Bees have a bad reputation. While most people feel fear at the sound of their buzz or the thought of their sting, it’s about time we start acknowledging the amazing capabilities of these creatures. Bees are extremely hard working– so hard working, in fact, that they only live six weeks during warmer months, but can last nine months in colder seasons. Even crazier, queen bees can survive for seven years! Bees’ brains are so complex they can even defy time. After taking on jobs that would usually belong to younger bees, older bees’ brains actually age in reverse. There are many different jobs that bees can take on in a hive: serving as scout bees who search for food, protecting the colony as soldier bees, and those who remove dead bees from the hive. In addition to their various jobs, many studies have found that bees have personalities. Some bees are thrill-seekers, while others can be more timid. Agitated bees have even shown signs of pessimism.
Bees can recognize human faces. In one study, bees were shown various human faces, with a few of the faces rewarding visitors with sugar water. The bees were later able to recognize the faces and remember who was more likely to dish out a sugary treat, and who wasn’t worth the time. Another testament to the intelligence of bees is their ability to solve the traveling salesman problem. When faced with six destinations in a list and asked for the quickest route to visit each without backtracking, almost all animals, and many humans would struggle to come up with an answer, let alone do it quickly. Bees, however, have no problem calculating how to navigate their way around in the most efficient manner. In fact, they’re the only animals known to be able to do so.
Now that we know bees are complex, intelligent, and resilient, it’s time to discuss what bees do for us, our ecosystem, and economy! Bee Culture estimates that Americans consumed 486 million pounds of honey in 2016 alone. In addition to this, the US Department of Agriculture estimates that 80% of the country’s insect crops are pollinated by honeybees. While it is essential for the crops we consume directly, pollination also plays a crucial role in balancing our food chain and in the development of the crops we use to feed our livestock. One article from the BBC claims that we might even starve without bees, as one-third of our food is pollination-dependent.
Lastly, we can thank bees for one other cool contribution: they help us catch criminals. Bees, like serial killers, are specific about where they commit their crimes (collect pollen). Bees stay close to home but stray just far enough away that they won’t track unwanted guests to their hives. This “buffer zone,” identified by a few scientists at the University of London, was tracked and used to create a behavior algorithm, improving geographic profiling models used to catch felons. Bees are undeserving of the bad reputation that people associate with them. There is so much more to these insects than people know. Next time you move to swat or squash a bee, remember the impressive characteristics, intelligence, and importance of our insect friends.