry; most don’t form hives and rarely if ever sting.

Unfortunately, bees are in big trouble. Honeybee numbers have plunged in recent decades due to Colony Collapse Disorder, a still poorly understood disease in which entire bee colonies die. Other bees suffer from overuse of pesticides and loss of native plants to feed on.

It’s not just bees either. Many pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds have seen their numbers drop. The iconic monarch butterfly has lost as much as 90% of its population, and other species have seen similar declines.

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The beautiful monarch butterfly has lost 90% of its population in recent decades, primarily from overuse of pesticides and loss of habitat, including its favorite food, milkweed.

To help raise awareness of the pollinators’ plight, the US celebrates National Pollinator Week this week. Here at MyWoodlot, we’re joining in by adding a new goal, Help Pollinators, that includes projects you can do even in your backyard to support bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. I encourage you to check it out, preferably while munching on a big bowl of local strawberries.


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