other pollinators

Chocolate pollination: not the job of bees

Like mushrooms on the forest floor, new pollinator charities pop up every week. About a month ago, one of these nascent groups asked if I would endorse them and link to their website. This is a common request, so I know what to look for.

Within 30 seconds of landing on their home page—of which they are “extremely proud”—I read that chocolate is pollinated by bees. I didn’t need to look further to know that their so-called information is nothing more than re-hashed misstatements from the net.

We like to think the bees did it

I was friendly this time. I actually wrote back and told them how chocolate is pollinated and where they could read more about it. Of course, they never responded. Today, out of curiosity, I decided to check back. Sure enough, chocolate is still pollinated by bees. Really? They want you to give money, but they can’t be bothered to get their facts straight?

Frequently, pollination statements are dead wrong. I think it works like this: Someone says a certain crop depends on pollinators. The next person states it differently, saying the crop is pollinated by insects. The next person takes “insects” to mean bees, and the next assumes “bees” means honey bees. Pretty soon, honey bees are doing all the work and no one else is doing anything.

Now, chocolate is one of my favorite foods and honey bees are one of my favorite creatures, but that doesn’t mean they have anything to do with each other. No matter how romantic the notion, it just ain’t so.

The chocolate midge does the work

In truth, the chocolate plant, Theobroma cacao, is pollinated by a small fly called a midge. According to the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, this little fly—only one millimeter long—is the only pollinator that can negotiate its way into the complex chocolate flower. The fly is in the same family as the no-see-um and has virtually nothing in common with a bee.

Of course, it’s probably a lot harder to raise money with a “save the flies” campaign, but that’s no excuse. These people should be denied chocolate for the rest of their natural lives. In short: if a fly does the work, a fly should get the credit—even if no one can see-um.

Honey Bee Suite

Also see: The Chocolate Midge


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