What would happen if bees became extinct?
In a recent blog we looked at many of the reasons why our bee populations are in serious trouble. So what would happen if bees actually became extinct? Why should we care? What would a world without bees look like and what issues would that cause for the human population, other animals and plants?
Bees are one of the most important species on the planet and if all the bees died the world would be a very different place. They are critical pollinators for many of the crop products we use daily.
A world without bees would be a place where supermarkets would struggle to fill the fruit and vegetable aisles and the products that we could find would likely only be available at a very high price. Items that are common and inexpensive now, would become luxury items.
10 everyday things that need bees
Here is a list of 10 everyday things that need bees:
Apples are one of the most popular, common and very affordable fruits that we all enjoy. But without bees to pollinate apple trees this would no longer be the case. Apples would become scarce and very expensive quickly without bees.
Like most fruit trees, apples in particular require cross-pollination with other varieties that are not closely related to produce a full healthy crop of fruit. Without bees this would have to be done by human hand, which is possible but would make little economic sense in most countries.
Of course this would then knock-on affect other apple products like cider, apple pastries, and apple juice- you need around 2.5kg of apples just to make a single litre of juice. That a lot of pollination required by bees!
Berries and Cherries
Many types of berry rely heavily on bee pollination. In the case of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries bees are considered essential. It's almost impossible to imagine that these fruits would exist without bees. They would just be too difficult to produce without bee pollinating them. The same goes for cherries, so no cherry pie available in that famous Twin Peaks diner! It's not only cherry pie that would be off the menu either...
… without bees a fine cup of coffee to start the day could be a thing of the past too! Some coffee varieties can be self-pollinated but even in those cases the presence of bees can dramatically improve the quality and size of the coffee beans. Without bees they might not be a viable crop.
Some varieties like Robusta coffee, appear to be completely dependent on pollinators. Without bees, coffee would be more difficult and more much expensive to produce. Our varieties available would become very limited and what was available would see a very unwelcome and dramatic price increase.
Cotton crops do not rely completely on bees for pollination but introducing them into the crop during flowering results in a very large increase in quantity and quality of the cotton lint.
Without the hard work that bees do, several changes would happen. It would be likely that an inexpensive cotton t-shirt would become an expensive garment to buy. And that wouldn't just affect clothing, a simple item like a cotton tea towel or a bag of cotton make-up pads would become an expensive item.
Cotton crops would also be far less profitable and it would be a massive set back for cotton production, which might lead to only man-made materials available for most uses.
Bee pollination has been shown to increase fibre strength and length, so without bees we might see a big drop in the quality of any available cotton too.
Almonds are one of the most nutritious and versatile nuts but unfortunately they would the first nuts to disappear. It would seem an impossibility to pollinate the almond groves without bees.
No more almond oil, almond milk, shampoos with almond extracts, almond bakery goods. Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts would follow soon after as bees are also deemed essential for their production.
It's not only almond milk that would be disappear from the supermarket shelves either. Dairy cows rely on bee pollinated plants as a food source, so dairy cows would likely become a thing of the past too. You would have to say goodbye to most cheese, yoghurt, milk chocolate, ice cream and custard.
In time we would likely lose all the plants that bees usually naturally pollinate. All the wild animals that eat those plants would also struggle to find food. This plant based food shortage could continue along the food chain and eventually affect almost all living creatures on the planet.
Many medicines humans use, both conventional and alternative, are derived from flowering plants. The willow and aspen trees used to make aspirin are pollinated by bees. Opium poppies used to produce morphine are also pollinated by bees. The manufacturing of many important drugs and medical treatments could be affected by a sudden loss of our bee population, leading to shortages and in some cases complete unavailability.
We could expect the most common vegetable oil industry to collapse fairly quickly. Oilseed rape crops are loved by our buzzy friends and they are highly rich in pollen and nectar. The irony is that Oilseed Rape crops are also one of the crops most commonly sprayed with bee-harming pesticides.
Broccoli, Carrots, Pumpkins and other squash-type vegetables would become extremely hard to produce without bee pollination. Like many of your favourite fruits, they would just become too rare and expensive to use as everyday products, so it would be likely that they would disappear completely.
...And last but not least... Honey
Lastly, without bees there would obviously be no honey! We would be losing one of the healthiest, versatile and natural food products available. One of our favourite baking and cooking products would be gone and beekeepers would have no bees to look after. We would miss the honey in skin remedies, shampoos and other cosmetic products. Beeswax would also become something we could only read about.
If all bees died it may not be a total extinction event for humans, but it would be a disaster for our planet. We would see a domino-like effect as many plants started to just disappear one by one, and all animal species would start to struggle to find food.
Herbivores, who depend on certain plant species, would be affected first. They would simply become extinct if those plants ceased to exist because they were no longer being pollinated by bees.
The animals that fed on those animals would be the next to starve and face extinction... and so on as each link in our natural food chain broke down. The price of food and medicines would become out of control, leading to an economic disaster.
It's almost impossible to overstate how much bees play an essential role in the global food supply and natural balance of the planet. It's important not just for us that bees survive, but for every living thing on the planet.