Lesson 3.1

Honey Bee Biology

Grades: 7-8

Essential Skills: Science, Language Arts

Duration: 1-2 class periods


Students will review the basic parts of an insect and learn about the anatomical characteristics of a honey bee. The second part of the lesson focuses on ways to identify a honey bee from other stinging insects, as well as the behavioral differences between Africanized and European honey bees.


Teacher Preparation:

Curriculum Support Materials:

  1. Poster 1. Honey bee collecting pollen
  2. Poster 3. Honey bee queen and workers on comb
  3. Poster 4. Common bees and wasps
  4. AHB and EHB in plastic
  5. Plastic honeycomb, or real if available

Information Sheets:

Activity Sheets:

Lesson Plan

Introduction activity (45 minutes)

Explain to your students that more than one million species of insects have been formally described and that many more have yet to be identified. To be able to keep track of them all, scientists have a system of classification.

Explain that all animals are classified according to how they look, how they behave, and how their bodies work in comparison with other the bodies of other organisms. Explain that today most scientists agree that there are five large groups of organisms called Kingdoms: Monera (bacteria), Protista (other one-celled organisms), Fungi (mushrooms, molds and yeasts), Plantae (plants) and Animalia (animals). Ask students if they know the name of the Kingdom to which insects belong. (Animalia, the same Kingdom as humans.)

Organisms are further divided within each Kingdom. Write "King Phillip Came Over From Greater Spain" or "King Phillip Came Over For George's Sword" on the board. Explain that this ditty helps us remember the levels of organization: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

For example the honey bee is:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Hymenoptera

Family: Apidae

Genus: Apis

Species: mellifera

Explain that insects belong to the Phylum Arthropoda. Ask the students what the name arthropod means. (jointed foot) List the following characteristics of arthropods on the board:

  1. Have hard external skeleton, called an exoskeleton.
  2. Have jointed arms and legs.
  3. Do not have a spine or spinal cord. Discover if students can list any other members of the Arthropod group besides insects. (spiders, centipedes, millipedes, crabs, lob sters, scorpions, etc.)

Ask students what physical features all members of the class Insecta or insects share. (three body parts, six legs) Ask students to name the three body segments of an insect. (head, thorax, abdomen)

Review the functions of three major body parts of the honey bee using Information Sheet No. 2, the honey bee body.

Activity 2 Bee and wasp identification (20 minutes)

Using the color picture of the various stinging insects (Poster 4) and the stinging insect ID Information Sheet 20, ask students to identify each species. Facilitate a brief discussion about what students may think about these stinging insects. Encourage them to describe any differences they see among the insects. Ask them what kinds of things they might look for to help identify these insects in nature (i.e., shape, color, behavior, nests, habitat.)

Activity 3 Honey bee biology (60 minutes)

Have the students read about honey bees to gain an understanding of their biology. Either distribute Information Sheets 1 through 5, or ask the students to research the information themselves from books (Check Grade 4-6, Lesson 2.2 page 2 for questions to present.) Show the plastic honeycomb and posters. Emphasize the benefits of honey bees to humans. Honey bees provide honey and pollinate crops. Have the students present either written or oral reports about what they have learned.

Activity 4 European honey bees and Africanized honey bees (40 minutes)

Introduce the students to Africanized honey bees. Pass around the Africanized honey bee (AHB) and European honey bee (EHB) in plastic and emphasize that although the two bees look just alike (only an expert using sophisticated equipment can tell them apart), the Africanized honey bee is known to behave differently.

Have the students read Information Sheets 19, 20 and the four information bulletins included in the Appendix. Ask them to identify similarities and differences between Africanized honey bees and European honey bees. Encourage the students to ask questions about Africanized honey bee safety. Ask them what they would do in a stinging emergency. Have the students make up and act out different stinging scenarios, from stepping on one bee in the back yard, to arousing an entire colony of Africanized honey bees. Make sure everyone knows that about three percent of the population is allergic to bee stings, and that persons who are allergic should seek medical attention immediately, regardless of how many times they are stung.

Encourage the students to share what they have learned with others, either by giving presenta tions to younger classes, to youth or church groups, or to their families.



Words with special meanings:

(for understanding only, not to be tested)

  1. Worker
  2. Queen
  3. Drone
  4. Larva(e)
  5. Pupa(e)
  6. Brood
  7. Nurse bee
  8. Cells
  9. Comb
  10. Kingdom
  11. Phylum
  12. Class
  13. Order
  14. Family
  15. Arthropod


Monkeyshines Goes Buggy, edited by Phyllis Barkas. Illustrated by John Grigni. Published by Mon keyshines Publications, Greensboro, N.C.,1992.

Living with Killer Bees, by G. Flakus, Published by Quick Trading Co., San Francisco, C.A., 1993.

The "African" Honey Bee, edited by D. Fletcher and M. Breed. Published by Westview Press, Boulder, C.O., 1987.

The Fascinating World of Bees, by A. Julivert. Published by Barrons, N.Y., 1991.

Bees and Beekeeping, by R.A. Morse. Published by Comstock Publishing Assoc. of Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, N.Y., 1975.

The Complete Guide to Beekeeping, by R.A. Morse. Published by E.P. Dutton,N.Y., 1986.

Honey Bee Ecology, by Tom Seeley. Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1985.

All Kinds of Bees, by D. E. Shuttlesworth. Published by Random House, N.Y., 1967.

Biology of the Honey Bee, by M. L. Winston. Published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1987.

The Africanized Honey Bee in the Americas, by M. L. Winston. Published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1992.

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