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  Entomology Department > Insect Zoo > Lesson Plans


Grade Level



  • Felt Honeybee Biology Boards and Velcro labels
  • Large flower poster
  • Large pictures of the honeybee types and the honeybee hive
  • Honey
  • Beeswax
  • Pollen

Materials for Activity 2:

  • Feather dusters
  • Paper cups
  • Yellow ("pollen") and white ("nectar") packing peanuts (or something similar)


1. Students will identify the three types of honeybees and their responsibilities inside the hive.

2. Students will learn about the importance of the honeybee to humans.

3. Students will discover how honeybees communicate.

Discussion 1: Honeybee Biology

Honeybees, like all insects, have 3 body parts: the head, thorax, and abdomen. Instead of an internal skeleton like humans, honeybees and other insects have an exoskeleton that maintains body shape. A single pair of antennae is attached to the honeybee's head. These are scent mechanisms. Honeybees also have 5 eyes. Two of these are compound eyes that detect shape and color. The remaining three are simple eyes that only detect light and dark. Honeybees have four wings attached to their thorax that beat very rapidly, giving them their distinctive "buzz". Honeybees can fly as fast as 15 miles per hour! Also attached to the thorax are 6 legs. On the back legs are thin sacks called pollen baskets. These are used to transport pollen back to the hive to be used for food. The pollen is mixed with honey to make "bee bread" which is fed to young bees. Honeybees have wax glands on the undersides of their abdomen that produce beeswax in very small pieces. These pieces are then molded into the hexagonal honeycomb that is used to store honey and pollen for winter food. On the end of the female bee's abdomen is the ovipositor (stinger). The ovipositor of the honeybee is barbed so that it remains imbedded into whatever the honeybee stings. For this reason, a honeybee can only sting once and then it will die because the end of her abdomen is pulled off when the honeybee flies away. This is different from most other bees and wasps (bumble bees, yellow jackets, etc.) which don't have barbed ovipositors and can sting multiple times.

Discussion 2: The 3 Types of Honeybees in the Hive

There are three casts (types) of honeybees inside the hive. The most important is the queen. The queen is much longer that the other bees because she needs a long abdomen for laying eggs. There is only one queen in a single hive. She is the mother of ALL other bees in the hive and is the only female who lays eggs. She can lay up to 2000 eggs in a single day! She will lay as many eggs as she can throughout the spring and summer, but she will lay very few eggs in the winter. The queen will only leave the hive once in her life when she mates with 7 to 10 males. A ring of worker honeybees almost always surrounds the queen. These bees have the job of feeding (she can't feed herself), cleaning, and caring for the queen. The queen gives off a special scent, called a pheromone, which lets the other bees know when she is near. This way, they can provide her with food, water, and protection if needed. A queen bee can live 3 to 5 years.

Male honeybees are known as drones. Drone bees are large, but rounder and slightly shorter than the queen and have no stinger. There are usually around 300 drones in a single hive. The drones are important because they mate with the queen. Mating is performed during flight in mid-air. However, the queen only mates once in her life, with 7 to 10 drones, so most drones don't have a job. These drones stay in the hive and just "hang out" until fall. In September, drone bees are kicked out of the hive. This is because drones eat so much honey that the hive would not survive the winter if the drones were allowed to stay. For this reason, drones only live about 90 days (the length of the summer).

The final type of honeybee inside the hive is the worker bee. These are small, female bees that are not fully developed like the queen. Their name says it all! Worker honeybees do just that. They clean the hive, care for young bees, make honeycomb for storing honey, guard the hive, and forage for nectar and pollen. Worker bees only live about 40 days, and there are usually 60,000 to 80,000 worker bees in a single hive. In one collection trip, a worker bee will visit 50 to 100 flowers; she will make several collection trips in a single day. In her lifetime, one worker bee will make 1/12 teaspoon of honey (one small drop). An entire hive of honeybees will make an average of 80 pounds of surplus honey in one year. Honeybees will only forage for nectar and pollen during daylight hours because they use the sun to guide them. They can determine direction to and from the hive using the position of the sun.

