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Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Buzz About Bees

If there seems to be one constant in the news about wildlife today, it's this - everything is in decline.  Literally, almost everything from the Sumatran rhinos in Indonesia to the frogs in the ditch in your backyard.  Among those species in decline are the bees, which many people find rather concerning.  After all, not only do bees produce honey, which everyone loves, they are responsible for pollinating a rather large percentage of the crops that our economy depends on.

Without bees, we're in a lot of trouble.  How much trouble?  We stand to find out in the near future.

In an attempt to raise awareness of the plight of bees, General Mills temporarily banished their bee mascot from Honey Nut Cheerios, and instead announced that they would be distributing free packets of wildflower seeds to customers.  The idea being, of course, that by planting the seeds there would be more wildflowers, which would then produce more nectar to feed the bees.

The rub, however, is that not all flowers are created equally.  Some of the "wildflowers" in General Mills' lovingly-produced bags are invasive pests with zero beneficial value for bees.  Some, in fact, might have harmed bees by crowding out the plants that they do feed upon.  The bags of seeds aren't specific to any locale within the United States (which, after all, is a big country).  Some flowers might be native to one part of the country and be an noxious weed in another.

It's also worth pointing out that, while the US does have lots of native bees and other pollinators, the species which makes our honey and pollinates our crops is a European import.  There are lots of native bees which are in trouble.  Unlike honeybees, they don't have an army of paid professionals and devoted hobbyists working to boost their numbers.

This is an area where zoos could make a great local impact.  Their grounds are a fantastic place to plant lots of native vegetation that could provide suitable habitat - and food - for native bees.  They can also be a great educational resource for local communities about their local pollinators.  In fact, they could even take a page from the General Mills playbook and distribute seed packets of their own.  Most zoo visitors are locals (especially outside of the tourist summer months), so it would be more likely that recipients would walk away with ecologically-appropriate seed packets that would do well with local conditions.

What General Mills was trying to do isn't really to be condemned.  Their hearts (or at least marketing departments) were in the right place, and getting people interested in planting pollinator gardens is a great step.  It just takes a little guidance, direction, and planning to steer it in a direction that does the most good for local ecosystems.

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