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Hive Mind

These curious kindergartners got as close to bees as a person can without getting stung.

As they filed into the classroom, their eyes as wide as saucers, they gravitated toward the wooden-and-glass box in the back of the room.

There, they saw them: the bees. Hundreds of bees in constant motion, crawling about the honeycomb in their hive.

Multitudes of “oohs” and “aahs” ensued.

The hive was the big draw for students from Eugene’s Corridor Elementary School. They came to campus to learn about honeybees at the invite of Misty McLean-Schurbon, a biology department lab supervisor.

“We have this great hive, and I thought it would be cool if we could use it for outreach, too,” McLean-Schurbon said. “It’s great to take something kids are afraid of, like bees, and show them all the good things they do.”

Students from Corridor Elementary School in Eugene examine a piece of old honeycomb. (Photo: Jim Murez)

Located in Huestis Hall, the hive is housed in a box the size of a carry-on suitcase, linked to the outside world with a clear plastic hose in which the bees pass back and forth. The biology department uses the hive to study honeybee behavior, including how they communicate and organize their hive to keep it running smoothly; McLean-Schurbon realized that the hive could also serve as a fun way to expose youth to science and plant in them the seed of curiosity.

“I see how students in a 100-level course get engaged by the bee hive and interested in science, and thought it would be great if we could do that with 6-year-olds,” McLean-Schurbon said.

She organized four stations that focused on honeybees: their hive, biology, methods of communication and how they fit into nature.

To say the 30-plus visiting students and parents were mesmerized would be an understatement. They were drawn to the hive like a bee to honey, especially to look for the queen bee, whose larger size distinguished her from the others.

Senior biology major Kristie Parsons helped the kids find the queen and point out the other bees’ responsibilities in the hive.

“They thought it was cool to hear the buzzing, and see the honey and pollen packed into the combs, but they were most excited about seeing the queen bee,” Parsons said. “One little girl had really wished the queen bee was wearing a crown.”

A tray of mounted bee specimens captures the attention of students from Corridor Elementary School in Eugene. (Photo: Jim Murez)

As other students waited their turn, they kept occupied with a chunk of old honeycomb that had been placed on a tray for examination.

“It feels so good on your hands,” said Dylan Canfield, as he pressed his palms into the now-retired hive. “I don’t want to take my hands off.”

“It smells like a candle,” added a classmate.

In another classroom, students watched a projection of a bee onto a large screen as McLean-Schurbon identified the insects’ body parts and their purposes. The students then made drawings and diagrams of what they had learned.

And outside, a third group learned how bees use dances to communicate with one another and what each dance means; then, the students took turns acting out the dances.

The field trip was supported by the office of UO President Michael Schill, the Urban Farm, the athletics department and the Oregon State University Honeybee Lab, which keeps the UO’s hive for part of the year.

“I think the kids came away from this with a new appreciation for honey bees,” Parsons said, “and hopefully are a little less afraid of them.”

— Jim Murez

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