Bee Team, way better than the A Team

Hey everyone,

We’ve been working at organizing and analyzing our data and just wanted to share some of the highlights with all of you and give some tips for next year’s bee squad.

– 9 bee genera recorded
– 72 bees painted
– 258 bees recorded
– 330 flights recorded
– 831 head visits recorded

We’ll post some nice flight maps once we have them put together (Denise is quickly becoming an R expert).

And now some advice for next year…

– For us, it worked well to set 15 minute observation/catching time blocks and to then check on all of the bees in the cooler after those 15 minutes. That way we weren’t trying to catch and track new bees while also trying to paint and track our already caught bees.
– We liked standing two ice packs up in the cooler with the glass vials standing up in between them. This made it easy to see the labeled lids and also preventing the bees from crawling into the lid where it took them much longer to cool down. But be sure to check on the bees frequently because they get colder much faster this way than if the vials were just lying underneath an icepack.
– We placed the bees on a Petri dish to paint them, which gave us a sturdy base for holding them. And of course made use of last year’s paint holsters (made from duct tape and eppendorf tubes) and painting tools (bent section of wire from a flag, sanded and attached by duct tape to a stick as a handle).
– We opted for paper forms over visors, which we liked, but there needs to be a better way to keep track of several bees at once. Having 2 recorders made a huge difference when the bees were active and we had enough people. We could get by with just 2 people on windy/rainy/generally mellow days, but having more was helpful. We’d recommend 2 recorders and at least 4 observers on busy days.
– Somehow none of us had a watch and had to rely on Denise’s cell phone. A watch might be more convenient…
– For the first day or two, it might be a good idea to take the bees back to the Hjelm house and ID them with the bee box.
– Silver and lavender look very similar once they’re on a bee, and it can be hard to tell between silver and white on a bee that was painted a few days before. Likewise, aqua, light blue, and green can be easily confused.

The bees we saw this year were:
– Ceratina calcarata (tiny, black, vertical white line on face)
– Pterosaurus albitarsis, sadly renamed something much less cool (light yellow “W��? shape on face)
– Agapostemon virescens (metallic green head with striped thorax and abdomen)
– Augochlorella striata (whole body is metallic green, but a much smaller bee)
– Melissodes (we saw a few different species, two of which aren’t in the bee box)
– Megachile (the best way to describe their front legs is burly. If I remember correctly, these guys are pretty hairy too)
– Halictus rubicundus (looking at the bee box will give you a more detailed description than I can)
– Dialictus (many different species of tiny black bees. Too small to paint or ID in the field)
– Apis mellifera (Honey bees! The first time Stuart has ever seen a living one on an Echinacea head. They cool down much faster than the other bees, so be careful with them. Also, we got the sense that they mostly hung out on alfalfa and rarely on Echinacea, so that could be an interesting thing to look into)

That’s all for now. We hope you guys are having a great time and getting a lot of measuring done. Stuart, if you have a chance we’d love to get those photos you took on the 17th so we can try to match them up to specific flights. And Megan, thanks for the homemade candy bars!

The Bee Team

After spending a good while talking about our independent project and looking over the work of last year’s Bee Team, Denise and I have come up with a preliminary plan for the next two weeks, sure to be revised once we actually get out there and figure out what works and what doesn’t. We considered how many different topics might affect bee behavior, including home ranges and the quantity of pollen on an echinacea head, but we ultimately decided that observing flight distances in relation to local daily densities of pollen-presenting echinacea would be the best complement for the lab work we’ve just finished. How will bee flight patterns change throughout the season–will they fly farther than usual between two echinacea before and after peak flowering, causing beneficial gene flow, or will the extra distance between the echinacea heads cause the bee to move to a neighboring non-echinacea, reducing the chances that the pollen will reach another echinacea plant? Due to the late flowering the year our observation time has shrunk to just two weeks, but hopefully it will be enough time to catch pre-peak and at least part of the peak flowering behavior.

The key data we’ll want to gather during our observations are:
– species of bee
– the row/position/head of echinacea visited, and in what order
– any other plants species visited between echinacea visits, and approximate location
By combining this data with a daily map of pollen-presenting echinacea heads in the Common Garden, we’ll be able to chart the bees’ flight patterns and analyze their behavior.

Thanks to the time spent by last year’s Bee Team working out the kinks in their painting and observation protocol, we should be able to save a good deal of time by adopting their methods. So, following their lead, here’s the general plan:

Last year’s team suggested that 7:30 AM would be the best time to begin catching bees. Because of our reliance on others for transportation to the garden, this may or may not happen, but we will try to get started as soon as possible each morning. Using a row number randomly generated by our visor as a starting point, Denise and I will search for bees in that row plus the row to the west and two more to the east. When we find a bee on an echinacea head we will catch it with a net, place it in a vial, and label the vial with the row, position, and twist tie color. The vial will be placed in a soft-sided cooler underneath an ice pack so the bee can calm down while we continue searching.

Once we have a few bees in the cooler we will return to the original capture site, take the first bee out of its vial and place it on a plastic bag on top of the icepack. Using handy dandy paint holsters made out of eppendorf tubes and duct tape, we will place a small dot of paint on the bee’s back, being careful to avoid the wings and antennae. The previous bee team suggested applying the paint with a short piece of metal from a flag, bent, sanded, and taped to a stick, but we will probably have to make do with toothpicks for the first day or so. Once the bee is painted and has warmed up a bit, it will be returned to the echinacea head where it was collected and observations will begin.

For observations, last year’s Bee Team suggested having teams of 3-5 people, with one person recording data and the others a few meters back from the bee, standing in a circle. When the bee lands on an echinacea head, the observers will call out the color of the twist tie and, if they can, the specific position of the plant. If the bee is moving from plant to plant too quickly for the observers to check the position, one of them will put a stake in by the plant before moving on and the data recorder will check the position. Due to the difficulties voiced by last year’s Bee Team over consistently recording accurate start and stop times for the bees on each head, and because we plan to use paper forms rather than the visor this year, we will not be recording these times. We will, however, make note of the collection and release times, as well as the time at which we lose track of the bee.

According to this plan, it looks like the materials we will need are:
– bee catching nets
– vials (glass was recommended)
– sharpie & labeling tape
– soft lunch cooler (1 per group?)
– hard ice packs (2 per cooler?)
– clipboard, data sheets, and a pen
– duct tape/eppendorf tube paint holsters filled with acrylic paint and marked with each color’s 3-letter abbreviation
– painting apparatus (toothpicks, until we can rig up the metal/stick deal)
– plastic bag, to keep the bee dry on top of the icepack while we paint it
– flags for marking echinacea if the bee is too fast for us

Things that we probably will not want:
– bug spray
– eye patches
– cement shoes