We are beginning our 🐝 Bee Study to defy any misconceptions and fear of these amazing insects (closely related to wasps and ants). Bees are very important pollinators for flowers, fruits, and vegetables. They transfer pollen between the male and female parts of the same flower, thus allowing a plant to grow seeds and eventually fruit! Without pollination, the flowering plant will not produce a fruit! And the best-known bee species, the European honey bee, produce sweet honey we all love and beeswax.
Did you know?
- Honey bees live in large groups called hives (or colonies) and they produce honey as food stores for the hive during winter and to feed their larva.
- An average beehive can hold around 50,000 bees.
- Each colony has only one queen bee, a few drones (males), and the rest worker bees (females). The queen is the only one to reproduce, so all the other bees in the colony are her offspring.
- Bees are peace-loving. Only the females (worker bees) sting, and only to defend her colony from a threat since her sting is fatal to the bee. The Queen bee can sting as well, however, Queen's sting is not fatal.
- Bees are vegetarians, eating only plant nectar. Wasps, on the other hand, are meat eaters. They use their stingers as weapons to hunt down other bugs to eat.
- Bees have three simple eyes in the middle of their head (an optical arrangement that contains a single lens) and a set of compound/multi-lensed eyes on the sides ~ that is a total of five eyes, neither of which can see the color red.
Image by the author Muhammad Mahdi Karim.
- Bees have 6 legs.
- Worker bees are females ~ honey bees harvest nectar and pollen from flowering plants.
- Male bees, called drones ~remain in the hive and take care of the Queen. They do not have a stinger, and you do not see them flying around.
- Honey bees are amazing flyers ~they fly at a speed of around 25km per hour and beat their wings 200 times per second!
We love to read and then bring books to life with hands-on activities, which is more effective for us in exploring the subject than passive reading.
After reading the Nature Anatomy book, which explains the common nectar sources for bees, we made from pom-poms 🌼flowers (left to right): Dandelion, Yellow Sweet Clover, White Dutch Clover, and Goldenrod to resemble those nectar sources. To make this hands-on presentation, all you need is some cardstock, pom poms, and a glue gun.
We also read The Bee (My First Discoveries) book, which offers captivatingly detailed illustrations revealing how these insects gather nectar and make honey, how they communicate with each other, build their hives and keep them clean, how they reproduce and rear their young and form new hives. And such reading prompted us to 📌pin-poke the dance of the 🐝bee explaining the direction of the found nectar. Just place a sponge or we are using a white packing styrofoam block as a cushion so that the pin does not poke your table.
The round dance tells the forager bees that flowers are nearby. Bees: A Honeyed History book.
Parts of the 🐝Bee and Honey Bee Anatomy.
We also enjoyed reading The Honey Makers book and learned that thousands of bees have to visit more than one million flowers to gather the nectar to make just one pound of honey.
A closer look at the Bee. Honey Bee Anatomy.
- Bee's head contains the bees brain and sensory organs.
- Eyes: Bees have two large compound eyes made of many eye lenses joined together which transmit visual information to the brain. Bees also have 3 simple eyes called Ocelli on the top of their head in the shape of a triangle.
- Antennae: (Antenna-singular) Sensory organs bees use for touch and smell.
- Proboscis: A long hollow tongue that unrolls and allows bees to drink sweet nectar like a straw.
- Mandible: Used to collect pollen, feed larvae, manipulate wax, and carry things.
- Thorax: The middle part of the bee, where the wings and legs are attached to.
- Wings: Bees have two sets of wings (four total), a set of Forewing (large) and a set of Hindwing (small), which are separated when the bee is still.
- Legs: Bees have three sets of legs (six total) and are used to move and carry pollen.
- Abdomen: Contains the digestive and reproductive organs.
- Stinger: A hard plated part of the bee containing a poison sac. Only worker bees and the QUeen bee has a stinger.
Adrian as so excited to learn about parts of the bee that he could not wait to put his knowledge to test. So we decided to make a bee, following its anatomy. We hot-glued pom poms to make a smaller black head and a thorax ~ a segment between the head and the abdomen where wings and legs attach to, as well as yellow striped abdomen (we used a yellow pom pom wrapped with a black pipe cleaner).
Our bee also has a stinger (did you know that only females have a stinger?) and a set of fore-wings and hind-wings. Bees have a compound eyes ~ five eyes to be exact, but none can see the color red (so wear red next time you go on a picnic!). Their antennae are very sensitive. Did you know that when the bees meet, they use their antennae to see if they know each other? "Hellow Friend! Wait, do I know you?"
