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Trapnesting Wasps and Bees 

Projects for Kids and Teens 
for School, Scouts, 4-H, etc.

Table of Contents

Projects involving pollen bees 
A bee identification exercise 
Projects on pollination
Links to other web sites with ideas for bee and pollination projects
Some references that may be helpful

Projects involving pollen bees

Try putting out a variety of trap nests: empty bee condos with straws lining the tunnels, reeds, sections of bamboo with small tunnels, or home made trap nests. You can purchase bee condos from many of the vendors on the supplier's page on this web site,  Try Pollinator Paradise Binderboard™ Samplers and Observation Nests, perfect for kid's projects.  Or you can make them yourself or have someone make them for you. Tunnels that are 5 or 6 inches deep, and that range in diameter from about 1/8" to 5/8" will attract a variety of species of solitary bees and wasps. Be sure that the tunnels are plugged at one end and that there are no cracks that parasites can enter, or the bees may reject the nest. They also don't use nests if light gets into the tunnel from thin walls. Once a bee or wasp starts to use the nest, don't try to move it.  These insects memorize the surroundings around their nests, and they will not be able to find a nest that has been moved.  Individual nests lined with straws, or bamboo, reed, or small wood nests can be split open after the nest is complete to see what's inside. Kid's and adults alike are fascinated by the architectural and housekeeping skills of twig nesting bees and wasps. Put the trap nests out early in the spring before fruit bloom, and see what you have after fruit bloom or at the end of the school year if this is a school project. Different species of bees and wasps are active in late spring and summer. Put up trap nests in early spring and check them throughout the summer for a scout or 4-H project, or examine the nests for a school science project in the fall.

Some bees and wasps have more than one generation per year, so you may see adults emerge in late summer.  Nests that do not have adult emergence must be left in a cold, dry place over the winter before they will emerge.  An unheated garage or storage shed that does not get hot may work well.  Sometimes keeping the nests in a bag in the refrigerator during the winter also works.  Don't let the nests get wet or they may mold.  In the spring put the nests back out in your yard or wherever you had them before,   Watch for signs that the bees or wasps have emerged.  Osmia spend the winter as adult bees, so they emerge within a few days when the nests are warmed.  Other species overwinter in the last larval stage, the  "prepupa".  They may take a month or more to emerge after the nest is warmed. 

To learn more about the characteristics of the nests of different species that use trap nests, get a copy of : K. V. Krombein, 1967, Trap-nesting wasps and bees; Life histories and nest associates. Smithsonian Press, Washington D.C. Your library should be able to borrow it via interlibrary loan. Occasionally used book stores have it.

Photo by Karen Strickler
Megachile rotundata nest in a split trapnest, showing cells lined with petals and leaves. 

Some questions to try to answer:
bulletHow many different species of twig-nesting bees and wasps do you find in your trapnests?
bulletWhat size hole do different species nest in?  Is there a relationship between nest hole diameter and size of the bee or wasp?
bulletWhat time of year do different species nest?
bulletWhat has the mother bee or wasp fed her offspring?  If possible, observe her while she is foraging and see where she goes to get this food.
bulletDoes the bee or wasp line it's cells?  With what?  What does she use for partitions between cells?  For nest plugs?

If you can successfully rear adults from your trap nests, consider these questions:

bulletHow do males and females differ in appearance?  Which is larger?
bulletWhere are the males and females located in the nest?
bulletWho emerges first, males or females?  What might happen if this was reversed?
bulletAre there equal numbers of males and females in the nests?  
bulletFor a given species of bee or wasp, does the sex ratio change with tunnel diameter?  Tunnel depth?  Time of year when the nest is made?  Does the size of the offspring change with any of these factors? 

Top of Page

Projects on Pollination

First, find plants in your area that are have bee, butterfly or other visitors foraging on them.  A visit to a botanical garden or nursery may help.  You may want to plant flowers that attract pollinators in your garden.   See the Bee Garden page for flowers that attract bees, and links to other sites with lists of plants that attract pollinators. 

