Pollinators: the BUZZ about Bees

by Morgan Carr Markell

This past Saturday (June 11th) we got to teach market visitors about bees and their important relationship with flowering plants.

Pollination

By gathering food from many flowers, bees provide pollination services. They carry pollen from one flower to another so that the plant can produce more plants and we humans can harvest fruit. We brought pinned bees and wasps along with close-up photos of branched bee hairs with pollen on them to show people why bees are exceptionally good at carrying pollen from one flower to another. Kids also got to make their own pollinators out of pipe cleaners (see photo below) and use them to move artificial pollen (flour) from one artificial flower (cup) to another. It was fun to see all the fuzzy, colorful pollinators that they designed!

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Busy ‘pollinators’ pollinating ‘flowers’.

 

Some kids wanted to make pipe cleaner flowers too so Mohamed, Grace, Jason, and James worked out a method (see flower on the observation hive in the photo below). Also, we discovered that pipe cleaners and pom-poms make great antennae, which bees need to taste pollen/nectar and communicate with each other (see James’ antennae below).

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James wearing his antennae.

Native Bees

We wanted to give visitors a feel for how diverse bees are. There are over 20,000 species of bees worldwide and over 400 species in Minnesota alone . They have very different lifestyles, living alone or in groups, making nests in stems or underground, and using lots of different methods for carrying pollen back to their young. They also vary tremendously in size (see photo of the pinned bees below).

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We especially wanted to give people concrete steps that they can take to help bees. Lots of people asked about making artificial nests for stem-nesting bees and took our “Plants for Minnesota Bees” handout . A few even came back to show us the bee-friendly plants that they bought at the market!

Honey Bees

We had a bee veil that kids could try on, and beekeeping equipment, including a smoker and hive tool, for them to touch (see photo below). Our biggest draw was the glass-walled observation hive filled with honey bees. Everyone wanted to find the queen! She kept challenging us by moving around and hiding behind workers on the glass. Our thanks go to the nearby vendors that gave us ice for our bees. By 1 pm it was almost 100°F!

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We also had goldenrod and basswood honey for people to taste and compare. Although some people loved the strong, spicy goldenrod taste, most people preferred the basswood honey’s flavor. Honey bees make honey from nectar by concentrating it down to 20% water or less and using enzymes to convert the sucrose sugar in nectar into the glucose and fructose sugars of honey. However, flowers control the specific flavor of the resulting honey by adding their own unique blend of chemicals to their nectar. Yay for biodiversity!

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