Most of us will agree: Bees are not fish — but a California court recently declared they are, thanks to an odd loophole that’s worth buzzing about.
Bees, small as they are, are essential for life on Earth. We can thank bees for tasty goods like chocolate, strawberries, coffee, and (of course) honey.
In addition to pollinating the food we need to survive, bees pollinate trees and flowers that create habitats for other wildlife. In the U.S. alone, these services are estimated to be worth an estimated $15 billion annually. Bees constitute an integral part of any food web, yet as human behavior degrades wild habitats, their existence is threatened.
California’s Endangered Species Act protects endangered “native species or subspecies” of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants. Bees and other insects are noticeably absent from this list, but recently they found protection in the phrasing of a legal definition.
California’s Third Appellate District Court of Appeal ruled in May that, because bees meet the state’s legal definition of fish, they can be protected under the law.
The law’s fish and game code defines a fish as a “wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part spawn, or ovum of any of those animals” (many of these marine creatures aren’t technically fish, either). It was argued that since bees don’t have backbones, they qualify as “invertebrates,” i.e., animals without backbones that constitute over 97% of life on Earth. So legally they fall under the state of California’s definition of “fish.”
At first glance, the ruling seems strange, but there’s precedent for it: The California Endangered Species Act has long protected a species of land-dwelling snail on similar grounds. It’s an odd workaround, but the end product is good for the bees, good for the planet, and good for humans.
There’s more we can do to help bees thrive. Any time of year is an opportunity to become a great bee neighbor, but summer provides an especially lovely chance to make your home a friendly landing spot.
Planting flowers in your front yard (or even just a pot anywhere you have outside space) is one of the easiest ways to beautify your yard and strengthen bee habitats. Another sweet tactic is to fill a bottle cap with sugar water, leave it outside your window, and watch your new guests stop by for a drink.