A colony of honeybees will produce as much honey as they can through the spring, summer, and even fall. They store this honey inside the hive so they will have food during the winter. When the temperature drops below 57 degrees Fahrenheit, the entire colony will come together in a cluster around the queen. This is how the honeybees stay warm throughout the winter. They will keep the temperature inside the cluster around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This is very important because if the queen gets too cold she will become infertile and will not be able to lay eggs in the spring. This means the hive will die off! The entire mass of bees will move slowly along the honeycomb stores so they will always have food.

Note: Feel free to use the pictures provided to give students a life-like image of the 3 types of honeybees and the inside of the honeybee hive.

Discussion 3: Pollination and the Products of the Honeybee Hive

When honeybees collect nectar from flowers, they are also providing an important service to humans. Honeybees have fuzzy bodies, which get covered in pollen grains when they land on a flower. At the next flower, some of this pollen will fall off, and more new pollen will attach. This is how many plants get pollinated. Pollination is very important to humans. One-third of our food comes from plants that depend on pollination. In the US, honeybees perform 80% of insect pollination.

Honeybees also provide other services to humans through the products we get from the honeybee hive. One of the most common is honey, an all-natural sugar that we use for cooking, cosmetics, and for medicinal purposes. Honey is used by top athletes as a quick energy source. Another well-known hive product is beeswax. Beeswax is very popular for making candles, and is also used in cosmetics. Honeybees make beeswax from honey and pollen, so it's edible! Two other hive products are Propolis and Royal Jelly. These are dietary supplements high in vitamins and minerals that are made by honeybees.

Note: It might be helpful to show the picture of the worker bee again and point out the pollen grains on his fuzzy body when discussing pollination.

Discussion 4: Honeybee Pheromones

Pheromones are special scents that are used by many insects for communication. Honeybees use pheromones in many ways. We will discuss the two most common ways in this section.

The Queen has a special pheromone that is only hers. No other queen will smell quite the same as she does to the bees. This is very important for the other bees in her hive. They will know when she is close because her scent will get stronger. When the queen is near, a worker bee will turn and face her. This is so the worker can assist with feeding and grooming the queen. Worker bees become very calm and docile when the queen is near so as not to chance hurting her. They need her to ensure the survival of the hive so they are very careful when she is close by. Also, when they return from the field they will know which hive is theirs because it smells like their queen. Beekeepers can have many hives of bees all in one line and the honeybees won't get confused or lost.

Another honeybee pheromone is used to protect the hive. When a honeybee detects that her hive is in danger, she will give off a "danger pheromone" that alerts the other bees to the problem so they can protect the hive. Honeybees only emit this pheromone when they feel immediately threatened. Honeybees only sting when they feel that their lives or their hive is in danger. Beekeepers can work with their honeybees because they are very careful and use special tools and methods that do not threaten the bees. For example, many beekeepers wear white because light or white colors are associated with flowers and are non-threatening.

Discussion 5: Honeybee Communication - The "Waggle Dance"

The above discussion talked about pheromones as a method of communication between honeybees. Another method is known as the "Bee Dance." Honeybees have specific body movements ("dances") that they use to convey specific messages to other bees. The most common dance is the "Waggle Dance". This dance is used to inform other honeybees of the location of a nectar source (a group of flowers). To perform this dance, a bee will waggle her body back and forth very quickly and move forward in a straight line. The direction of this line tells the other bees the direction of the nectar source in relation to the sun. The length of her waggle indicates the distance to the nectar source. At the end of her waggle, she will walk in a half circle back to where she started. During this time, the other bees will use their antennae to "smell" her because she carries the scent of the flowers they need to find. Now the other honeybees know the direction of the nectar source, the distance to it, and the specific flower they are looking for.

Activity 1: Learning the Parts of the Honeybee

For this activity, students should be split into small groups corresponding with the number of felt boards provided. Allow the students to use the Velcro labels to identify the various parts of the honeybee's body. When students are finished, outline the correct answers (provided on attached page). You may also wish to review the functions and significance of these parts again while providing the correct answers. Give students additional time to correct their boards before clean up.

Activity 2: Role-Play a Honeybee Hive

Split your students up into groups representing the 3 different types of honeybees inside the hive. Choose one girl to be the queen, a few boys for drones, and designate the remaining students as workers. The queen sits in a chair at the front or center of the room. The drones sit on the floor to one side. The workers are split into several smaller groups. Choose a few workers to be queen's attendants (form a circle around queen), some to be nurse bees, some to be housekeepers, a few to be wax makers, and two to be guard bees. You should have several students left to be field bees. Have the students identify their particular jobs in the hive. Remind your students that in order for a hive to survive, all of the honeybees must do their part.

