‘Bees natural problem solvers’, say experts

Eat up! One out of every three mouthfuls of our food depends on bees.

Should we be more like bees? New research shows that bees adapt to changes in the environment by finding new plants to make honey. Some say it is another reason to be inspired by the insects.

What’s happening

Humans have been eating honey for thousands of years. Early man collected it from wild nests. Ancient Romans even made laws about it. Today, it is still popular around the world.

But new research shows that its taste has changed over time – and it is all to do with the flowers bees choose to visit.

Find out more

A group of scientists in the UK have been studying the DNA in honey since the 1950s. New results show how the flowers bees visit are changing.

According to the research, 50 years ago bees mostly visited white clover. But when farmers stopped sowing it, the pollinators turned to other plants.

One of them is the Himalayan balsam flower, which was introduced to the UK in 1839. Bees are also using much more bramble nectar. Experts say this makes honey runny and gives it its floral taste.

For Natasha de Vere, who works at the National Botanical Garden of Wales, the discovery is proof that bees are problem solvers.

“Honey bees are amazing”, she says, “If they find an abundant source they all go out and forage”.

Should we be more like bees?

Some say…

Of course we should! There is lots to learn from bees. They live in organised hives. Each one has a job to do and a role in society. Bees build their own homes. They work together in teams. And this research shows they are problem solvers too – when flowers die out or become less common, they find new ones. We should definitely be more like bees.

Others think…

Not really. Life as a bee would be boring and repetitive. They work together in teams because they have evolved to do so Humans are better at thinking independently. If we were all like bees, life would be terribly boring. We can look to bees for inspiration, but we shouldn’t suddenly change to be just like them.

You Decide

  1. If you could become any animal for a day, what would it be?

Activities

  1. Draw a cartoon strip about a bee that gets bored of making honey and decides it wants to leave the hive and look for another job.

Some People Say...

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

What do you think?

Word Watch

Early man
The earliest evidence of humans eating honey are cave paintings in Spain over 8,000 years old.
DNA
The material that carries all information about how a living thing looks and functions. It can be found in honey because of the pollen that went into making it.
Flowers
Bees visit flowers for nectar, a sweet substance produced by the flowers. They use the nectar to make honey. Honeybees can visit up to 5,000 flowers in a single day of work.
White clover
This is a natural fertiliser. It helps bring nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil, which is good for plants. Now, many farmers use manmade fertilisers.
Pollinators
Bees, moths and hummingbirds are all pollinators. As they move from flower to flower looking for nectar, they spread pollen. This helps plants germinate and grow. Pollinators are hugely important for growing food.
Introduced
When a plant or animal is brought to a country for the first time. Grey squirrels were introduced to the UK in the 1870s. They are now a threat to native red squirrels.
Bramble
A blackberry bush. According to the research, bramble flowers are now the main source of nectar for bees.
Abundant
More than enough, or plentiful.
Forage
To look or graze for food as you move around.

Subjects

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