If you've bought a box of Cheerios recently, you may have noticed something strange. Your daily breakfast companion, Buzz the Bee, the Cheerios mascot is no longer there. In his place is an empty white outline. The cereal company announced this week that they were taking Buzz off as a reminder that populations of bees and other pollinators around the world are declining drastically, and if we don't start doing something to help them soon, Buzz may never come back.
Some 20,000 different species of bees and other pollinators help contribute to the growth of fruits, nuts, vegetables, and flowering plants. In fact, they play a critical role in pollinating 35 percent of global crop plants, an ecosystem service that is worth as much as $577 billion a year.
But bee populations around the world have plummeted in recent years. Habitat loss, pesticides and disease have all taken a toll. In 2015, scientists reported that 42 percent of bee colonies in the US had died. And for the first time this year, a bee species in the continental U.S. was declared endangered by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Buzz is missing because there's something serious going on with the world's bees," Cheerios posted on its website. "Bee populations everywhere have been declining at an alarming rate, and that includes honeybees like Buzz."
In an effort to raise awareness about the issue, the company has launched a campaign called #BringBacktheBees. They are giving away wildflower seeds, hoping to plant 100 million around the country. The wildflowers could help increase chances of bee survival by adding to the shrinking inventory of flower-rich habitats, especially if a diverse mix of plants that flower in both spring and summer are used.
Of course, honeybees like Buzz aren't actually the ones most in danger of extinction. But creating bee-friendly habitats in people's backyards, neighborhoods, and near farmlands may be a small step toward helping thousands of lesser-known bee species as well.