Activities aim for education on importance of area's bees

Activities aim for education on importance of area's bees

URBANA – You might want to think twice before you swat that honey bee buzzing around your backyard.

Adult honey bees have been disappearing on a massive scale due to a mysterious phonomenon called colony collapse disorder, according to May Berenbaum, head of the University of Illinois entomology department.

Berenbaum said the number of honey bee colonies in the U.S. has declined by half since 1947, from 5 million at the end of World War II to to about 2.3 million today.

"Honey bees are the premier managed pollinators for American agriculture," Berenbaum said. "They are responsible for pollination of over 90 crops, which collectively amount to more than $15 billion per year."

Concern over the lack of honey bees or their disappearance in some states has led to the establishment of Pollinator Week, which begins Sunday.

With scientists concerned about the loss of the bee population, UI entomologists, area gardeners and local honey bee growers are responding with this event, which focuses on current knowledge on the pollinator crisis in North America and ongoing efforts at the UI to raise awareness and promote conservation of pollinators.

UI Graduate Teaching Assistant Cynthia McDonnell, who organized the local event, said volunteers have worked to put together plans over the past six weeks.

"We have a group of area people who work on different aspects of pollinating," McDonnell said. "Pollination affects not just bees, but other insects and bats and birds as well."

Pollinator Week events include a pollinator art exhibit, pollinator-themed tours of the conservatory and information on how local organizations are working to conserve pollinators in our community.

Other activities include workshops on native bee identification, using a scientific bee monitoring Web site, photographing bees in nature and discovery programs for children at local libraries.

Plans include establishing an ongoing organization called the Champaign-Urbana Pollinator Awarenesss Network to promote pollination education in East Central Illinois.

Berenbaum said bees in Illinois have been largely unaffected so far by colony collapse disorder.

"Why colony collapse disorder hasn't occurred here and yet is reported in neighboring states is not known," Berenbaum said.

Berenbaum said the 4,000 species of bees in North America are critical pollinators of a tremendous diversity of flowering plants.

"Without pollination, for these species there will be no fruits, no seeds and no future," she said. "All the organisms that depend on those particular plants are thus jeopardized."

Berenbaum said Pollination Week is an opportunity to teach the public that pollinators are responsible for maintaining 80 percent of the planet's 250,000 species of flowering plants.

"There are many actions everyone can take, with a minimum of effort and expense, that will go a long way toward restoring the food and habitat resource that pollinators need to flourish," Berenbaum said.

One way local residents can help the bee population is by planting bee gardens, creating a healthy environment with lots of food and no toxic insecticides, that can support the entire life cycle of a bee.

"For bees, this means providing nectar and pollen for food and nesting spaces in the ground or in cavities," McDonnell said.

Another way to help pollinators is to plant lots of native flowers.

"When we mow roadside flowers or plant non-flowering ornamental plants in our yards, we rob the pollinators of their food," McDonnell said. "But when we plant flowers, especially native ones, we ensure that there is a constant supply of nectar and pollen for the pollinators and their young."

McDonnell said the development of nesting sites for bees will guarantee that new generations of pollinators will supply their services for years to come.

National Pollinator Week activities

Here are the highlights for the local celebration of National Pollinator Week:

– Guided Nature Walk, 9 to 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Meadowbrook Park, Urbana. Tour of a restored prairie led by UI plant biologists and entomologists.

– Opening ceremonies, 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, UI Plant Biology Greenhouses, 1201 S. Dorner Drive.

Highlights include a pollinator art exhibit and conservatory tours. In addition, magician Andy Dallas will perform magic around the them of disappearing bees, and ventriloquist Hannah Leskosky will perform with a giant talking bumblebee.

– Children's Discovery Program, 2 to 3 p.m. Monday, Urbana Free Library.

– How to Photograph Bees and Other Pollinators, 7 to 8 p.m. Monday, Anita Purves Nature Center.

Naturalists and insect enthusiasts learn how to photograph bees and insect pollinators, with demonstrations of camera setup and techniques. Photographers of all skill levels are welcome.

– Children's Discovery Program, 2 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Champaign Public Library, Robeson Pavilion.

– BeeSpotter Workshop, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Urbana Free Library.

Participants will receive lessons on how to navigate an online bee monitoring Web site called BeeSpotter and hand-on training on identifying bee mimics and creating a bee-friendly garden.

– Guided Nature Walk, 9 to 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Meadowbrook Park, Urbana.

Tour of a restored prairie led by UI plant biologists and entomologists.

– Scavenger Hunt, 7 a.m. to noon, Market at the Square, Urbana.

Take part in a pollinator-produce scavenger hunt throughout the market.

– Guided Nature Walk, 9 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Meadowbrook Park, Urbana.

Tour of a restored prairie led by UI plant biologists and entomologists.

– Native Bee Identification Workshop, 9:30 a.m. to noon, Champaign Public Library, Robeson Pavilion.

Learn to identify the different types of pollinating bees that visit your garden and parks, including hands-on training with identification guides.

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