No more binoculars

The team formally called “Team Binocular” has now been christened “Bee Team” because of our apparent lack of need for binoculars. We found after some preliminary observations that watching bees with binoculars is pretty much impossible. There is simply too much swaying of brome to be able to track a small darkly covered bee. The wind also picks up too quickly in the morning, making the bees’ flights very erratic and difficult to follow. We tried to follow the bees as they flew off the Echinacea heads, but they would usually catch in the wind and then disappear from our field of view. We also used a step ladder to see if increased height above the garden would help us, but it did not. This stage of the project was a tad disheartening and we began to doubt the feasibility of our project.
We did make some positive progress however, and found that we could often follow the bees with the naked eye. Many times we could actually follow the bee with our eyes as it flew to the next flower, although these flights were typically very short, often just to one of the closest flowers a few meters away or to another flower head on the same plant. The uncertainty of whether that bee is actually the same one led us to devise strategies for distinguishing this fact. People mark honeybees, so we figured that marking our bees the same way with a bit of paint on the thorax would be a feasible option. To determine the feasibility, I “pet” the bee with a bit of brome grass to see if we could mark the bees while they were on the flower heads. In most cases, as long as you moved slowly, the bees were not in the least bit disturbed and continued to explore the flower heads. We put small paint dots on several small non-metallic halictids that we figured we were not going to track due to the difficulty in identifying them on the fly. What was amazing was that we saw some of these bees again as we walked around the common garden not only about 5 minutes after we had marked them, but also almost an hour later when we returned to the common garden.
The most common bee species we saw was Agapostemon virescens, which is a Halictid with a metallic green head and thorax. This bee is fairly large and is also readily identifiable. We also saw another bee fairly fre quently, another halictid Halictis rubicundus. While this bee is also large and even easier to track as it flies because it is slower moving, it would also be harder to paint because it is somewhat more skittish and moves quicker and more erratically on the flower heads. Because of this, we have chosen to focus on Agapostemon virescens first and then maybe expand to other species.
Anyways, that is enough observations for now, but the opportunities for this project are exciting and seem very promising. Several things seem possible with this project (according to Stuart), including determination of home ranges, estimation of population size, and flight patterns.


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