How Honeybees Buzz Out Pests

Research has discovered that honeybees can reduce the activity of plant-eating caterpillars, even though honeybees dont harm them in any way. This is another great reason to promote bees and other pollinators in our farms and gardens. Not only do you get the pollination benefits, you may also be able to reduce insecticide use.

How Do Bees Protect Against Pests?

A University of Wurzburg study set up two tents that contained bell pepper and soy bean plants. One tent included a bee hive and the other tent was closed to bees.

They introduced beet armyworms into both tents. Armyworms eat much more than beet greens and are a serious pest of many vegetable and flower crops.

Honeybees themselves are not predatory and dont harm insects like armyworms. But parasitic wasps will prey on the caterpillars by either eating them or laying eggs in their body. The eggs will later hatch and the wasp larvae will eat the caterpillar from the inside out.

As young caterpillars, armyworms are voracious leaf eaters. Although, when a wasp flies over, their natural response is to stop moving and eating. They sometimes even drop off the plant for extra safety.

The study found that the armyworms in the tent with bees circulating amongst the flowers ate about two-thirds less leaves than those in the bee-free tent.

Researchers concluded that the beating of a bees wings most likely mimics the sound of a predatory wasp. This is probably what makes the caterpillars stop eating in order to avoid a perceived predator.

What This Could Mean for Reducing Pesticide Use

The United States applied 857 million pounds of pesticides in the year 2007, with 80 percent being used by the agriculture industry. Unfortunately, more recent statistics are not available, but its likely that current pesticide usage would be similar.

Out of that total, almost 100 million pounds were insecticides. Many insecticides can have far-reaching effects on human health and the health of ecosystems.

For instance, organophosphates are a type of insecticide that damages the nervous system of both mammals and insects. They have also been used as a nerve gas during wars, a practice which has been banned by the Geneva Convention due to their high toxicity.

Research has also shown that wide-spread use of the insecticides called neonicotinoids has contributed to collapsing bee populations globally.

Its clear we need to find better ways to control pests, particularly on agricultural crops. Promoting pollinating insects could be the perfect way to reduce insecticide use and costs, while also helping boost global bee populations.

How Can You Help Promote Pollinators?

You may already be using various methods to support pollinators in your yard. This will benefit your own garden as well as any surrounding farms. These are some of the key ways to help pollinators.

Plant wild spaces. Pollination isnt all about honeybees. Thousands of other species of insects and animals also help plants spread pollen, such as butterflies, bats, moths, flies and even some mammals. All these creatures need wild spaces to live in.

Any garden beds will help boost your local populations of beneficial insects and other pollinators. If you have enough space, you can designate a completely wild area where humans arent allowed.

Grow organically. Insecticides and other pesticides harm more than just the pests youre targeting. They can contaminate ground water, the food supply and the air. Its important to find non-toxic ways to control unwanted visitors in your yard.

Provide food and water. Most pollinating insects eat pollen, so including a wide variety of flowering plants is ideal. Herbs like oregano, thyme and lavender are always insect magnets. Many native plants like blanket flower, Echinacea and bee balm are also favorites. And dont rule out flowering shrubs, vines and trees like wild roses, honeysuckle or linden trees.

Pollinators also need a source of water. A sunken dish in the ground filled with water and pebbles for landing sites will do the job. Bird baths, ponds and larger water features are also great.

Almond orchard with imported bee hives

How Can This Be Applied to Agriculture?

Agricultural operations can incorporate similar strategies as your backyard on a much larger scale.

An excellent example is in the almond orchards in California. Currently, theres a situation where the local honeybee populations arent large enough to pollinate the hundreds of thousands of acres of commercial almond trees.

Every February when the almonds bloom, more than one million beehives need to be shipped into the orchards to help with pollination. Thats more than half of all honeybees farmed in the United States, and theyre trucked in from all corners of the country.

The Journal of Applied Ecology published a study pointing out that it may not be sustainable to rely solely on one species (honeybees) for pollination of almonds. Researchers found that orchards surrounded by areas of semi-natural vegetation were visited by more wild bee species and other pollinating insects. In addition, greater numbers of wild pollinators visited when organic agricultural practices were used.

Also, fruit set increased as the percentage of natural habitat surrounding the orchards increased.

If almond orchards incorporated larger wild spaces to promote pollinators and moved to more organic cultivation practices, it would help solve their shortage of bees as well potentially reducing damage due to leaf-eating pests.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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How Honeybees Buzz Out Pests

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