Have a close look at the flowers on your plant of choice.  Imagine you are a pollinator, looking for nectar and/or pollen. 

bulletDo the flowers produce pollen?  Where is it located?  Is it available all of the time?  Is there a lot or a little?
bulletDo the flowers produce nectar?  Where is it located?  Do all flowers have it or just some? 
bulletDo different kinds of flowers have different amounts of nectar?  If the flowers are covered with a bag for a day or two so no pollinators can get to the nectar how much nectar accumulates?  How does this compare with flowers that have not been bagged?  Watch to see if pollinators find the bagged flowers.  Does bagging affect the attractiveness of the flowers to pollinators, or the time that they spend foraging on the flower?
bulletSome flower varieties are scented, others less so or not at all.  How does the scent of flowers affect their attractiveness to bees?  Try comparing different varieties of the same type of plants such as lavender, rose, scented geranium, iris, etc.  Try moving petals from one variety to flowers of a different variety.  How do pollinators react?
bulletWhich flower colors or color combinations receive more bee visitors?  Which less?  Try to compare varieties that are similar in scent and amount of nectar when making these comparisons.
bulletWatch pollinators visiting individual flowers.  How do they move on the flower?  Why do you think they behave this way?
Try adding a few drops of sugar or honey water to a few flowers.  Do pollinators act differently on flowers with extra nectar as compared with natural flowers without supplemental nectar?  Try adding or removing anthers.  How does this affect the pollinators?
bulletMany plants arrange flowers in groups, called an inflorescence.  There are numerous shapes and sizes of inflorescences.  Are inflorescences more attractive to pollinators than individual flowers?  Why or why not?  Are large inflorescences more attractive than small ones?  You can manipulate the size of inflorescences in an experiment to test this.  Are all of the flowers on an inflorescence open at the same time?  When and how do individual inflorescences open?  Where are the nectar and pollen rewards in the flower and on the inflorescence?  How does this change over time?  If you were a bee looking for nectar or pollen, where would you go?
bulletTry pollinating the flower by hand, moving pollen from the anthers to the stigma.  Depending on the flower, you can try using a small paint brush, a toothpick, or even the body of a dead bee.  Cover the flower with a bag after you pollinate it so no other pollinators visit the flower.  Does a fruit start to develop?  It may take a few days or even a couple of weeks to tell.  How does it compare with fruits that are visited by the true pollinators? 
bulletWatch flowers and see how many pollinators visit it in a certain amount of time - say 10 minutes.  Try bagging flowers before they open.  Then take the bag off and let one, two or three pollinators visit the flower.  Put the bag back so no more pollinators can visit.  Does fruit develop?  How do the fruits compare depending on the number of pollinator visits to the flower?
bulletWhat happens to the flowers after they are pollinated?  Find flowers and fruits in different stages of development from bud to mature fruits and see if you can figure out how the flowers and fruits develop over time.  Check back every few days or once a week and see how the flowers and/or fruits are changing.  Find the seeds inside the fruit.  When are the seeds mature, ready to plant?  Where is the fruit mature?

If you try to answer even a few of these questions about a flower, you will probably see flowers very differently!
Read about iris flowers and pollination, as an example of a flower that you can observe.


Pollinator Partnership Education resources
The Great Sunflower Project, (San Francisco State University)
Pollination in Space (requires Adobe Reader)
Wisconsin Fast Plants - this humble little mustard makes a great teaching/research tool
WOWBugs - tiny wasp parasites of mud daubers - another great teaching/research tool
http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/, information about butterflies and moths, including kid's page.

Top of Page  Pollinator Paradise      Pollination Ecology at UI    The Solitary Bee Web   
 Rearing Solitary Bees    Suppliers    References   Bee Gardens    FAQ   Links     Contact Us  
New Mexico Native Bee Pollinator Project
   About Dr. Strickler 
Bee Nests and Accessories
  Bee Photo Gallery   Trapnesting Wasps and Bees

Updated Oct, 2002.
Copyright © 2001, Karen Strickler. All rights reserved.