“Bee” the Change You Want to See: Build a Bumblebee Box!

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

“Bee” the change you want to see: Build a bumblebee box!

By Changemaker Volunteer, Diana Kurila

My parents have the biggest garden in their neighbourhood. I love the fuzzy, friendly bumblebees that come to visit. We hear a lot about the challenges facing bumblebees today resulting from habitat loss and competition from introduced species, such as the honeybee. This got me thinking, how can we help bumblebee species that are native to Alberta?

I collaborated with my university and elementary students to build bumblebee boxes to help researchers better understand these important critters. A simple act that you can do with your family, while also engaging your children in science, is build your own bumblebee box and place it in your yard or balcony this spring! Bee boxes look a lot like bird houses, but with a smaller entrance hole. They are filled with raw cotton and provide a great base for bumblebees to build their cells for pollen storage. The Alberta Native Bee Council is conducting a study on bumblebees, and families who build bee boxes are encouraged to send in their data. This is a great way for children to become citizen scientists!

While working with schools, I saw children as young as seven enthusiastically saw wood, hammer nails, and use a drill (adult supervision of course!).

The best time to put your bee box outside is when the first flowers start to come up. In early spring, queen bumblebees come out from hibernation looking for a nest. Bee boxes provide the perfect nest as they are safe, secure, and the cotton bedding allows bees to burrow inside and start building cells. Bumblebees are very sweet and good-natured, and leave people alone unless threatened.

When putting up the boxes, the Alberta Native Bee council is looking for information about how many meters above the ground the box is placed and the direction of the entrance. This is a great chance for kids to work as scientists and practice measuring and reading a compass.

By mid-October, it’s safe to open the box, which is the best part! Inside you may find honey pots and worker cells. It is not unusual to find a few deceased bumblebees, but this is a normal part of the bumblebee life cycle, which only lasts spring and summer. The new queen lives on, and by then has found a safe spot to overwinter in the ground, before emerging in spring to start the cycle over.

Sometimes boxes appear empty, because all you see is the cotton inside. Don’t be fooled. Press your hand down on the cotton and if it feels hard, tear the cotton open and you will see the cells! I almost thought a box was unoccupied before finding my biggest colony yet (pictured above). If your box or boxes are not occupied, this is also an important part of the research, so please do report back to the Alberta Native Bee Council. 

A fun extension to this project that your children can do is research flowers that attract bumblebees. This creates a great opportunity to learn about plant growth and needs.

For full instructions about building a bumblebee box and the data reporting form, please visit the Alberta Native Bee Council: https://www.albertanativebeecouncil.ca/bumblebee-box-program-1

If you are a teacher interested in the school bumblebee box program for next spring, please visit the Geological Bumble Bee Project by Mount Royal University and reach out to Dr. Katherine Boggs: https://www.mtroyal.ca/ProgramsCourses/FacultiesSchoolsCentres/InstituteforEnvironmentalSustainability/Projects/Research/GEOLOGICAL_BUMBLE_BEE_PROJECT

By Diana Kurila

Diana is an elementary teacher and was part of the Bumble Bee Project during her undergrad at Mount Royal University. She previously worked for the Alberta Council for Environmental Education and loves to collaborate with teachers and organizations to learn more about outdoor and conservation education.

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