- Big intentions
Students will be able to:
- describe what bees are
- explain the importance of bees
- conduct good observations of bee behaviour and body structures
- conduct practical investigations into aspects of bees and their relationship with plants and pollination
- describe threats to bee health and numbers
- describe and implement ways to help bees.
Foundational Science Capabilities
The five Foundational Science Capabilities are a key focus within the Nature of Science strand and should be emphasised within this unit. It is suggested that one component of a given Capability is foregrounded at any one time. However, most of the five Capabilities are inherent within most activities.
Key science concepts
- Bees are insects.
- Bees are important pollinators.
- Bees need plants for their food sources — pollen and nectar.
- Many plants need bees for pollination.
- Pollination is the process of moving pollen from one flower to another of the same species.
- Pollination is the first step in the production of seeds which are baby dormant plants.
- Humans and other animals eat many types of seeds from bee-pollinated plants, e.g. peas and beans.
- Bee pollinated seeds are needed to grow a huge range of plants we and other animals eat.
- There are many reasons for the decline in New Zealand's wild bee populations (e.g. bumble bees and native bees), but habitat loss is the most important. Honey bees too, need help through access to better quality food sources and less competition from introduced pests.
- In a practical way, by creating suitable habitat and growing varied flowers over most of the year, we can help bolster bee populations.
- Warning: Keep at least 1 metre from bees that are foraging on flowers. Mitigate any risks associated with potential stings and allergic reactions by being prepared with a risk assessment plan, appropriate caregiver permissions, medicines, and adult supervision.
- bumble bee
- honey bee
- pollen basket
All photos: Copyright Peter E Smith, NSIL.
This unit/topic strives to engage students in and enhance their awareness of bees as: living creatures; important plant pollinators; crucial for food production; and, important links in the web of life in natural and modified landscapes, including farmland and gardens. It also looks at why many types of bees are under threat due to human practices, and how we can help locally to increase bee numbers and support their health.
Mix and match the following ideas that are most relevant to your school, community and local environment.
Overarching learning intentions
Nature of science
Investigating in science
Communicating in science
Participating and contributing
Local beekeeper visit
Local farmers and horticulturalists
Local planting working bee
Suggested learning path
What are bees?
- Show pictures of insects and discuss which are bees, and why. What features do bees have in common? (see KEY IDEAS box below).
- Baking with honey, e.g. share rice bubble slice (a key ingredient being honey).
- Age appropriate stories, articles and poems about bees. Examples: School Journal: Making honey by Annette Seear, Year 5 : Part 02 No. 4 : 2000 : Pgs 8-11 and Connected Series: The buzz of bees (whole booklet), Year 3, Connected No. 2 : 2012. Poem by Muhammad Ali “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can't hit what the eyes can't see.”
- Sayings, e.g. "Busy as a bee" and "Make a bee line". What do they mean?
- Music, e.g. violinist playing Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimski Korsakov Youtube video.
Features of bees include:
- Honey bee facts Info sheet.
- Bees under magnification: Identify body parts on real dried insects using a magnifying glass or microscope. Draw.
- Find out about bee colonies
- Find out about bumblebees
- Learn how to identify a honey bee and a bumble bee, and distinguish these from other similar New Zealand insects, e.g. german and common wasps (both are the big yellow and black wasps that can be a nuisance in our homes and in the bush), and drone flies (common harmless pollinators found on flowers). Bee, wasp, drone fly Activity, Discover the differences between bees and wasps. Garden creature Spotter and Pollinators in New Zealand Spotter.
Importance of bees
Discuss why bees are important. Where do we see them? What are they doing?
Bees are very important for life on this planet:
- Bee products: Bees supply us with honey, wax, pollen and propolis. Demonstrate each of these products and find out what they are used for. Make some products from beeswax, e.g. Christmas candles.