The picture is from this source.
We also read an amazing book: Bees: A Honeyed History ~an absolute must-have for any entomologist enthusiast! The book is one part science, one part cultural history, and countless parts fascination! Bees celebrates the important role that these intriguing insects have played in our ecosystem throughout the ages. From Athena to Alexander the Great and from Egypt to Ethiopia, Bees explores different methods of beekeeping and uncovers the debt that humans owe this vital species. With beautifully accessible illustrations depicting everything from bee anatomy to the essentials of honey making, readers will be captivated by the endless wonders of this seemingly small speck of the animal kingdom.
Reading Farm Anatomy book.
We simply fell in love with Julia Rothman’s charming style. In this book, she illustrates curious parts and pieces of rural living. Dissecting everything from the shapes of squash varieties to how a barn is constructed and what makes up a beehive to crop rotation patterns, Rothman gives a richly entertaining tour of the quirky details of country life. This book is an absolute must-encyclopedia for your growing zoologist collection.
The mystery of the 🐝Bee & the Hexagon Shape
Did you know that honey bees have existed for at least a hundred million years? Some scientists have suggested that bees existed even before the dinosaurs. (Bees: A Honeyed History book.)
How do scientists know that? They find amber fossilized bees. Inspired by this information, Adrian decided to have a closer look at a wasp preserved in a solid acrylic block from our Anthropode set (buy a bug loupe here).
Learning the mystery of the hexagon shape with Bees: A Honeyed History book.
We are exploring the mystery of the hexagon shape. Did you know that it is the most space efficient shape? For example, on the right, I drew circles next to each other and offered Adrian to color in with a red Sharpie the space that would have bee wasted should the bees decided to build their hive using circle cells. (We also used Adrian rainbow stacking toy (top right) to illustrate how circles leave unused space in between. ) And, to make the activity hands-on, Adrian made the hexagon shape on this yellow plastic geoboard. I showed him how to build a square first (with a green rubber band), and then add two triangles (red rubber bands) on opposite sides. We are also using a corkboard from Tap & Tack Jr. Imaginative Design Play Set (see details in this post) and these larger tacks.
I also offered Adrian to make a hexagon shape from pom poms on the LEGO boards using tongs. He had to make a square first, counting the exact same amount of pom poms on each side (sneaking in the geometry lesson that each side of a square is identical to each other), and then adding two opposite "roofs" ~ similar to what we did with geoboards. Tonging is a wonderful fine motor activity and it offers a little challenge for older children.
🐝Bee Honeycomb Inspired Math Teen and Tens Counting
In a Montessori Math curriculum, the numbers' placement is ingeniously color coded so that your units are always green, your tens are always blue, hundreds are red and so on. (Buy Montessori wooden Numbers Placement here.) So, using these printable, I added a blue ten's number to make this number recognition more interesting for Adrian who is no longer interested in numbers one through ten. I also offered him to fill the honeycomb with pom poms using tongs (to practice those fine motor skills), and then, represent a number with Montessori colored beads.
We also used these tiny wooden bees as counters.
Tongs transferring is an awesome fine motor exercise.
To learn about the pollination hands-on, I set up this green rice sensory bin with two flowers filled with pom poms and offered Adrian to transfer the yellow pom-poms "pollen" from the blue flower to the pink using tongs. See how I made the rice here ~ in a post "🎩Leprechaun 🍀Land DIY 🌀Hydro-Gels 💚Colored Rice 🙌🏻 Sensory Bin."
Plants have two main goals: to grow and to make seeds that will become new plants. Most plants produce their seeds inside the fruit, which are in turn produced by a flower that has been pollinated. Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from a flower's stamen (male part) to its stigma (female part), making fertilization possible. Some flowers can self-pollinate (when the male and female parts are located within the same flower), and some cannot, like a cherry or a pumpkin. For example, pumpkins, like other cucurbits, have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. That means that pollen must be moved from the male flower to the female. (We learned it after reading Big City Bees book).
There are two ways for a flower to pollinate when self-pollination is not an option.
The first way the pollen can be transported from flower to a flower is by the wind. This is where Adrian was transferring the yellow-pollen pom poms by tongs.
The second way of transporting pollen is by animals, insects in particular. Kids First Big Book of Bugs.
Our bee has a yellow pom-pom to represent a special bag on bee's legs called pollen baskets.
