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Buzzing with Curiosity, Students Learn About Bees


Parker Perdaris took it in stride as his classmates secured various honey bee-body parts to a cardboard cutout he wore to simulate the head, thorax and abdomen. First came the eyes — called compound eyes because they’re actually hundreds of tiny eyes that detect polarized light — then the stinger, plus six legs, two sets of wings, a straw-like tongue called a proboscis used to draw nectar, and basket-like hairs on their legs for collecting pollen.

Caden Gahan tries out a beekeeping outfit
Caden Gahan tries out a beekeeping outfit

It helps to remember the parts of a honey bee when you can stick them on yourself.

That’s what Parker and fellow Bushnell Elementary first-graders learned recently during a trip to the Wittenbach/Wege Environmental Agriscience Center.

Bee anatomy was just one part of district first-graders’ look at life cycles and habitats. They also visited a meadow, pond and woods on the property to learn about insects, spiders, fish and critters that live under logs.

The goal, said center Director Courtney Cheers, is for first-graders to learn about animals native to the area and their life cycles; that they all need food, water, shelter and air to survive; and which animals are found in a given habitat.

Parker Perdaris makes like a bee

Lazy Drones and Waggle Dancers

Cheers and beekeeper Lee Bolt also shared some lesser-known facts about bees:

  • There are approximately 450 type of bees native to Michigan, and most are solitary, meaning they do not live in hives.
  • In a hive, there is one queen, a dozen workers and an all-male cast of drones. Bolt called drones “lazy bees,” whose sole job is to “fly around all day and eat honey.”
  • The darker parts of a honeycomb are cells where bees have already cocooned/been born.
  • A hive of agitated bees smells like ripe bananas.
  • Bees do a figure eight-ish “waggle dance” when they want to show hive-mates where food is.

Though Parker looked anything but ominous in his bee costume, Bolt and Cheers emphasized to the first-graders how important it is to not appear threatening to the typically non-aggressive insects when you approach their hives. Moving slowly, not swatting at them and wearing light clothing are just a few tips.

Saranac beekeeper Lee Bolt talks about the kinds of bees there are in Michigan
Saranac beekeeper Lee Bolt talks about the kinds of bees there are in Michigan

“I’m terrified of them,” Bolt admitted. “I just have to keep telling myself not to freak out. It’s all about having a healthy respect.”

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More fun facts about bees

So bees think they can dance

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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