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Honey bees are part of the Hymenoptera order which includes bumblebees, solitary bees, wasps, sawflies and ants.

What we can learn from bees

Studying bees adds significantly to the wider education of pupils. For example:

  • Bees are pollinators vital to our food chain. One third of the food we eat would not be available but for bees.
  • Bees, like other insects, are part of a food chain.
  • The social life of the honey bee colony provides a controversial start to thinking about the structure of societies.
  • The tools that have evolved on the limbs and mouthparts of bees are neat examples of adaptation and engineering.
  • The harvest from honey bees of honey, pollen, wax and propolis has nutritional, craft, manufacturing, and medical applications.
  • Pollination by bees is important for genetic sustainability. Genes that have evolved in other animals are important to our future too.

In the UK about 70 crops are dependent on, or benefit from, visits from bees. In addition, bees pollinate the flowers of many plants which become part of feed for farm animals. The economic value of honey bees and bumblebees as pollinators of commercially grown insect-pollinated crops in the UK has been estimated at over £200 million per year.

Bees are in danger of disappearing from our environment. Farming practices continue to disturb natural habitats and forage of solitary and bumblebees at a rate which gives them little chance for re-establishment. The honey bee is under attack from the varroa mite and it is only the treatment and care provided by beekeepers that is keeping colonies alive. Most wild honey bee colonies have died out as a result of this disease.

These factors, coupled with a decline in the number of beekeepers in the UK, have prompted the initiative by the BBKA of the 'Bees in the Curriculum' Schools pack. Attitudes to bees must change and a new generation needs to be educated about the value of bees and the threats to their existence.

Honey Bee Habitats

1

queen

250

drones

20,000

female foragers

40,000

female house-bees

5,000 to 7,000

eggs

7,000 to 11,000

larvae being fed

16,000 to 24,000

larvae developing into adults in sealed cells

Different types of bees have different habitats. All children know that Pooh Bear likes honey and are happy to recall the story in which he tried to reach a bee's nest in the top of a tree.

A tree is the natural nest site for the European honey bee. A hollow tree provides a dry, dark, cavity with a wooden roof on which the bees can fix their combs. The nest site is protected from rain and wind, with some insulation, although honey bees have such a good air conditioning system that insulation need only be minimal.

A small entrance helps guard bees defend the entrance against wasps and alien honey bees that might want to steal honey. A.A. Milne suggests bears can be a problem, but not in the UK!

Honey bees also need a supply of water in the spring for diluting honey stores and in the summer for cooling the nest. The beekeeper provides an artificial habitat in which he tries to meet these criteria. However, he also imposes restrictions, which help him to look after the bees and take some honey without harming the bees.

All bees will thrive in areas where there is good forage throughout their active season, so a hive needs a range of nectar-producing flowers within a radius of about 2-3 km (1 - 1.5 miles).

Farmers and gardeners are providing artificial habitats for some solitary bees to encourage them to nest near their crops or they may even move them to the crops to promote pollination. This manipulation of habitat is where science and technology meet to benefit both the human and the natural world. Such nesting boxes would be an interesting addition to a school nature garden. Extract from article by S.Chamberlin in Primary Science and Technology Review Spring 2002.