For example, pumpkins, and other cucurbits, male flowers produce nectar and pollen, and females have higher quantities of nectar but no pollen. Bees visit the male flowers where the large, sticky granules of pollen adhere to them. They then move on to the heavenly nectar produced by the females and, voila, the transfer is complete. Also, the best seeds are produced when the pollen comes from a separate plant from the same species. For example, an apple tree can only be pollinated by pollen from another apple tree. So, this is where wind or insect come to the rescue.
Flowers attract bees with its vibrant flowers and nectar, while bees get all the pollen and nectar they want, so it's a win-win situation!
The Lifecycle of the 🐝Honey Bee
- Egg ~ The Queen Bee lays between 1,000 - 2,000 pinhead-sized eggs each in its own cell. The Queen is able to lay both: fertilized eggs that produce the Queens, sterile female workers and unfertilized eggs that produce male drones.
- Larva ~ after three to four days, the eggs hatch into larvae which are fed by worker bees. A future worker bee is fed "bee bread" which is a mixture of pollen and nectar, however, a future Queen is fed a very special "royal jelly" ~a substance secreted from glands in the heads of worker bees, which possesses the highest nutrient count. Queen deserves the best!
- Pupa ~ at this stage, the pupa does not eat and it begins to lose its worm shape and starts to develop the eyes, wings, and legs of an adult bee. This stage takes six days for a future Queen (the shortest maturity timing) and eleven days for a worker.
- Honey Bee~ the adult bee has different jobs and lifespans. Sterile female workers live 20-40 days, tend to young bees and guide the hive entrance or are field workers that collect pollen, nectar, and water. Drones live 30-90 days and their only role is to mate with the Queen.
We are using this Life Cycle of a Honey Bee set to explore hands-on the life cycle of these fascinating creatures without being stung. With these replicas and these Montessori 3-Part cards, Adrian watched the amazing metamorphosis as the bee grows from an egg, to a larva, and to a pupa before finally emerging as an adult honey bee. I believe that setting up learning through play activities like these is essential in children learning about themselves, their environment and the world at large.
Anatomy of the Worker Bee ~ The Life and Times of the Honeybee book.
The Life and Times of the Honeybee book answers questions such as Can a bee really sting only once? Why do bees "dance"? and many others. In concise, detailed text and abundant illustrations that range from the humorous to the scientific, the author offers a wide-ranging and spirited introduction to the life cycle, social organization, and history of one of the world's most useful insects. He includes information on how bees make honey, what a beekeeper does, and products that contain beeswax. Both, my four-year-old and 8-year-old really enjoyed reading it. We are using these flowers for a more hands-on visual presentation.
The Social Structure of Honey Bees
Reading Farm Anatomy book.
The members of the hive are divided into three types:
- Queen: there is only one queen in a colony who lays the eggs that will spawn the hive’s next generation of bees. The queen lives the longest ~ three to four years. She leaves the colony one time to mate with drones from other colonies. Then she spends the rest of her life laying eggs for new bees. The queen also produces chemicals that guide the behavior of the other bees. If the queen bee dies, workers will create a new queen by selecting a young larva (the newly hatched baby insects) and feeding it a special food called “royal jelly“. This enables the larva to develop into a fertile queen.
- Workers: (10,000 - 60,000 in a colony) are all female and their roles are to forage for food (pollen and nectar from flowers), build and protect the hive, care for larvae, clean and circulate air by beating their wings. The lifespan of few weeks to few months. Workers are the only bees most people ever see flying around outside the hive. Only females bees (the workers and a Queen) have a stinger.
- Drones: (100 - 500 in a colony) are the male bees, and their purpose is to mate with the new queen. Drones live for 40-50 days. Several hundred live in each hive during the spring and summer. But come winter, when the hive goes into survival mode, the drones are kicked out!
Reading Insects (Little Scientist).
Have you heard of air-play dough? It is absolutely amazing and you can make amazing figures from it.
This ultra-light modeling clay is very soft, smooth, non-sticky. It does not stick to your hands and is super stretchy.
When the clay dries and hardens, it stays lightweight, and it can be sanded, drilled, carved and finished with super modeling clay mania.
This week we had a lot of happy flying and buzzing around. Children were so excited to learn more about the mysterious bees and now when they see them, there is no more "shoo - shoo" and screaming, but rather a genuine marvel and appreciation for this amazing creature with a highly organized social structure that are so important to our ecosystems and the cycle of life. As a result of our study, children defied the fear and grew respect and admiration for these busy bees!
I hope you enjoyed our Bee study. Please, tell me which activity was your favorite!
This 🐝Bee Study was in part ✨inspired by creative Reaching Happy's Closer Look At Bees post.