Check out the Bee Field Guide!

What an incredible three weeks! I wouldn’t have bee-lieved you if you told me three weeks ago everything I would learn! I would have said “quit pollen my leg”.  On my first day working at the Chicago Botanic Garden I didn’t know a thing about native bees. Now, I have learned all about the bees that visit Echinacea, from their size to their nesting habits to fun facts about pollen regurgitation and flight velocity. I learned how to navigate DiscoverLife and how to examine a specimen under the microscope, looking for all the little distinguishing traits that make each species special, from the color on the tips of their mandibles to the distance from the rim the hair band on the T4 section of the abdomen rests. The collection of over 900 specimen is now all neatly organized and a reference collection is all packed and waiting to be used in the field this summer. The Echinacea Project youtube account is now set up and loaded with videos of all these little pollinators visiting Echinacea and working their hardest. And, finally, the database on the Echinacea webpage is complete, filled with links and beautiful pictures galore, ready to be poured over by future bee-lovers and scientists alike in the quest to explore the worlds of these bee-utiful pollinators! I want to thank the team here so much for your kindness and for all of your help along the way. Hive-five, everyone!

A still from a video on the new Echinacea youtube!

Melissodes. A still from a video on the new Echinacea youtube!

A Construction Project is on Schedule: Rejoice

If you have been obsessively checking the Echinacea Project website every few minutes today (as I often do), you will probably have noticed we have added an addition to our beautiful home! After many hours of crashing, banging, hammering, crying, and all those fun things that come with construction and home renovation, we now have a bee field guide. Take the time to explore it, but explore with great caution, as I am positive there are still bugs (hehe) to be fixed. Over the next few days I will right the wrongs and tie up all the loose ends.

What pun should I end with? Perhaps I will continue the metaphor- back to the buzzing of the drill!

How Many Bee Puns Can We Make

Busy as a bee this week! In my battle with native bee identification I was honorably defeated. I will prevail and try again, but in the meantime there is much to do. The bee specimen are now organized and looking beautiful. In total we have 43 different species visiting Echinacea, and a lot of my time this week was spent cooped up in our beautiful little library soaking in the natural light and learning endless fascinating facts about these many species. For example, the big and blustery Bombus fervidus is known to pursue potential threats for hundreds of yards. The Hylaeus bee carries pollen in a special, stomach-like organ in her abdomen rather than on her legs and then regurgitates it back when she reaches her nest. And this is the one that really got to me: The female Ceratina will guard the entrance of her brood chamber and die right there over the winter from the cold, but her body continues to block the entrance, thus keeping her brood safe. Also, this species can produce eggs without mating. Ceratina has got it all figured out.

Next week I hope to get all this information online for everyone to peruse! Bee prepared!


Bee-lieve in Yourself

Fun fact: the Echinacea Project has collected over 1000 bee specimen and each is more beautiful than the next, especially when viewed from under a high-powered microscope. My task over the three weeks of my externship is to inventory and organize these lovely little pollinators and then create a database on the Echinacea webpage that project members can refer to in the field when they observe a pollinator visiting a purple coneflower.

So far, no easy task! Most of the bees have been previously identified, but some remain nameless and nomadic, species-less and in need of a home. Thus, a crash-course in bee identification was necessary. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at, if not identifying native bee species, then plowing headfirst into identifying native bee species and confidently writing down the complete wrong answer. Notable characteristics that are friends when identifying native bees include the colors of the mandibles (not the “jaw”, Belle) and the color of the little fuzzy hairs on the top of his or her head. More difficult characteristics whose identification I have yet to master include the specific color of the hair in between the T3 and T2 apical bands, above the rim but sometimes moving towards the center, and not characteristically white. Honestly, it’s Greek to me at this point and when this is all done I have a bone to pick with whoever wrote out these characteristics on DiscoverLife, but I hope to learn the language over these next three weeks. The fun part is that each bee is special in its own persnickety little way, which allows for little battles with these little beasts all day long as I try to reason with them. Currently, I am not winning.

In the next few weeks I hope to wrangle these bees into their place and get them neatly organized and classified. Hopefully I will post some close-up views of these hard-working ladies and gents from under the microscope soon, but it seems the lights  have had enough today and need a bit of a break before turning on again. But I bee-lieve in them.


Jurassic Bee (or a "bee killer")

Jurassic Bee (or a “bee killer”)