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Bear Creek Nature Center event pays tribute to pollinators

June 11, 2017 Updated: June 11, 2017 at 6:18 pm
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The observational honeybee hive at Bear Creek Nature Center offers visitors an up-close look at the insects. On Saturday, El Paso County held its first ever Pollinator Festival at the center to educate families about the importance of bees and other pollinators. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Bear Creek Nature Center's thousands of tiny, winged mascots got some extra attention on Saturday.

Dozens of people flocked to the center to marvel at its observational honeybee hive and participate in other educational activities as part of El Paso County's first-ever pollinator festival.

The event, for of all ages, was a celebration of pollinators' "extreme importance," said nature center supervisor Mary Jo Lewis.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has declared June Colorado Pollinator's Month to pay tribute to bees and other pollinators, which scientists estimate are essential to more than a third of the world's food production.

The festival's older attendees could enjoy a presentation on honeybees, dissect a flower to learn about adaptations species have developed to attract pollinators and browse a selection of pollinator-friendly plants. Children had several options for hands-on fun, including "make-your-own" hummingbird and butterfly feeder stations and an activity designed to educate players about the "waggle dance," a ritual that bees use to communicate with others in the hive about where they've found pollen.

"It's just a way to give people more information about pollinators," Lewis said. "A lot of people think pollinators, and they think bees and butterflies. All of these things that we see all of the time - ants and beetles and flies - are also really important pollinators."

Colorado is home to more than 950 native species of bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects, according to the People and Pollinators Action Network, a citizens group that advocates for the critters' protection.

Honeybees have been in the spotlight in recent years as their populations decline.

"Bees are dying in large numbers," said Steve Hench, vice president of the Pikes Peak Beekeepers Association, who presented at the event. "Annual loss runs about 30 (percent) to 40 percent."

Scientists are still debating what exactly is causing bees to die off. Habitat destruction and pesticide use are two theories. Hench blames the varroa mite, a tiny parasite that latches onto bees and can transmit harmful diseases.

Joanne Scanlan emerged from Hench's presentation excitedly reciting facts about the life cycle of bees and the destructive varroa mite.

"It makes me think twice about running from a bee or killing a bee," said Scanlan, a retired elementary and middle school teacher.

Simple lifestyle changes can make a difference for bees, said Frank Seeley, beekeeper and co-owner of The Honey Cottage in Old Colorado City.

People can choose to use natural substances as weedkiller, join gardening clubs, and buy food that's grown without the use of pesticides, he said.

He summed up his advice:

"Live clean. Avoid poisons. Plant flowers."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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