Olathe & Southwest Joco

Master Gardeners teach kids about birds, bees -- and a whole lot of other pollinators

During the Pollinator Prairie event, Ezra Shamet, 3, checks out some bees as they work in a hive.
During the Pollinator Prairie event, Ezra Shamet, 3, checks out some bees as they work in a hive. Special to The Olathe News

A program in Olathe had a lot of kids learning about the birds and the bees — but not in the way some may be thinking. The Pollinator Prairie Wonders of Discovery event June 21 taught children about supporting various types of pollinators in their natural environment.

Heavy rain and strong winds sent a few of the exhibit tents flying at the start of the event, but the participants persevered and set up again after the storm passed.

One feature of the event was a caterpillar petting zoo, where visitors could not only pet but pick up amenable caterpillars.

“We hope that children are exposed to pollinators in a fun way; we hope families as a whole take away information as to how they can make a pollinator habitat at their home, whether it be large or small,” said Jessica Barnett, a Johnson County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

Pollinators aren’t just honeybees but also include bats, butterflies, birds and numerous species of native bees.

Barnett said that bats are “probably one of the most misunderstood” pollinators.

“They do a lot of insect mitigation. They eat a lot of mosquitoes. A lot of our insects are within the flowers; our bats pollinate as they come through chasing for insects,” Barnett said.

The Pollinator Prairie features different sections, each with plants geared toward supporting different types of pollinators. It stands on the former Chemical Commodities Inc., property at 320 South Blake St. After the Environmental Protection Agency designated it a contaminated Superfund site in 1994, the spot was cleaned up and made into nature area in 2012.

“It can be difficult to take an EPA Superfund site and turn it into something so positive to the community,” Barnett said.

Most people can’t construct an elaborate habitat for birds, bees and butterflies in their yards, but Master Gardeners and naturalists from the Johnson County Extension Office gave tips on how to make small accommodations for these creatures.

Dodi Dickson, a master naturalist, showed kids how to make a habitat for mason bees out of an old coffee can, cardboard tubes and some newspaper.

“We’re trying to bring attention that there’s a difference between native bees and honeybees,” Dickson said.

Other ways to make your lawn friendlier to pollinators include limiting your use of pesticides and putting in native plants, such as purple coneflowers.

Operation Wildlife brought a traveling bee hive as well as a game where kids could act like bees, trying to transfer nectar from flowers to a plastic honeycomb.

The bees fascinated 3-year-old Ezra Shamet.

“He loves bees and caterpillars. He really enjoys learning about them. He wanted to get up close and personal and be able to hold caterpillars,” said Kristen Hewlett.

For 6-year-old George Ashley of Lenexa, caterpillars were the main event.

“He has been obsessed with caterpillars and butterflies, and when we heard about this event, we had to make it happen,” said Kari Ashley. “…When my child showed an interest in something, it was great to find an event to help foster that.”