Virtual Nature Tots: Pollinator Parade

Guest post by Erin Votaw, GSC Educator

ErinHello my preschool science buddies! If you aren’t familiar with Nature Tots programs at the Greensboro Science Center, let me introduce myself. My name is Erin and I am a part of the Education department here at the Greensboro Science Center. I have been teaching Nature Tots classes, summer camps and grant programs for the past 10 years.  I thought it may be fun to investigate some of the topics we didn’t get to meet up for in our Nature Tots class. We always have such a fun time together on Tuesdays and I look forward to the time when we get back to the fun, together in our special place with visiting animals and keeper talks. The GSC is working hard to keep the animals happy but I know they miss seeing your sweet faces checking on them.

I am excited to be back with you for another adventure. Let’s get busy!  The temperatures and world around us are continuing to change. What are you noticing using your science tools (eyes, ears, nose, hands)? Have you been able to enjoy some fresh, delicious strawberries lately? Yum! There are so many exciting changes happening and things to look forward to right outside our door and for the upcoming summer season. I thought it would be nice to investigate how such beautiful and delicious things get their start in earnest during the spring season.  

We’ve talked about what a plant needs to grow on a couple of occasions, so let’s review that first. Water, soil and sunshine are key ingredients to getting those food factories working producing the food that the plant needs to grow and hopefully provide us with some yumminess! Remind me why exactly it is that plants can’t come over for dinner, go to the grocery store or pick-up Chick-fil-A? Oh yes, they have roots that keep them in the ground during most wind storms and provide the water to the leaves. Those roots, like our straws in our chocolate milk, guide the water up to the leaves where the sunshine allows photosynthesis to occur. This is a big science word but really just means the process where the plant uses carbon dioxide from the air, water and sunshine to produce the sugar food it needs to grow.  

Here is something to try to help explain this process.

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If you took some celery, have an adult help you cut the end off so that they aren’t attached to one another, but are individual stalks. Next, put the celery piece into some mixed up food coloring and water…watch what happens overnight. Eventually, the leaves of the celery (which were previously “celery-colored”) will have some of the color of food coloring you added to the water, but the celery stalk does not show any food coloring change. We didn’t put the entire stalk of celery in the red water, so how come only the leaves show the red coloring? How does that happen? Do you notice the end of  the celery looks like it has some colored dots?

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Hmmm, maybe a clue to some activity! If you break the celery and look at the middle, you can see with your eyes and even using magnifying glass, you will see those tubules holding the colored water. 

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You can touch the tubules and not get the color on you!! Plants use these tubules like our straws to transport needed water up to the leaves, like we move chocolate milk from the glass to our mouth – Yum!! And very cool! Who knew that plants did cool stuff like that on the inside???? Now that we see how this can happen, let’s put this all back together with the leaves food factories. To get the best amount of sunshine for photosynthesis, the branches hold the leaves up to collect the sunshine that provides the energy to turn on and keep that food factory running, and hence the plant growing. And most importantly, producing more yumminess.

But did you know there is another process that is vital to the success of all the delicious foods we enjoy? And it involves some familiar flying friends! The process of pollination is used by thousands of plants grown world wide! Everything from apples, bananas, pumpkins, chocolate, melons, peaches, vanilla, almonds, squash, cucumbers, avocado, mango, raspberries and so many more! Now I am hungry for a tasty snack! When our flying friends drink the nectar from the flowers of these growing foods they usually land or touch the flower. As they touch the flower they get pollen stuck to their legs and body. Hmmm, something to think about here to help explain, or if you are still hungry, even give a try. Have you ever eaten some cheesy crackers? What happens when you are enjoying your tasty snack and it’s time to turn the page on the book you are reading? I notice that my cheesy fingers leave a smudge mark on the page, tv remote or even my shirt! Think of that like pollen that got on you from visiting a flower for some nectar, and now it has gotten on something else! This is how pollination works. 90% of all flowering plants rely on animals for pollination, not the wind just to blow the pollen around the sky. Bees, butterflies, flies, hummingbirds, insects, moths beetles, wasps and even bats are excellent pollinators. Bees do most of the pollination work and are paid in honey!!

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Now I know that bees, hornets and wasps aren’t our favorite friends, but they are super important if you like to eat those delicious treats from the garden like I do! Bees are an interesting group to investigate. Do you remember the name of where bees live? They are found all over the world except Antarctica, living in their hives with their colony bee family. There is only one queen per colony and she lays all the eggs! Phew! The female workers build the hive for the colony and search for food, while the males fly around and search for the pollen from the plants. This means they are the ones that you see flying around your yard or outdoor space are the male honey bees. They are on a hunt for plants with nectar for a yummy drink and also to take some back to the hive to make honey. But in the process of gathering the nectar from their sources, the legs of the bees get covered in the pollen and share it between each flower they visit, over and over again. Kind of like us with the cheesy crackers… Cool!

Bees’ wings beat about 200 times per second as they fly around – this just makes me want to take a nap. When they get back to the hive they “share” the location of the found pollen with their hive mates through tail wags and dances as directions so their bee family can go and find a great nectar site. At this time, the bees need our continued help to survive and so they can continue to pollinate treats for us!

Here at the Greensboro Science Center we are lucky enough to have our own bee colony!  The latest from keeper Mike is the new colony has arrived and continues to check out its surroundings. The hive is located in the garden area near the amphitheater entrance to the barn. We like to think of it as a “pollinating pocket” that is home to flowering plants that benefit from the bees and any butterflies! On your next visit be sure to stop by the colony to say hello to our pollinating friends and check their hive out, from a distance of course! In a previous post, we have blogged about the care of our honeybees with tons of info and lots of pictures.  Check it out here https://greensborosciencecenter.wordpress.com/tag/honeybees/.

I hope to bring you more blogs and activities to help keep you engaged in our science world.  If you have a Pinterest account check out some fun activities on this board “Trees, Plants and Pollination” (https://www.pinterest.com/evotaw6034/boards/).  There are other boards there from the many camps and programs I have worked on, so have some fun with that as well! Be on the lookout for more content from the Greensboro Science Center behind the scenes, keeper talks, activities and adventures for all to enjoy!  I hope to see you again soon — until then have fun and remember science is everywhere!

 

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