Fun facts about honey bees

How often do children exclaim to parents or educators that honeybees only have the ability to sting when they observe them in parks or backyards? Although it is a fact that they have this defense mechanism, these bees present a much more amazing contribution to nature than stinging.

What are they?

They are part of the Apis genus and mostly considered to manufacture honey. They have the typical characteristics of insects such as head, thorax and abdomen. Honeybees also possess 4 wings that allow them to fly about 15 miles per hour.

These organized insects can be grouped into 3 main categories: a Queen Bee, a Drone Bee and a Worker Bee. The Queen is the only bee able to fertilize eggs during reproduction. Only one bee exists per hive. A hive is the home of bees. A Queen can live up to 5 years and is able to lay up to 2,000 to 3,000 eggs per day. It will mate with several male bees or drones.

Drones are the male bees capable of giving sperm to the Queen. There are approximately 300 to 3,000 drones in a single hive. They do not have a stinger. They live for about 90 days. And they are expelled from the hive during the winter season to conserve food resources.

Worker honeybees are infertile females. They can live up to 9 months during the winter and 6 weeks during the summer. Their main function is to collect nectar and pollen to produce honey for the hive. They also protect the hive from intruders and feed the Queen. Worker bees have a stinger, and they can only use it once. After stinging, the bee dies. There can be as much as 30,000 bees in winter and 80,000 bees in summer in a hive.

How do they make honey and other products?

Bees manufacture honey by using the harvested nectar from flowers. They will ingest and regurgitate the nectar several times and deposit it on the honeycombs. Honeycombs are hexagonal inserts in the hive. Then Worker bees will use their wings to fan the moisture out of the nectar to prevent fermentation. Amazingly, honeybees can visit about 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey.

On the other hand, pollen harvested by the bees is used as protein source for the colony. The hind legs of bees usually carry it. Other products manufactured by bees are beeswax and propolis or bee glue.

Why are they important for pollination?

Besides producing honey and other goods, honeybees are essential organisms for pollination. Because they can carry pollen across 55,000 miles or more, these powerful insects can deposit numerous amounts of pollen. Experts believe that they function in about 80% of the pollination process. In fact, without them, many foods would not exist.

They are so important in pollination that Worker bees can encounter up to 100 flowers in a single trip. In recent years, honeybee populations are decreasing possibly due to agricultural pesticides, climate change and urbanization.

Beekeepers in the United States and around the world are committed to protect and educate about honeybees. There are approximately 212,000 beekeepers in the United States and 2.68 million honey hives.

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Learning insect variety while exploring science with kids

Some may have wings, others antenna, and some may have little spots. But they all have something in common: they are insects and they are tiny. Most of them rest on trees, bushes, flowers, or water.

Bugs are often found in many places around the home, parks and other sites. These small insects, whether friendly or not, live in many different habitats. But do we know how many of these different species of insects are around?

For instance, you might find flies, praying mantis, beetles, treehoppers, and ants crawling, hopping on trees or bushes.  These tiny little bugs have long legs to help them jump from one branch to another.

Other bugs like butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and ladybugs like to swiftly fly to get around. They don’t need long legs to get around since they have beautiful wings to help them travel from one place to another. Actually, they have tiny little legs. However, they are some bugs such as bees and wasps that can fly from one flower to another but they also sting as a way to defend themselves from predators.

Insects have special physical characteristics that make them unique. They have three particular parts: a head, thorax, and abdomen. Every little insect has these specific characteristics. But they differ in size, color, and shape between species.

Where do you find bugs? These special bugs like crickets, mosquitoes, and often grasshoppers can be seen on ponds, lakes, and rivers. Many of these bugs need a water source to survive. Other bugs like to nest in hives or bushes.

Hence, these bugs are often seen hopping along or flying about a water source. Did you know that antenna in some of these bugs are for detecting the surroundings in their environment? If you observe closely, you might see antenna on butterflies, bees, and ants.

Magnifying glasses are powerful tools to explore insects in their natural habitat. They provide an amazing opportunity to enlarge the vision of what you see. If you have a science journal, it is also a magnificent way to jot down the insects you can encounter.

Are you ready to explore? Just remember that whenever you explore nature, be kind to the life you find and always have an adult with you at all times. Remember you’re exploring their little homes in nature and we don’t want to disturb their living space. Of course, as good explorers, you should always write down your findings on your science journal or you can use the free worksheet found in the science section.

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Learning about nature: 5 great places to find butterflies

They are beautiful to observe. They glide through the air in their vibrant colors. They spread their wings in a majestic dance with the wind. Of course, butterflies are great creatures of nature that is more than a science lesson.

William Wordsworth once said “To a Butterfly”:

“Much converse do I find in thee, Float near me; do not yet depart! Dead times revive thee: Thou bring’st, gay creature as thou art! A solemn image to my heart.”

And yet, where can one find these amazing insects of nature. Although there are many butterfly gardens or houses, here are five great places where butterfly enthusiasts can observe these amazing colorful insects.

1.  Missouri Botanical Garden

This is a great place to teach children about the natural facts of butterflies, how to take care of them, what they need to flourish, and many other educational activities. Located in Chesterfield, Missouri, the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House is a natural sanctuary for many butterfly species. They also offer educational classes on how to plant a butterfly garden at home and the essentials to take care of them. Also, visit the butterfly school to learn more detailed information about butterflies, which is geared towards teachers.

2.  Desert Connections

Part of the Tucson Botanical Gardens and Pima County Public Library, this environmental organization located in Tucson, Arizona protects the natural wildflowers, butterflies, and birds of the area. In particular, butterfly sightings can be found in local butterfly gardens, The Butterfly Garden, town of Patagonia, the Garden Canyon in Huachuca Mountains, Mt. Lemmon, and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This site also offers great suggestions on the time of day and year to spot certain butterflies. It also has great educational resources.

3.  Big Sur California

This is a high concentrated area to find Monarch butterflies, especially in October. As a matter of fact, the Andrew Molera State Park is the best place to spot butterflies. These beautiful orange and black butterflies make the journey every year to warmer climates, especially to areas like Mexico and Florida.

4.  NABA Sarasota County Butterfly Club

This amazing organization has a comprehensive list of butterfly sightings in all local areas of Florida. With more than 10 butterfly gardens and house, it is no surprise that butterflies are the most common in these areas. This Florida Chapter is part of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) and offers tips on butterfly care, gardening, and other great educational resources.

5.  Hallberg Butterfly Gardens

Located at the Sonoma County, this butterfly refuge was founded by Louise Hallberg to promote the education of butterflies to all enthusiasts. In this site, educators can find numerous resources about plants butterflies like, how to take care of them, and many other useful resources.

Whether educators are looking for the perfect field trip or parents need a great family event, visiting local butterfly gardens or sanctuaries is a great opportunity to learn more about these amazing insects.