Give the students simple props (provided) to use in role-playing their parts. For example, give the housekeepers feather dusters, the wax bees small cups to be arranged into honeycomb, the nurse bees pollen (yellow packing peanuts - food for the young bees). Also, spread pollen and nectar (packing peanuts) throughout the room for the field bees to collect and bring back and store in the honeycomb. They can only carry two pieced of nectar and two pieces of pollen at a time. The field bees must enter and exit the hive through a designated entrance that is supervised by the guard bees.

Allow the students a few minutes to role play the hive. The wax bees can "build" honeycomb by setting out the cups in neat rows. Designate one area of cups as young bees and another area as food storage. The queen's attendants should bring the queen food every 30 seconds. The guard bees stand guard over the entrance, keeping the field bees moving in and out in an organized fashion. The field bees should make several "collection trips" to bring nectar and pollen back to the hive. These should be placed into the "honeycomb". The nurse bees can take pollen from the food stores and "feed" it to the young bees. The housekeepers are busy dusting and cleaning. They clean any food that gets dropped on the floor of the hive but are careful not to get in the way of any other bees.

Activity 3: Demonstrating the Waggle Dance

Choose three students to perform this demonstration. Designate a particular area (about 8-10 ft. square) to be your "hive" and have two students remain in that area. Have the third student go foraging (searching) for a nectar source (a flower). When he/she finds this source, have him/her return to the "hive" to tell the other bees. Have this student perform a "Waggle Dance" to tell the other bees where to find the flower. Make sure the other two "bees" do their part in the dance as well. The student should stand facing the direction of the flower. He/She should then shake his/her whole body and move in a straight line toward the flower. After moving a few feet he/she should stop, turn to the right and walk in a half circle back to where he/she started. As he/she passes one of the worker bees, this bee should sniff at the dancing bee to identify the scent of the nectar source. When the dancing bee reaches the place where he/she started, he/she should "waggle" in the direction of the flower again. This time the dancing bee should turn to the left, and the remaining worker bee should perform the sniffing. Now all three bees are ready to leave the hive and locate the nectar source.

Option 1: When all three workers have locate the nectar source, have each bee choose two more bees to take back to the hive and perform the "Waggle Dance" for. Make sure all of the components of the dance are carried out, and then allow all of these bees to locate the nectar source. Then instruct each of these bees to select two more bees to "tell" about their finding. Continue this pattern until all students are bees in the hive. Note: Your designated hive area will need to expand as the "hive population" increases.

Option 2: Place several groups of scent jars around the room. When a worker finds a nectar source (located at a scent jar group), have him/her bring one back to the hive. When the other worker bees sniff him/her, have them try to identify the scent in the jar. When they leave to find the nectar source described in the dance, let them use their noses to see if they found the right one.

Conclusion and Review:

Review with your students the three types of honeybees inside the hive, the products that come from the hive, why honeybees are important to humans, and communication through pheromones and body movements.

Suggested Questions for Review:

1. How many body parts does a honeybee have? (3 - head, thorax, abdomen)

2. What do honeybees use pollen for? (food)

3. What is the correct term for the honeybee's stinger? (Ovipositor)

4. Honeybees have ________ wings and can fly up to 15 mph. (4)

5. Which type of bee can lay up to 2000 eggs in one day? (Queen)

6. What is the special name for a male bee? (Drone)

7. Name two jobs of the worker bee. (Housekeeper, Nurse, Wax Maker, Guard, Field)

8. How do honeybees stay warm through the winter? (They cluster around the queen)

9. Why is pollination important to humans? (1/3 of our food is dependant on pollination)

10. Name two products of the honeybee hive. (Honey, Beeswax, Pollen, Propolis, Royal Jelly)

11. True or False. The Queen gives off a pheromone that alerts other bees to her presence. (T)

12. What do honeybees use the "Waggle Dance" for? (To help other bees find a nectar source)

© 2004 Iowa State University Entomology Department. Last modified 3/15/04 by John VanDyk.