You’re at the grocery store. A carton of Michigan blueberries, an extra-large watermelon, a packet of California almonds and a ready-to-eat pumpkin pie end up in your shopping cart. How did these items get here? Sure, they arrived from a farm somewhere and were unloaded from the delivery truck into the produce department. But how did these items really get here? How did they come to be?
Despite there being over 20,000 different bee species, upon hearing the word “bee,” most people think of the familiar honeybee. That’s the characteristic black and yellow-striped critter who flies around collecting nectar and pollen and returns to its bustling home of thousands of hive mates with one queen running the operation. These bees are well known for the glistening golden honey they produce, which has been used in culinary and medicinal settings for centuries. People are captivated by honeybees due to their intricate social structures and fascinating behaviors. However, what they should receive most recognition for is their role in pollinating our crops and making possible some of the world’s most nutritious foods. Without pollination by bees, we would miss many of the most delicious and nutritious parts of our diet.
I became fascinated with all kinds of bees early on in life. I have always been keenly aware of their presence in this world, from the pollinator garden in my preschool playground to the patches of wildflowers on busy highways. As I waded through courses in agriculture and entomology during my undergraduate years, I grew more interested in the complex biology of these little creatures. So, when I eventually learned that I could study honeybees as a profession, I knew what I had to do.
This summer, I joined the Berry Crops Entomology Lab at MSU as a graduate student. The opportunity to conduct research with expert entomologists and apiculturists is what drew me to the MSU Department of Entomology to pursue my graduate studies. I am already involved in a few honeybee-related research projects, including one supported by the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative to improve blueberry pollination. Ultimately, I hope my research can be used to inform management strategies that improve the health of honeybees, as well as the business of beekeeping and growing food.
There is so much yet to learn about these vitally important organisms. However, oftentimes, the simplest observations can be the most exciting. I encourage you to pay attention to the little things in the natural world around you — you’ll be surprised by how many honeybees (and native bees — over 460 species in Michigan alone!) you will see, hard at work to pollinate flowers. And the next time you snack on a super sweet strawberry or dig into a delectable slice of warm apple pie, say a quiet thanks to the bees who made it happen.