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John Ball Zoo Opens Honey Bee Exhibit

An observation hive exhibit has arrived at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids! Through the entrance, up the hill past the American bald eagle, and to the right is the Natural Treasures building featuring native reptiles, amphibians, and the new hive.

On a hot and busy day at the zoo, I had the chance to speak with curator Dan Hemmann and zookeeper/beekeeper Dave Bruggink about the exhibit.

How and when did the idea start?

Dave: We thought an observation beehive would be very cool. It began as a lot of conversations that went from we think we can do this, to how we can do this.

Dan: It’s something we always wanted to do but we didn’t have the expertise. Now Dave and our other beekeeper, Keith Sprague, have the skill set.

How did you get connected with Wrifton Graham of Great Lakes Bee Supply?

Dave: My parents found Rif and did their beekeeping training through Great Lakes Bee Supply. The observation hive is from Bonterra ( and everything else is from Great Lakes Bee Supply.

How does the exhibit work?

Dave: It’s interesting putting a beehive in a very public place. We drilled a hole in the concrete wall (connecting to the hive), fit a tube, and piped the tube into the bush. This allows the flight path of the bees to stay out of the way of our guests. We have 60,000 bees on site and no guest interactions!

What has been the reaction?

Dan: People who know about bees get really excited – one visitor (a beekeeper) used the zoo’s hive to explain to his wife how it all works. We’ve also had more people call and ask about beehives.

Will you sell the honey?

Dave: No, it will be used around the zoo as enrichment for animals. The comb will likely be given to bears, kinkajous, primates, crows, chimps, and others.

Future plans for the exhibit?

Dave: Educational opportunities for our guests including keeper chats and pollinator talks.

When is the last chance to see the exhibit this season?

Dave: November 3, 2019

What else would you like people to know?

Dave: We also have two off site honey bee hives, native bee houses are placed around the zoo, and the butterfly house is the main pollinator exhibit. Bees will forage both inside and outside of the zoo grounds. It’s been a great learning experience for us and a lot of the other keeper staff are excited to learn about beekeeping.

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