At least 90 of our food crops require insects to pollinate the plants in order to produce their fruits, nuts, or seeds. These crops make up about one third of our human diet. From farms pollinated by honey bees we get apples, pears, plums, almonds, watermelons, pumpkins, cucumbers, blueberries, and many other foods. Honey bees also pollinate the alfalfa and clover fields to produce forage for beef and dairy cattle. The major foods that we eat that do not require insect pollination are corn, wheat, oats, and rice. These are each grasses, which are pollinated by the wind and don’t require insects for pollination.
The honey bee is the preferred pollinator of most food crops. There are several reasons why the honey bee accomplishes at least 85 percent of our food pollination. The honey bee lives in large, social colonies which can be housed in durable wooden hives and transported from place to place on trucks. The bees don’t naturally die off annually, instead they maintain permanent colonies. Also, as Charles Darwin observed, the honey bees continue foraging on a single species of plant. This behavior, called flower constancy, makes the honey bee an effective crop pollinator. Foraging in the same species of plants distributes the appropriate pollen to the stigma of the receiving flower, thus accomplishing pollination. In the photo, we see field peas in bloom and producing the protein-rich seeds which we eat. The peas, like beans and peanuts, are members of the important family of bee plants, the legumes. These staples in our diet rely upon honey bees for pollination. For information about how we can help protect the pollinators that we rely on to produce our food, visit the web site of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign at: http://www.nappc.org/pollinatorEn.html.