Lesson 2.7

Defensiveness and the Bee Stinger

Grades: 4-6

Essential Skills: Literature, Language Arts, Social Studies

Duration: 1 Class Period


Students learn about the various ways insects and animals defend themselves.


Teacher Preparation:

Other Materials:

  1. Shallow boxes such as shoe boxes or typewriter paper boxes
  2. Enough sheets of a single colored paper to line the boxes
  3. One skein yarn that's the same color as the colored paper above, one skein in contrasting color. For example, if the paper is green, chose green yarn of a similar hue and a contrasting red yarn.
  4. Stopwatches or a clock with a second hand

Information Sheets:

Activity Sheets:

Lesson Plan

Introduction activity (30 minutes)

"Ouch! It hurts!" When someone mentions bees, we all think of how painful a bee sting is. But it is important to remind the students that honey bees sting only when they or their nest is in danger. Honey bees live in a dangerous world. There are many creatures that like honey and try to steal it from the bees.

Ask students to name the natural predators of honey bees and make a list on the chalk board. For example, bears and badgers are known to break into honey bee hives and steal honey. A number of predators such as birds, frogs, spiders and assassin bugs capture and feed on foraging honey bees. And mice, wasps, ants, beetles and moths may try to rob the bees of honey.

Read aloud the following paragraph from A Year in the Beeyard by Roger Morse, page 149:

Skunks usually feed on bees at colony entrances late in the evening. They walk up to an entrance, scratch on it, and when bees come out to investigate, the skunks swat them, usually stunning them, and eat them. Skunks prefer to feed on colonies with small populations, since such hives have fewer guards and the skunk is not stung excessively. Those who have watched skunks feeding in apiaries report that they move up and down rows of hives until they find one that would appear to have only one guard at a time at the entrance. The grass in front of hives where skunks feed is torn up and mud is usually visible on the hives. This is caused by skunks scratching themselves and their surroundings when they are stung. Skunks feeding on bees have been dissected and stings have been found in their mouths, esophagi, and stomachs; these stings do not deter the skunks from feeding. Observers report that mother skunks may teach their young to feed at beehives.

Activity 2 Bee stinging apparatus (30 minutes)

Give each student a copy of Activity Sheet 31 (honey bee stinging apparatus) and discuss the various parts. Or make an enlarged copy and display on the board.

It is important to emphasize that when a honey bee stings a mammal the stinger becomes embedded. In its struggle to free itself a portion of the stinger is left behind. This damages the honey bee enough to kill it. In contrast, other bees and wasps may withdraw their stinger and may sting numerous times without harm to themselves.

Remind students that if they are stung they should scrape out the stinger with a fingernail and tell an adult immediately (in case they have an allergic reaction).

AHB Note: Contrary to rumor, the sting of one Africanized honey bee is no worse than that of one European honey bee. In fact, because Africanized honey bees are slightly smaller, they inject slightly less venom per sting. However, victims are generally stung more times WHEN THEY ARE NEAR THE COLONY.

Explain to the students that when a bee stings it gives off an alarm pheromone. This attracts other bees to defend the colony. That odor may remain on clothing. Therefore, any clothing they wore when stung should be washed before it is worn outdoors again.

Use Information Sheets 3 and 6 as references

AHB Note: One major difference between Africanized honey bees and European honey bees is that when Africanized honey bees perceive an alarm pheromone, more worker bees come to defend their hive.

Activity 2 Defending yourself (30 minutes)

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee ...
-Muhammad Ali

Plants and animals have many different ways to defend themselves. Have the students make a list of all the ways they can think of that creatures defend themselves and give an example of plants and or animals that use that defense strategy.


Offensive odor, sprays: skunks, desert stink beetles

Have the students investigate unusual ways organisms defend themselves and prepare a report. Have the students discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type of defense. Have the students discuss mimicry as a strategy for defense using Information Sheet 11.

Conclusion Blending in (20 minutes)

Is camouflage helpful? To answer this question perform the following experiment. Organize the students into groups. Have them line a shallow box with colored paper, such as green. Cut 25 two-inch pieces of yarn in the same color as the box lining (green) and 25 two-inch pieces of a contrasting color (red). Place the yarn pieces in the box, and mix them up. Get one volunteer from each group to see how many pieces of yarn of one color s/he can remove in 20 seconds with only one hand, one piece at a time (no handfuls). Have half the groups start with red, the other half start with green to account for improvement by learning. Record the numbers, and then switch to the other color. Are both colors equally easy to find and remove?



Words with special meanings:

(for understanding only, not to be tested)

  1. Poison sac
  2. Stylet
  3. Venom
  4. Defense
  5. Predator
  6. Mimicry


Insect Fact and Folklore, by Lucy W. Clausen. Published by Collier Books, N.Y., 1954. pp. 111-115.

A Scanning Electron Microscope Atlas of the Honey Bee, by E.H. Erickson, Jr., S.D. Carlson and M.B. Garment. Published by Iowa State University Press, Ames, IA, 1986.

Hands-On Nature: Information and Activities for Exploring the Environment with Children, by J. Ligelbach. Published by Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Woodstock, V.T., 1986.

A Year in the Beeyard, by R. A. Morse. Published by Charles Scribner's Sons, N.Y., 1983.

Anatomy and Physiology of the Honeybee, by R. E. Snodgrass. Published by McGraw-Hill, N.Y., 1925.

Return to Homepage