- Where does our food come from? Activity. In this activity learn about where some of our important foods come from, for example: 1) honey bees give us honey; 2) bees in general are also needed for pollination of oranges, strawberries and coffee flowers which in turn give us those foods; 3) They are essential for production of meat patties and milk too, since they are needed to pollinate clover flowers that produce clover seeds that grow into the forage plants that sheep and cows eat.
- Bees are important in the web of life. Discuss examples and draw a food web. For example, this might show how: 1) bees are eaten by spiders, wasps and some birds; 2) when they die, bacteria and fungi feed on their bodies; 3) they have parasites that feed on them while alive, e.g. varroa mites; and 4) they feed on pollen and nectar from flowering plants.
- Find out about how bumble bee colonies are used in hothouses to pollinate tomato crops.
Plants and bees need each other
Many plants need bees because:
Bees need plants because:
PLANTS AND BEES NEED EACH OTHER. WITHOUT ONE, THE OTHER WOULDN'T SURVIVE. THIS RELATIONSHIP IS CALLED SYMBIOTIC (A RELATIONSHIP WHERE BOTH BENEFIT).
- Moving pollen flower to flower Info
- Learn about how pollen can be moved from flower to flower.
- Flower facts Info. Find out about the parts of flowers, pollination, and the differences between animal and wind pollinated flowers.
- Bumble bee foraging Activity. Observe the video of a bumble bee foraging. In the field, compare their different methods for collecting nectar and pollen.
- Pollinator pulling power Experiment. Assess flowers for how well they attract pollinators.
- Pollen collecting Activity. Collect and observe pollen up close and find out why it's important for seed production.
- Basic seeds facts Info. Find out about the link between seeds and the food we eat, and the many other uses we have for plants.
- Install a bumble bee nest in your school garden. Observe the bees coming and going from the nest and foraging on flowers around the school. Bumble bees are relatively unaggressive, but for example, they will sting if trodden on.
- Install a leafcutter bee colony in your school garden. Observe the bees building their nests, coming and going as they forage, and capping their nesting tunnels. Leafcutter bees are very gentle-mannered with only a mild sting.
Threats to bee health and survival
Bees are threatened by:
- Discuss what habitat loss means.
- On paper design a habitat that would be ideal for honey bees and wild bees to live in. [Ideas might include: varied floral sources for a balanced bee diet; flower varieties available year round, but especially in spring when colonies are growing quickly; trees, shrubs and smaller flowering plants for shelter; access to water; nesting sites for bumble bees and leafcutting bees, suitable soil and aspect for native bee nest holes.]
- Find out why insecticide sprays are used. Discuss why it's important to void using them on plants that are flowering, e.g. when spaying citrus trees to kill scale insects when the trees are in flower.
- Find out about varroa mite infestations and how they affect beehives. How are they controlled?
- Find out how honey bees feed on honeydew on beech trees, and what produces the honeydew. Why are German and common wasps a problem for honey bees in these places? Students could create a poster or some other way of communicating their findings.
How to help bees
The most practical way that young people can help bees is to grow flowering plants that are favoured by bees. This could be as a school planting project and/or in their home gardens. Plants could include trees, shrubs, perennials or annual plants, either native or introduced. See below.
- Research what types of garden annual and perennial flower plants are most preferred by bees. Source some that flower at differing times of the year and grow them in a school garden or at home. Create a plan for watering and maintaining them. (A caretaker can be helpful in implementing this plan, especially during weekends and holidays.) Observe and enjoy the wealth of insects that are attracted to the flowers.
- Flowers for bees Experiment
- Trees for bees — keeping bees healthy Info
- Native trees for bees Spotter
- Introduced trees for bees Spotter
- Selecting trees for bees Activity
- Find out from a beekeeper how they control varroa mites and other pests and diseases of honey bees.
- Find out how farmers and horticulturalists manage spraying so as not to affect honey bees.
- Find out about 'Colony collapse disorder' — which is a worldwide problem — and what the possible causes might be. See New Zealand outbreak.