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Adding Value To The Business of Cropping

Bumble bee foraging

Learning Intentions:

    Students will be able to:
  • make good visual and listening observations of foraging bumble bees.
  • apply their observation skills to recording the foraging behaviour of other pollinator species.
Bumble bee foraging on Phacelia flowers.

What You Will Need:

  • Notebook.
  • Pencil.
  • Timer such as a watch or digital device.
  • Optional: Viewing slow motion video clips on a smart phone camera may be useful.


The buff-tailed bumble bee or large earth bumble bee (Bombus terrestris), is the most common bumble bee species in New Zealand and is a very important pollinator in gardens and in agricultural and horticultural crops.

This short video is an example of bumble bee foraging behaviour on Phacelia flowers. View it to learn how to make good observations of foraging behaviour.

What to do


  1. Make the video full screen size.
  2. Watch the short clip a couple of times and discuss with your friends what is happening.
  3. Now focus your senses and brain to carefully observe and record every little action the bumble bee performs. Good observations start with phrases like "I see it doing .....", I hear it doing ........"
  4. Here are some things to look for and record:
    - Is it walking or flying from flower to flower?
    - Does it walk sometimes and fly at other times?
    - What are its feet doing?
    - What is its tongue doing?
    - How fast does it move?
    Describe the movement.
    - Is there a pattern to its movement?
    - What does it do when it finds a flower?
    - Does it do a quick check on some flowers and a longer visit to others?
    - Can you count how many flowers it checks or visits during the video?
    - Describe any sounds it makes. When do these occur?


  1. Can you make inferences about some of the things you have observed?
    Example observation: 
    The bumble bee walks from flower to flower. Inference: It takes less energy to walk than to fly. 
  2. At the very end of the video the bumble bee very briefly revisits a flower that it has already visited. Can you infer why it now flies away? Record your ideas.

Applying your skills

Find bumble bees foraging on different types of flowers. Caution: Keep at least half a metre from the bees to avoid disturbing them. Record observations and inferences for these new situations. 

  • Do they forage differently when they are on different types of flowers?
  • Do they behave differently when they forage for pollen versus of nectar?

Search for other insect pollinators on flowers. These could be other types of bees, hover flies, drone flies, other types of flies, or even butterflies. For each type record detailed observations and inferences relating to what they do. 

Related resources

Moving pollen flower to flower

Pollinators in New Zealand

Picture credits: Bumble bee on Phacelia (Copyright Peter E. Smith, NSIL).