On a crisp Tuesday morning in late June, around 25 children who had gathered outside the Kodiak Public Library whispered with excitement as local bee expert Judi Kidder displayed plastic tubes containing honeybee drones.
Drones are male honeybees, which do not have stingers, so children who said they had always been scared of getting stung were able to spend time holding and learning about the harmless insects after Kidder removed them from the tubes and began handing them out.
One such participant was 11-year-old John Mark.
He said it was his first time holding a bee, which felt “ticklish” as it crawled over his hand. He added that he was nervous at first “because I thought I was going to get stung” but the experience, it turned out, was “not scary.”
The cool air meant the bees were particularly lethargic, almost to the point of looking lifeless. Standing in a field of clover, the children cupped the bees in their hands and blew warm air onto them, trying to coax them into greater movement.
The bee activity was part of the Kodiak Parks and Recreation Morning Program.
Kidder wrote in a Facebook message that it was “great seeing the excitement from the kids” who participated, as she provided them with correct information about bees and helped them overcome their fears.
Kidder said she also enjoyed “inspiring a healthy curiosity of the world around us and how each piece is interconnected to others.”
Tuesday’s drone activity was the second week of the public library’s summer programming about bees for children.
Currently, two hive boxes sit empty behind the library, waiting to be inhabited by new queens and bee colonies. The children excitedly gathered around the colorful boxes, learning about male bees, queens and hives from Youth Librarian Ani Thomas, who leads the program.
“120,000 bees will live in these two boxes,” Thomas told the kids. “Inside each colony we have 15,000 or 16,000 female workers and 2,000 to 3,000 males.”
Thomas, who has previous beekeeping experience, said she has wanted to create a program like this for years.
“I wanted to do it at the library for a few years because it's such a great community space,” she said.
Although Thomas is no longer a beekeeper, her passion for the insects is strong and she wants to share it with the community.
“When I had bees, I learned something new every single day. I was surprised at the connection you make with your bees,” Thomas said. “You get to know their moods and they definitely feed off your moods.”
The hives at the library belong to Kidder, who has several other hives as well.
Children taking part in the bee program are participating in a range of activities, including scavenger hunts during which they will learn fun facts about bees, and storywalks where they will walk around the outside of the library reading pages of bee and garden-related stories posted on the inside of the library’s windows.
Thomas has also created a Honey Bee Explorers Club, where children, teenagers and adults alike will be able to complete bee-related activities and crafts on an individual basis. She will send out emails to all club participants listing the different activities.
Thomas said the Honey Bee Explorers will learn about bee history, anatomy and hide management, and will also participate in hands-on, exploratory projects.
One group will even have the opportunity to paint one of the hive boxes after a name is chosen for the queen bee, which will be decided following a Queen Naming Contest where students will submit names for the bee based on a character from a children’s book.
The first queen bee, Queen Charlotte, was named based on the book “Charlotte’s Web” and hatched four weeks ago.
As soon as the queen lays eggs, she can move from Kidder’s property to the library hives.
“We want to make sure she is fertile, laying eggs and healthy before she moves up here,” Thomas said in a phone interview.
The second queen’s cells were built and torn down for an unknown reason, Thomas said, delaying the arrival of the queen, who was born last week.
Once the hives are set up, Thomas will invite people who have signed up to help with weekly hive checks. Webcams will allow community members to view the hives and the bee activity.
In addition, once a week Thomas will post a video about bees and create an activity to accompany it. Activities will be designed for people of all ages and could include working with wax, learning about hive products, pollination or hive management, she said.
Thomas hopes to reach people from all facets of the community with her bee program. The hives, scavenger hunt and storywalk are good activities for people who want to social distance and stay away from crowds, she said.
“I’ve got activities for teenagers, adults and grade school kids. I want to invite everybody,” Thomas said.
“It’s another way for families to share their love of reading and nature at the same time,” she said. “I love that it's an outdoor forum, which is particularly important with COVID. I want them to be able to enjoy the library outside.”
The programs will run until around Aug. 31, depending on the activity of the bees.