Sugar teaspoons for bees and science communication

Fakenewsflash: the recent Facebook post claiming to be from David Attenborough, suggesting that we should feed floundering bees a sugar solution to ‘save’ them, was faked.

I’m not on Facebook, but I saw the original post via Twitter, where many popular non-profit and government organisations promoted it (it now seems that many have deleted their posts).

I didn’t know it was a fake post at the time, but I didn’t agree with it so didn’t share it or comment on it. I didn’t want to be the Grinch that disagreed with the popular personality. And perhaps the pollinator message would reach a new audience, despite the fake news…

But what price new audiences?

Now it’s been revealed as a fake post. You can read all the reasons why feeding sugar teaspoons to bees is bad for them in the recent news articles, mostly from a beekeeper’s perspective. We don’t really know how sugar syrup affects unmanaged solitary bees, because very few studies have tested this.

This story is very frustrating from a science communication perspective. There are thousands of pollinator species in the world, of which bees make up just a few hundred. And within those generic ‘bees’, there are many bee species, even though one species gets the most attention.

Thousands of ecologists, entomologists and communicators (globally) have spent decades reminding us all that no single bee is THE POLLINATOR. So why do these misguided attempts to ‘save bees’ still get so much airtime?

And why does that silly ‘Einstein quote’ about us all starving to death when ‘the bee’ disappears from the earth keep appearing in these news stories? It’s not true! There is no record of Einstein ever saying it (read here and here). In fact, there is no record of anyone ever saying it.

And even if they did, it doesn’t make sense. Who is ‘the bee’? There are ~20,000 species of bee in the world. More importantly, bees aren’t the only pollinators we need.

Science communication messages need repeating. Saying it once is not enough.

This is a fly (Bombyliidae sp.)

© Manu Saunders 2018


One thought on “Sugar teaspoons for bees and science communication

  1. Ev July 22, 2018 / 10:52 PM

    I think the statement might originate from a book called no bee no me. There are groups that dedicate themselves to saving bee species (because some bee species are in decline due to habitat clearing) the same as some groups advocate saving pandas. Some bees are specially adapted to the shape of some plants; they might feed on other plants but there are symbiotic adaptations. Many people also don’t like bees for fear of stinging so they need some good press. What is your favourite pollinator?


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