Pollinator Week: A History

Pollinator Week: A History

Reading Time: 4 minutes

There isn’t a beekeeper alive who doesn’t understand the critical role honey bees play in the world’s food supply. It’s said that one of every three bites of food we consume relies on pollination, and bees do much of that work. 

There are nearly 20,000 known bee species in the world. Claimants for the world’s tiniest bee toggle between North America’s Perdita minima and Australia’s minute Quasihesma bees, while the largest is Wallace’s giant bee (native to Indonesia). Four thousand bees are native to the United States. 

But bees aren’t the only pollinators on this planet. In fact, the natural world abounds in critically important pollinators — thousands of species of bees, of course; but also, many birds, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, and bats. In short, if it flies, it likely plays a part in pollination. 

About 75% of all flowering plants need help moving pollen from plant to plant. Fortunately, there is an army of assistants — about 1,000 different kinds of vertebrates (birds, bats, small mammals) and an enormous variety of beneficial insects (flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and of course bees) — to assist. 

The importance of these, and other pollinators, cannot be underscored enough. Many pollinators are “keystone species,” meaning their role is critical to the survival of an ecosystem — not least the human food chain. An estimated one-third of all foods, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines are due to the activity of pollinators. For farmers, encouraging pollinators increases crop yields with a positive impact on profits. 

While it might seem overboard to celebrate the movement of pollen from plant to plant, make no mistake — without the combined efforts of all these diverse creatures, the world would be a very different (and dismal) place. 

A Monarch Butterfly feeds on orange Butterfly Weed Flowers in the garden.

That difference may be coming sooner than we think. World-wide, the number of pollinators is dropping alarmingly. Habitat fragmentation, pesticide use, and the spread of emergent pathogens, parasites, and predators have wreaked havoc on pollinator populations. According to the Bee Informed Partnership, U.S. beekeepers have lost as much as 30% of their colonies every year since 2006. 

That’s why Pollinator Week — recognized internationally but observed in the United States during the third full week in June — celebrates each and every last one of these beautiful animals. 

How did Pollinator Week get started? This observance was the brainchild of a Georgia senator named Saxby Chambliss, who sponsored Senate Resolution 580 back in 2007: “A resolution recognizing the importance of pollinators to ecosystem health and agriculture in the United States and the value of partnership efforts to increase awareness about pollinators and support for protecting and sustaining pollinators by designating June 24 through June 30, 2007, as ‘National Pollinator Week.’” 

The legislation highlighted the importance of pollinators not just to agriculture, but to the overall health of the economy. It also focused on some potentially dire results if pollinators are not supported. From this humble start, nations around the world have joined to officially support and recognize the importance of pollinators to the health of both the ecosystem and human wellbeing. This year’s Pollinator Week is June 20-26, 2022. 

At first, Pollinator Week was simply marked as a “necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations,” as noted on the website Pollinator.org. “Pollinator Week has now grown into an international celebration, promoting the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, and beetles.” 

Why celebrate Pollinator Week? Why do governments have to make this something official? The answer is simple: when government agencies partner with private corporations and individuals to encourage pollinator-friendly practices, good things can happen. Additional legislation, as well as the efforts of private-sector groups, has taken actions related to pesticide use that may harm pollinators. Farmers and landowners are given incentives to grow pollen-bearing plants, often in places not used for crops (center strips of dirt roads, around the base of solar panels, waste strips near highways, etc.). 

Hovering bird feeds with a bright colorful background.

Efforts at promoting pollinator health run the gamut from voluntary to mandated, and from urban to rural. Highway cloverleaf spaces and roadside areas are often seeded with wildflowers, which not only look lovely but provide resources for pollinators. School curricula include the role and importance of pollinators in our food supply. Farmers are urged to consider how their actions impact beneficial organisms. Urban residents are encouraged to grow flowers on their balconies or backyards. 

Above all, the advantage of an official “Pollinator Week” is to raise awareness for both deliberate and unintended actions that can harm pollinators and ultimately damage natural resources, with staggering long-term impacts on human health — “what could be a significant threat to global food webs, the integrity of biodiversity, and human health,” to quote the original government proclamation. The lavish and indiscriminate use of pesticides is one of the clearest examples, but such awareness also includes such things as the impact of pollution, and habitat loss and fragmentation. 

But aside from all of the official muckety-muck, celebrating Pollinator Week is just plain fun! What better excuse is there to plant flowers, make crafts (such as mason bee nest boxes), and install bat houses? What better excuse to involve children in creating pollinator-friendly housing from recycled materials or show them how many butterflies are attracted to flowering herbs? What better excuse (for all ages) to engage in nature walks and photography expeditions? What better excuse to create meals made entirely from pollinated products to appreciate the benefits? 

So consider hosting a party (or a work party) to celebrate Pollinator Week. The smallest of creatures need our help … and we need theirs as well. 

PATRICE LEWIS is a wife, mother, homesteader, homeschooler, author, blogger, columnist, and speaker. An advocate of simple living and self-sufficiency, she has practiced and written about self-reliance and preparedness for almost 30 years. She is experienced in homestead animal husbandry and small-scale dairy production, food preservation and canning, country relocation, home-based businesses, homeschooling, personal money management, and food self-sufficiency. Follow her website http://www.patricelewis.com/ or blog http://www.rural-revolution.com/. 

Originally published in the June/July 2022 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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