Pollinators are important, because they help many of the plants we enjoy reproduce.
If you like eating apples or watermelons or looking at beautiful flowers, then you enjoy the handiwork of pollinators. June is National Pollinator Month, and June 22 through 28 is Pollinator Week.
In honor of these upcoming events, here are some ideas to teach youth about the importance of pollinators.
While your mind might automatically go to honeybees, our world is filled with many types of pollinating insects. The United States is home to more than 3,000 types of wild, native bees. These types include bumble bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, mining bees and sweat bees. After bees, adult flies are some of our best pollinating insects. Other pollinators include butterflies and moths and some ants and beetles.
By participating in activities together, you can help young people learn about pollinators and how they transfer pollen.
Make paper flowers and leave the centers white. Glue the flowers to a brown paper bag filled with Cheetos. Make a bee finger puppet, and put it on the young person's hand. Let them "fly around" and grab Cheetos from the bag. After they have eaten some of the Cheetos, have them "fly" to another flower and place their hand on it. Do not let them lick their fingers or wipe them off as it will lower the "pollen" on their hands. If you or the young person are not a fan of Cheetos, Skittles work too but there will not be as much "pollen transfer."
Another pollinator activity you can do as a family is make a bee house or hotel to promote bees in your backyard. Take some hollow sticks or some paper straws and bundle them together with string to hang in a tree or shrub in your backyard. You can make a small structure to house these materials, if you choose.
You can also purchase these at gardening centers.
The best kind to get are those that can come apart or don't have permanent materials glued inside. You need to be able to replenish the supplies inside or to clean pieces, otherwise it becomes clogged and disease ridden.
Another way you can encourage bees in your backyard is to plant a pollinator-friendly garden. Plants that tend to attract bees during the spring and summer include peonies, milkweed, bee balm, lavender, phlox, zinnias, marigolds and goldenrod.
You may be nervous about being around pollinating bees out of fear of getting stung, but when pollinators are feeding, they generally don't pay much attention to us. However, if you or a family member has a bee allergy, you should exercise the utmost caution around them.
The bigger issue comes when we discover a nest of a social species like honeybees or bumblebees. This will elicit a defensive response from them. Less social bees, like mason, leaf cutting or mining bees, do not have nests to defend and are much less aggressive.