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7 Easy Ways You Can Help Bees Right Now

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At this point, most people are well aware that the bees are in trouble. Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially placed seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees on the endangered species list. They believe their decline in population is the result of a long list of threats to the species, including predation, habitat loss, and human involvement.

Bees are pollinators and crucial to our ecosystem; we depend on them for much of our produce. Around 30 percent of the world's crops rely on cross-pollination [PDF]. If you want to help the tiny buzzing insects from dying out completely, here are some small things you can do.

1. PLANT THE RIGHT THINGS

Bees are steadily losing ground in our modern culture. Flowers and gardens are dwindling, meaning less and less food for the hungry bees. You can help protect the species right in your own backyard by starting a bee-centric garden. Plant flowering plants native to your area with a preference toward single flower tops like marigolds, tulips, and daisies. Double flower tops and hybridized plants don't yield the same level of nectar as single flowers tops, so it's harder for bees to reach the pollen. You should also try to have something flowering all year, so make a calendar for your garden that includes flowers in spring, summer, and fall.

Once your bees have something to eat, you can build a potential home for the visitors. Leave a place in your garden open for bees to burrow, and add some branches or bamboo for wood-nesting bees. And always remember to only use natural pesticides and fertilizers that won't harm the bees who stop by.

2. LET SOME WEEDS GROW

Controlling gardeners are going to have to loosen their iron grip for the sake of the bees; a healthy collection of dandelions and clovers can actually do a world of good. The leafy intruders—along with various wildflowers—offer substantial and much-needed nutrients. Dandelions in particular are extremely beneficial to bees, as well as other pollinators like butterflies, beetles, and hoverflies. Because these yellow weeds flower between March and May, they're ready to be pollinated just as the bugs are waking up from hibernation. Each flowering dandelion can have up to 100 florets, meaning plenty of food for your buzzing buddies. Laying off the pesticides will also keep the air poison-free and more accessible to bugs who would like to visit.

3. BUY LOCAL RAW HONEY AND BEESWAX

Buying honey and other bee products from a local beekeeper is a great way to support local pollination. As long as the beekeeper knows what they're doing, they won't harm or disturb the bees in any meaningful way. Often bees make a surplus of honey, so they won't notice if we take some for ourselves. Beeswax is used to coat the honeycombs and is either sliced off by the beekeeper to get to the honey or burrowed through by the bees in the winter—either way it's discarded, so it would be a waste not to use it.

4. LEAVE OUT WATER FOR THIRSTY BEES

It turns out bird baths aren't just great for birds. Bees need water just like all animals, so they seek out shallow puddles and bird baths to quench their thirst. You can get a bird bath or leave out a small saucer to help hydrate the bees in your neighborhood. Bees like to share information, so if you keep your water source consistent, the local pollinators will get wise and come visit. Just make sure to include a small rock or other object for them to perch on while they drink—bees are unfortunately not equipped with tiny floaties.

5. GO SHOPPING

There are plenty of products on the market that will help you help bees. If planting a full garden is too much work, you can opt for seed bombs. The little clusters of seeds can be tossed in areas like your backyard or an empty lot where they'll eventually turn into a colorful patch of wildflowers. You can also try seed money or pencils that can be planted in the ground to grow flowering and edible plants.

Another option is to look into getting a Flow Hive. After an extremely successful Indiegogo campaign, the simplified beehive is available for purchase. The honey comes from a tap, making the extraction process easier for humans and bees alike.

6. VOLUNTEER

Feeling committed? There are plenty of ways you can give your time to helping the bees. You can host a bee hive and agree to have a bee block situated in your backyard. The New York Beekeepers Association offers a program where people can offer up available yards or rooftops to keep hives for urban beekeepers. The program matches people up to help encourage more hives in the city. You can also volunteer to join the Back Yard Beekeepers Association. The Connecticut-based group provides information for fledgling beekeepers and organizes educational programs for the community.

7. GET POLITICAL

Sign a petition and let your government know that you care about the declining bee population. This petition is a call for the EPA to suspend use of pesticides and this petition asks your representative to support the Saving America's Pollinators Act. If enough people come together to fight this problem, real change can happen.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
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Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
Google

Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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