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Foxglove and Bumblebees in Iowa Prairie

In late spring/early summer, foxglove beardtongue is one of the only plants in bloom in the prairie. This provides an opportunity to observe a large number of bumblebees in a single location. The bumblebees visit the foxglove because it offers a source of pollen and nectar, which the bees need as a food source for themselves and their young. The foxglove also relies on the bees to continue its life cycle, as the pollination process is vital for the foxglove to reproduce.

Swan Lake State Park, Carroll, Iowa, late spring/early summer 2023

Driving Question

  • How do the life cycles of flowers and insects depend on one another?

Probing Questions

  • Why do you think the bumblebees are focusing on the foxglove and ignoring the other plants in the prairie?
  • What role do the bees play in the foxglove’s life cycle (and vice versa)?
  • What other plants and insects could you find in the prairie that depend on each other to complete their life cycles?

Classroom Suggestions

Students could:

  • Count, graph, and compare the number of bees present when the foxglove is fully bloomed and after the blooms have wilted.
  • Create a model illustrating the life cycle of the foxglove plant.
  • Research the life cycle of a bee or other pollinator and compare and contrast it to the life cycle of a plant.

Relevant Related Resources

Iowa Core Alignment


Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth,growth, reproduction, and death

Credit Info

Submitted by Carrie Hampton as part of the Iowa STEM Teacher Externship program.

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