April is the month when spring really begins to unfold. Flowers burst from the trees, and a slow greening sweeps over the ground.
It is fitting that April is the month we celebrate Earth Day. Durango Nature Studies will host its annual Earth Day 5K and family-fun run celebration. This year it will be held April 26. Your whole family can have fun at this event, which includes an after-party with food, drink and music. The combination of human health and the health of the planet is closely entwined.
There is no species that symbolizes the health of our planet better than pollinators – most specifically the bee. Bees native to Colorado include the mason bee, leaf cutter bee, seat bee, squash bee and the bumblebee.
These pollinators provide a key ecosystem service vital to the survival of plant communities. They do this by moving pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to accomplish fertilization. Bees are specifically adapted to pollinate by being fuzzy and carrying an electrostatic charge. Both of these characteristics help pollen adhere to their bodies.
Most bees also have a special pollen-carrying structure known as the scopa or a pollen basket, which is on the hind leg or abdomen. Bees gather nectar and pollen from flowers to nurture their young, transferring some among flowers along the way.
The fascinating thing about bees is their communication system. They are able to convey the quality and location of pollen to other worker bees in the hive by doing a dance. A bee laden with pollen on its legs dances in a circular or zigzag pattern to describe the relative position of the sun to the food source as well as the distance to the hive. The more vigorous the display, the better the food. In a sense, they do a victory dance to advertise their success to other bees, hoping to encourage others to succeed, as well.
Bee decline is obviously a great concern as so many plants depend on them for reproduction. Some causes for decline may be habitat loss, pesticides and mites. Also, the changing climate affects the weather and, therefore, the flowering habits of plants. So the health of bee populations is essential to the health of Earth and worthy of attention during this Earth Day month. The very issues that are harmful to Earth are connected to the survival of the bee.
If you participate in our Earth Day race this year, consider flying down the route noticing the flowers. I hope the winners will do their own victory dance to simulate the victory dance of the pollinator bees.
Most importantly, money raised by this event will support environmental education for our community. Educating the next generation to notice and care about nature’s subtle indicators is perhaps the most important thing that can be done to ensure the future health of our planet.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-9244. Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies.