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8 Practical Things You Can Do To Help Save The Bees

FYI, you definitely shouldn't be leaving out a teaspoon of sugar and water for them.

In case you've somehow missed it: The bees are dying and yes, it's something we should all care a lot about, because bees are IMPORTANT.

@saarah_schultz / Via Twitter: @saarah_schultz

We have bees to thank for around one-third of the world's food supply, including avocados, almonds, onions, and a whole lot of fruits and vegetables that would be extremely missed if they were to disappear.

But in the past year alone, US beekeepers have reported that 40% of their hives have died unexpectedly, possibly partly due to erratic weather conditions that are a result of climate change. Other threats to bee populations include habitat loss, pesticides and herbicides, monoculture (where farmers only grow a single crop at a time), and disease.

While it's good to know that a decline in bee populations is troubling, it's even better to know how you can actually make a difference to this pretty terrifying situation. So, I spoke to James C. Nieh, professor of ecology, behavior, and evolution at UC San Diego, and Amanda Shaw, beekeeper at Waggle Works, about what we can do to help save the bees.

1. Plant as many native flowers in your yard or garden as possible.

@bernardetiennep / Via

"Native plants are generally easier to grow because they're acclimated to that specific climate. They are also what the bees native to that area were designed to pollinate! Bees need good nutrition, and having a variety of forage that includes native plants is a great way to provide that for them," said Shaw.

2. Leave a dish of water out for bees to drink from — with a cork, stone, or twig for them to land on.

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Bees — they're just like us: thirsty and a bit clumsy! According to Shaw, water is an ingredient of "bee bread," which is a mix of pollen, water, and enzymes that bees store and ferment to feed developing larvae. Adding twigs, moss, rocks, or mud to the water gives the bees something to land on so they're less at risk of falling into the water and drowning. To deter mosquitos, change your water at least once a week.

3. And don't add sugar to that water — just leave it fresh!

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You might have seen a viral Facebook post that claimed Sir David Attenborough was encouraging people to leave a teaspoon of water and sugar out for bees. Well, I've got news for you: That post was totally fake and the BBC have recently forced Facebook to remove it. Leaving sugar water out for bees can actually be detrimental, as bees do best when they drink from natural nectar sources, said Nieh. Basically, native plants and fresh water are the best things to offer to bees, and that's pretty much it.

4. Buy locally grown, organic produce if it's available and within your budget.

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Several studies have suggested that common and widely used pesticides can do serious harm to bee colonies, even killing queen bees (!!!). According to Nieh, any reduction in the use of pesticides is helpful to bees, so supporting local organic farmers is a great first step.

5. And for the same reason, avoid using pesticides in your own home garden.

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"With bee populations declining, it's more important than ever to keep our homes pesticide-free. Bees exist in urban environments, so the forage that they find in people's yards is critical to their nutrition. Plants that are treated with pesticides are extremely harmful to bees, and even low doses of tainted pollen/nectar can build up in a beehive over time and lead to neurological issues and whole colony collapse," said Shaw.

6. If you have a backyard or large garden, consider building yourself a bee hotel.

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One of the reasons our native bee population is declining is due to habitat loss, and bee hotels — basically, any space designed to home native solitary bees — go a long way to help populations recover, said Shaw. "It can be something as simple as a coffee can fixed to the fence with some reed tubes in it, or a more elaborate setup with bricks, logs with holes drilled into them, reed tubes, and lots of nooks and crannies."

You can also buy a hanging bee hotel from Amazon for $24.99.

7. If you eat honey, buy from local beekeepers when possible.

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"Honey production is generally not harmful to bees and is a source of support for beekeepers," said Nieh. However, if you are concerned about the ethics of beekeeping practices, consider supporting smaller local keepers who are typically more likely to treat bees in a more gentle and humane way than larger companies.

8. And familiarize yourself with other practices that rely on bees, like commercial almond farming.

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Another fact for you: Growing California almonds requires more than half of the country's honeybees. These bees often travel long distances, rented out to farms by their beekeepers. According to Nieh, this practice is pretty problematic, since traveling for massive crop pollination can be disorienting and harmful to bees. However, he's also quick to point out that eliminating all almond production — or boycotting almonds — isn't necessarily the answer. "This practice also supports the livelihood of beekeepers and provides money to keep honeybee populations high. It would also reduce money going to beekeepers, since raising bees for almond pollination is a major enterprise. This would then reduce the population of bees. To be effective, we need to fundamentally change the way that agriculture is conducted in the USA, but this is difficult to do. There is no simple solution," said Nieh.

Now, get out there and save some bees!

@beeingmandy / Via

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