Friday, April 24, 2009

Honeybees are eusocial.

Hannah wants a flower garden this year. Specifically, a butterfly garden. Yesterday we went through our flower seeds and she picked out the ones she wanted (all of them). Then she thought about bees - you know, the 'stinging bugs' - and how they always seem to be hovering around dandelion flowers. The world stopped.

Today she came up to me and said "Do we have any bee books?" No, but let me grab the encyclopedia.

Here we are. After I grabbed it and we sat down to read, I asked her why the sudden desire to learn more about bees. "Because I want a butterfly garden but you said that if butterflies came bees would come too and I want the butterflies but not the bees because I'm scared of the bees but maybe that's because I don't know enough about them and maybe if I know more about them I won't be scared of them and it will be ok if they're there but I'll still like the butterflies better especially if they give me honey but I don't think butterflies make honey but if they did it would taste like flowers and that would be yummy and I can sell it at the Farmer's Market and tell people that it's not from bees and I didn't need to wear a mask to collect it because butterflies don't sting like bees." Good lord. Sometimes I wish I hadn't asked some questions. Not this time, you understand, but sometimes. Other times.

So we learned about bees. She had me read all six pages in the encyclopedia and devoured the illustrations and photos. We learned a lot.

Did you know bees have five eyes? Yeah, neither did I.

They collect nectar and pollen, the nectar being carried inside their body, the pollen on 'pollen baskets' on their back legs.

The only bee that will sting you is a female. Worker bee. The males (they're drones, their only job is to breed) don't have stingers. The queens have a stinger, but it's a different shape and is only used in fights with other queens. (Did you know that kids can't explain about stingers without sticking their rears out? True story. Try it with your own kids.)

This is cool - if a queen lays her eggs and doesn't expose them to the sperm she's storing in her body, the eggs will become male drones. If she *does* expose them to the sperm, these fertilized eggs will be females. For the first three days of the female larvae's life, she is fed royal jelly. After the first three days, the majority of the larvae will be switched over to 'beebread', a mixture of pollen and honey, and these will become worker bees. The larvae fed only royal jelly until they make a cocoon become queen bees.

We learned about the amazingly precise dances the bees do to inform other bees about the location of food. Of course Hannah had to try to do her own waggle dance (round dances are for near food, waggle dances are for far food) and was alternately hilariously amused and hilariously frustrated that I couldn't figure out that she wanted peaches from the pantry. To be fair, I don't speak bee.

Then we learned about bumblebees. Hannah asked why they weren't proud. No, sweetie, not *humble*bees, *bumble*bees. Ahh. Then about the solitary bees like leaf-cutters, carpenters, and masons.

One thing that's wonderful about following where a child's interest leads is learning fascinating stuff you wouldn't know otherwise. If Hannah had wanted to skip around the six pages looking at pictures and hearing random facts that I pulled out of the entry, that would have been fine. By then I was so hooked that I would have finished reading it on my own later.

Word for the day: Eusocial. One reproductive female, others are 'workers' and insterile - even if that is only temporary (worker bees can lay eggs if the need is desperate). Bees are eusocial as are wasps and ants. Only two mammals are known to be eusocial - the naked mole rat and the Damaraland mole rat. I would be eusocial too if I were a naked mole rat.

You know what's funny? A five-year old that can use 'eusocial' correctly in a sentence. You know what else is funny? Her daddy's face when she springs that on him. Though he's kinda used to it now after her speech to him awhile back about 'alicorns'.


Stephanie said...

A super-fun post!

We've been learning about them, too, every since our tree filled the other day.
That first day I got to see for the first time their filled pockets. I had never in my life seen it outside of an illustration. Which probably explains why I stood there for an hour watching them.

The story reminds of me Trev using the words "ecolocation" and "symbiosis/symbiotic relationshilp" at four years.
Always made me smile.

Sarah said...

Steph, what are you doing up? What am *I* doing up?

The vocabulary explosion is a blast, isn't it? Love it. I remember Hannah explaining echolocation to a random friendly guy at the store and he just looked baffled. She tried to *show* him what it was by screeching but... well, that just led to more bafflement. I should teach her symbiosis/symbiotic just for fun. Is that mean? lol

Gina said...

Lovely post really made me smile!

Gina xx