Honeybees Are Vanishing
Arts & Humanities
Whats causing the disappearance of millions of U.S. honeybees?
Before reading, ask students to agree or disagree with each of the statements below. This will set a purpose for reading; as they read, students will confirm their assumptions or learn something new.
Millions and millions of honeybees are disappearing and scientists arent sure why.
Without honeybees there might be no apples or broccoli.
Many farmers rent bees to pollinate their crops.
Some bees might be dying because they are stressed out.
Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: vanish, disappear, population, pollinate, chemicals and disease. Discuss the meanings of any of those words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:
The magician made the quarter _____ right before my eyes! (disappear or vanish)
Insects such as mosquitoes and flies are known to be _____ carriers. (disease)
Bees arent the only animals that _____ plants. So do some beetles, butterflies, and flies. (pollinate)
My father mixed _____ to make the pool water safe for swimming. (chemicals)
New York City has more than twice the _____ of Los Angeles. (population)
Scientists fear that polar bears may _____ from Earth if they are not protected. (vanish or disappear)
Read the News
Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Honeybees Are Vanishing.
You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:
Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.
Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.
Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.
Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.
More Facts to Share
You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.
Bees pollinate approximately 75 percent of the worlds 250,000 flowering species.
A congressional study reported that honeybees add about $15 billion a year in value to our food supply. For those reasons, scientists often refer to honeybees as "natures workhorse."
Honeybees pollinate more than 90 of the flowering plants that bear food we eat. Among those foods are apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, and cantaloupe and other melons.
Honeybees also pollinate alfalfa, which is one of the main sources of food for Americas cows.
The threat to honeybees is "the biggest general threat to our food supply," said Kevin Hackett, leader of the USDA's bee and pollination program.
Scientists have given a name to the honeybee die-off. They call it Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The problem started in November 2006 and seems to have spread to 27 states.
Before CCD struck, beehive populations had been steadily shrinking for some time. (The number of hives dropped from an estimated 5.9 million in 1947 to 2.4 million in 2005.) Those shrinking hive populations had been attributed to disease and the widespread use of poisons -- and the bees inability to fight them off. But the current die-off seems to be different from the other recent problems. In the past, beekeepers would open their hives and find dead worker bees. This time, they are finding just newborn bees and the queen. The worker bees have simply disappeared.
Similar die-offs occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, according to bee expert Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana. One European expert said something similar happened in Germany in 2004. Similar problems have been recorded as far back as 1896.
Whether the cause of this die-off is similar or not to those in previous years, it is much more extensive. About five times as many bees are thought to have died off this past winter. "We have never seen a die-off of this magnitude," Maryann Frazier, a bee researcher at Pennsylvania State University, told Cosmos magazine. "We've seen bees disappear over time and dwindle away, but not die-off so quickly."
CCD can happen very quickly. One bee expert recently visited California beekeepers. He saw a thriving hive one day, and two days later that hive had completely collapsed.
No one is sure what is causing the honeybee die-off. There are many suspected causes, which include parasites, an unknown virus, bacteria, drought, pesticides, hive overcrowding, starvation, stress, or a combination of causes.
Mites have been harming beehives for many years, but some scientists think a mite (arachnid) is sucking the juice out of bees, which might be weakening their immune systems and allowing viruses to attack.
Others think the bees are affected by stress. Hives are often shipped many miles by truck, and the stress of that journey may be weakening the bees immunity.
Some other scientists think pesticides might play a role in the current problem. Some studies suggest that pesticides might interfere with bees minds and prevent them from remembering where their colony is located. That might also explain why some moths that typically move into abandoned hives to eat the honey have been staying away from CCD-killed hives. The moths may have a sense of some kind of harmful chemical in those hives, the scientists say.
Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students to respond again to the statements in it.
Millions and millions of honeybees are disappearing and scientists arent sure why. (true)
Without honeybees there might be no apples or broccoli. (true)
Many farmers rent bees to pollinate their crops. (true)
Some bees might be dying because they are stressed out. (true)
You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:
Recalling Detail What kinds of foods do bees help to grow? (fruits, vegetables, and nuts)
In what other countries are bees dying> (Canada, Brazil, and some countries in Europe)
How do bees help plants grow? (They spread pollen from flower to flower.)
How might chemicals harm bees? (Scientists say the chemicals can affect bees minds and make them forget where they live.)
Why are some beehives shipped by truck? (Farmers rent the bees so they can pollinate their crops.)
Think About the News
Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. You might use the think-pair-share strategy with students to discuss this question. If you use this strategy
First, arrange students into pairs to discuss and list responses to the question.
Then merge two pairs of students together to create groups of four students. Have them discuss and add to the ideas they generated in their pairs.
Next, merge two groups of four students to form groups of eight students. Have students create a new combined list of ideas.
Finally, bring all students together for a class discussion about how the loss of honeybees could affect people. Among the ways students might suggest are that the cost of honey might increase; food might not be as available if bees do not pollinate the plants (and the costs of those foods might increase too); animals that eat the foods bees help to produce might have to find other kinds of food to eat; people who make a living raising bees for honey or to rent to farmers might be out of jobs
Language -- syllables. Ask students to identify the number of syllables in some of these words from the News for You story. Answers appear in parentheses. disappear (3), honeybee (3), scientists (3), billions (2), Canada (3), Europe (2), spread (1), pollen (2), powder (2), fruits (1), pollinate (3), disease (2), insect (2), cause (1), chemicals (3), hive (1), broccoli (3), soybeans (2), celery (3), squash (1), cucumbers (3), melons (2).
Geography. Share with students this U.S. map, which shows the states that produced the most honey. Have students list the nine states that led the U.S. in honey production. (The nine states are Florida, Texas, California, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.) Older students might use this data to create their own color-coded U.S. map showing states that produce less than 1 million pounds; 1-5 million pounds; 5-10 million pounds; and 10 million or more pounds of honey.
Language -- sequencing. Write the following sentences on a board or chart. Then share the "From Bee to Thee" (How Honey Is Made) animation. After viewing the animation, have students number the sentences in sequence from 1 to 8. (Answers appear below in parentheses.)
An extractor removes honey from the honeycombs. (6)
Bees use their wings to fan and dry the nectar. (3)
The honey sits in a settling tank for 12 hours before it is bottled. (8)
A beekeeper collects the honey frames from the hive. (5)
Worker bees gather flower nectar in their special stomachs. (1)
The honey is filtered to remove beeswax. (7)
Worker bees store the nectar in honeycomb cells. (2)
The nectar ripens into honey. (4)
Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News questions on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.
Lesson Plan Source
LANGUAGE ARTS: English
GRADES K - 12
NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
GRADES K - 4
NS.K-4.3 Life Science
NS.K-4.4 Earth and Space Science
NS.K-4.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
GRADES 5 - 8
NS.5-8.3 Life Science
NS.5-8.4 Earth and Space Science
NS.5-8.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
GRADES 9 - 12
NS.9-12.3 Life Science
NS.9-12.4 Earth and Space Science
NS.9-12.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.
Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
Copyright © 2007 Education World