When I ask the kids what they know about bees, they always say two things… they make honey and they sting! In fact, this is probably the answer that many adults would give too. Most kids are also frightened of bees… as soon as they hear the buzz, they move away at varying speeds!
One of my aims is to re-educate the kids… if I can change their minds and teach them all about how wonderful bees are, then they could grow up with a much more positive attitude that they will pass onto their children.
Most people seem to think that a honey bee is the only bee…. although bumble bees are also sometimes recognised. There are, in fact, lots of different types of bee in the UK – around 250 species! There are 24 species of bumblebees, around 225 species of solitary bee and just a single honeybee species.
The solitary bees are easily attracted to your garden and schools through the use of bee ‘hotels’. We have set a number of these up at the school I teach at and there has been a lot of activity. Some we bought and some we made ourselves. One of the best ways to teach is to model behaviour. Me, with my nose just cm from the bee hotel, is the best way to show the children that they do not have to be nervous of these bees. They will not sting.
So, what actually happens in a Bee Hotel?????
The females clean out the tube and then lay an egg in the far end. Collecting pollen and nectar, they carry it in on their abdomen and stroke it off onto the egg. They keep doing this until the egg is coated in nectar and pollen. They then seal a little chamber. The red mason bees do this by collecting wet mud and making a little door. They then repeat this process, creating numerous cells, each with an egg and a ‘packed-lunch’!
The egg then hatches, eats the nectar and pollen and the larva grows and eventually pupates. It remains in the cocoon all winter, to emerge the following spring. What is incredible is that the eggs that are at the front hatch first and they are males. These males wait on the outside, until the females nibble their way out. The whole cycle then starts again.
The children are fascinated by this cycle and love watching the bees flying in and out. What has made it even more fascinating is the observation hotel that my good friend, Dave Harper made for me. This means that the children can actually see the chambers… and they LOVE it!
I am determined to make sure the children are all aware of the wonderful world of solitary bees… and bumble bees…. and all the pollinators that ensure we have all the food we need….