Elementary School Project:
Sustainability and Bees
Collection of data on pollinating bees to determine frequency, system, and patterns of pollination; study of organization of the hive, including communication with the “bee dance;” learning the threats to bees and their contribution to sustainable food production; hands-on daily care of observational hive with 9,000 stinging honeybees for 2 months; training and lectures at National University of Costa Rica.
Advisor: Entomologist, Johan van Veen, National University of Costa Rica, Centro de Investigaciones Nacional Apícolas Tropicales (CINAT)
Research Project on Honey Bees and Pollination
We worked with Dr. Johan Van Veen, Biologist at CINAT-UNA (Costa Rican bee institute), in order to learn about the importance of bees and pollination. We presented our research on approximately 8,000 stinging honey bees in an observational hive. For one month, we observed the worker bees fly out of the hive, gather either pollen or nectar, process the honey, and communicate through a “bee dance” to direct other members of the hive to the location of the pollen and nectar.
To learn about bees and pollination.
To appreciate the importance of bees to the overall ecosystem and the human food supply.
To learn how to help protect bees and conserve the ecosystems in which they live.
While this was not a strictly controlled experiment, we were able to obtai9n some interesting data that confirmed our hypotheses, and also learned a great deal about bees and got some ideas for more detailed future experiments.
Although the bees were moved to a different location over 20 km away from their “home”, we expected they would eventually locate flowers and honey. We believed there would be a pattern to the way they collected pollen and that we would observe the “bee dance” during pollen foraging periods.
1 artificial wood bee hive, 45cm x 70cm x 10cm, with one small entrance hole at the bottom, and two small holes at the top for inserting honey
Approximately 8,000 bees
1 bottle of honey
We observed the bees for intervals of 10 minutes, at different times during the day, for approximately one month.
We kept count of how many bees left and entered the hive during these intervals, and also counted how many brought back pollen (the pollen is easily visible)
We observed the different types of dances performed by the bees, and the duration and time of day of the dances.
We learned that the bees visual system does not process the red color. Therefore, when we approached the hive to feed honey to the bees, we dressed in red to avoid being detected by the stinging bees.
The same bee hive was used that the bees had occupied for several months.
The approximate number of bees was kept constant.
The honey type and quantity introduced into the hive was kept constant.
We avoided any unusual trauma or disturbance to the hive.
The primary independent variable was the change in location of the hive.
The bees in this study collected almost all of their pollen in the early morning (over 90%).
In the afternoon, there was no significant amount of pollen collected, even though many bees left the hive. See charts below.
From the first morning, the bees had already located pollen and were bringing it back to the hive.
The bees in our study performed both known dances, the “circle dance” and the “figure eight”.
Click here to see a video of a bee dance
Interpretation of data
Even though they were in a new area, the bees were able to find pollen the first day, so the identification of pollinating flowers appears to be very rapid.
We conjecture two explanations for the observation that almost all the pollen was collected in the morning – either they had collected all the pollen they needed in the morning, or perhaps it was more difficult to collect pollen in the afternoon, possibly because of the daily rains in the afternoon. As for the extensive afternoon flights even though there was negligible pollen collection, we think there are also two possibilities based on our readings and conversations with Dr. van Veen – 1. Bees may have been collecting honey instead of pollen during afternoon flights (the honey is not visible as it is ingested), or 2. The activity we observed in the afternoon flights may have been “training flights” to give the younger bees some practice in finding their way back to the hive.
The bees produced more honey in our mountain environment, than in the more urban location at CINAT, perhaps because there were more flowers in the area, or possibly due to other factors, such as temperature, light or other internal hive activities.
Other Observations and Comments
By observing thousands of bees in an observational hive, we were able to pinpoint, through size and color, the different members of the hive. The Queen Bee was large and had a more orange color.
We were unable to distinguish between immature and mature workers and drones; however, we know that it was the female workers that left the hive for pollination, and that the male drones stayed in the hive.
We observed that more than 60 workers died every day outside the hive.
Upon returning from a foraging flight, the worker bees communicate to the other worker bees of the hive, through a bee dance, the location of the pollen or nectar. This is communicated through a type of “code” based on the duration, frequency, position, angle and other characteristics of the dance. There are a variety of dances, such as the waggling of tails and walking in a “figure eight”.
Bees are the most important species of pollinators. Without bees, we wouldn't have apples, kiwi, strawberries, pumpkin, pepper, tomatoes, almonds, among other fruits and vegetables. They produce honey, as we know, and wax which is an important product. Honey from bees also contains an antibacterial substance.
It is important that we protect the bees because, as we already learned, they are important for the environment and for human food supply.
In order to protect them, we must avoid using pesticides and insecticides on our plants or crops. Having boundaries or limits to deforestation is also a very effective way of protecting the bees.