Thursday, January 23, 2014

Which are the Most Charismatic of the Minifauna? A Grade 5 Class Survey

 Yesterday I worked with a grade five class and we surveyed everyone's favourite bee and favourite food. Here are the results.

Bumblebees: 10
Honeybees: 7
Green sweat bee: 4
Blue mason bee: 1
Mining Bee: 1
Leaf cutter Bee: 1

The winner: Bumblebees come out on top: 10 people chose their beloved furry friends, and one voted specifically for a male bumblebee because they don't sting! There were some specific species of bumblebees that folks chose from the beautiful poster at their table: "The Bumblebees of the Western United States" (some of which are found in British Columbia). This educational poster was published by The Pollinator Partnership and I highly recommend it as a classroom resource illustrating bumblebee diversity.

There are also cuckoo bumblebees who look mimic true bumblebees, but they don't sting and they don't carry pollen. Just like the cuckoo bird, the mother lays her eggs in another nest and her babies freeload off of the food that was meant for the true bumblebees. Cuckoo bees are a sign of healthy biodiversity.

Second Place: Those adorable honeybees came second with a total of 7 votes, and once again someone voted for the male bees, the drones who cannot sting.

You don't see male honeybees on flowers because they hang around in different hives begging for honey. Drones are the only bees with a passport to visit as many hives as they like, but when fall comes around, some of them get evicted.

There are also flies which mimic honeybees and don't sting: They are called hoverflies or syrphid flies.

There are nine species of honeybees worldwide. Our European honeybees are called Apis melifera: melifera is Latin for honey-bearer, which is also the root of names like Melissa and Melaniea. Apis cerana is the honeybee used for apiculture in India.

Third Place: The green sweat bee (Agapostemon spp.): The folks sitting around the "Wild About Bees" poster published by Canadian Wildlife Federation were seduced by the beauty of the green sweat bee, in third place with 4 votes. what does the name Agapstemon is Greek: agape (love) and stemon (stamon) ie lover of stamens. What a great name for a bee! Did you know that sometimes wasps also come in beautiful metallic colours? Check out this Jewel Wasp I saw in the herb garden at the Moberly Community Centre and you'll see what I mean.

In fourth place, we find three bees with 1 vote each: mason bee, mining bee and leafcutter bee.

These are all solitary bees, meaning they don't have a queen or castes of worker bees. Some of solitary will live in groups (like a condo), but each female lays eggs in her own nest and provides them with nectar and pollen so they can grow into adult bees before they emerge. The trick is how do bees find their tunnel is a group of many? Mason beekeepers use colour patterns, or they toast the front of the mason bee condo to reveal the pattern in the wood which helps the bees orient themselves to their particular hole. Sometimes they get in the wrong nest and then the other female kicks them out.

Okay, now let's talk about the class's favourite foods:

pizza: 5
blueberries: 4
apple: 3
watermelon: 2
orange: 2 (most oranges are self-pollinated but bees pollinate mandarin oranges)
strawberry: 1
raspberries: 1
pomegranate: 1
coconut: 1
chocolate: 1
milk: 1 (cows eat alfalfa, pollinated by leafcutter bees)
subway sandwich: 1
spaghetti and tomato sauce: 1
potato salad: 1
McChicken meal: 1

Various ingredients:

meat: chicken, pork salami, ground beef or beef meatballs
wheat and other grains such as oats, quinoa, etc.: (wind pollinated)
potatoes: (self-pollianted, but tomato breeders need bumblebees to buzz pollinate the blossoms)
tomatoes and peppers: (buzz pollinted by bumblebees)
onions: (all kinds of bees)
herbs: (all kinds of bees) many herbs that add flavor to our foods and herbs are also good for the bees
examples:oregano, sage, rosemary
cheese and other dairy: (cows eat alfalfa which is pollinated by alfalfa leaf cutter bees)
mustard: (seeds are from yellow flowers are pollinated by bees) vinegar, oil
mayonnaise: (eggs, vinegar and oil)
eggs (chickens sometimes fed on alfalfa seed)
oils: olive, sunflower, and canola (sunflower and canola pollinated by teams of different bees)


Pizza was a definite winner, but this class certainly loves its healthy fruits and vegetables. It would be interesting to figure out how much of your daily diet is actually pollinated by bees. If one of every three mouthfuls is generally estimated to be pollinated by bees that's 33 per cent. It's going to be different for every person. It's almost easier to figure out what percentage of your diet is not pollinated by bees, i.e. whole grains. (By the way, these are still part of a healthy diet, even if they aren't pollinated by bees.) In the next two weeks the class will be researching how their favorite foods are pollinated, blossom morphology and studying bees by drawing and making cartoon bee characters.

Madame Beespeaker's Challenge: Try tracking your food for one day and estimating what is and isn't pollinated by bees.

Here are some online resources that we explored in the classroom using the Smart Board.

A Pictorial Guide to Bees of the Humboldt Bay Dunes by Susan E. Nyoka

Bee Basics: An Introduction to OurNative Bees by Beatriz Moissette and Stephen Buchmann,
USDA Forest Serve and the Pollinator Partnership
PublicGardens Associate

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