The title of this/Post is a haiku and so/Here are a few more

Watching the weather-

Is this sprinkle the start of

A massive downpour?

The weather channel

Does not know the answer yet

I am a bit damp

Lilies wet with rain

Look yummy enough to eat

Not allowed to taste

What is that weird shape

In the prairie over there

GPS monster

Waiting to deploy

Tents for bees because

We could be lightninged

Speaking of killing and bees

While perusing the BBC Mundo website to improve my Spanish, I ran across an article explaining the relation between tracking bees and tracking serial killers. And apparently, these British scientists are using tiny, tiny radio transmitters to track their bumblebees. An article just about the scientists from February was linked to on the page, and that article even has a video on how they attach the transmitters! Again, no ice packs, but no dominant hand and forefinger, either. Using forceps, it looks like they have the bee put in a special container that presses the bee against a mesh with foam, and then place the tag. Pretty cool, but I think a Melissodes is a little to jumpy for that, compared to a quiet bumblebee. Food for thought, though, I suppose. Thanks, BBC!

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!

Bee Shenanigans Shake Common Garden (All Night Long)


These bees thought it would add some excitement to their lives if they hired Team Echinacea to stand around them watch their… relations. Naive as they were, they didn’t realize that there was a camera in the crowd and the photos would inevitably be leaked to the Internet. This is sure to cause a scandal among the insects of the common garden when they read of it in the tabloids tomorrow.

more bee painting

Here’s one of this year’s painted bees. It’s big enough to see (sometimes) when it flies around, which is a plus.


As for the day-by-day flowering sequences of Echinacea, I’m trying to figure out a way to put them together without exploding my computer.

Marking Bees

Hey everybody, I pleasantly stumbled upon this blog today and i’m glad to see this year’s Team Echinacea is up and running. Everything is looking good. The Flog is definitely proving to be a useful, as well as fun and interesting tool. I was a member of Team Echinacea last year as well as the Bee Team.
I recently got the chance to watch an experienced beekeeper mark a queen honey bee. The process was very quick and easy and I think could be tailored to use in the field in MN. There is a special container used for capturing and marking. A marking pen with special bee marking paint is used. There is no cooling involved. I’m going to try to find a website that explains this. The marking paint used by beekeepers is designed to last for the lifetime of the bees. Here is a video from youtube that demonstrates the marking of a queen bee.
I think that you guys should invest in some marking pens and look into getting other beekeeping equipment, at least just to see what is out there. Last year we didn’t really look into that stuff so we were just kind of reinventing the wheel.

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

Initial Bee Data

We have gotten the chance to look briefly at some of the bee data that we gathered this summer. The first numbers that we have to report are the average flight distances that bees are making between plants. Average flight distance between different plants of Echinacea is 3.73 M. When we added the data for the flights between different heads on the same plant (these intraplant flights were all considered to be 0 M long) the average flight distance was shortened to 3.27 M.

In the next couple of days, we will potentially do the following with our data:
-construct a histogram to visually represent the distance distribution of flights
-print out the homerange maps for each bee, and determine their size, overlap with other homeranges, etc
-compare the maps of flight tracks to the phenology data to see if we can find patterns in which inflorescences bees are visiting and which they are choosing to ignore
-try to determine the percentage of flights that are not successfully transmitting pollen between compatible plants

Bee Painting Protocol

Our initial protocol for painting bees called for painting bees as they were collecting pollen on the flower heads using a small paintbrush. Before starting painting, we had created “paint bandoliers” that consisted of microfuge tubes filled with different colors of paint and then taped in a line with duct tape to keep them together. We ordered the colors according to the rainbow to make it easier to keep track of the colors. Each color was given a three letter abbreviation. Painting the bees with paint brushes was fairly easy, but the shape and thickness of the dot had the possibility of being very variable. After researching bee painting, in particular queen honeybee marking, it appeared that the ideal dot that would last the longest amount of time is circular and uniformly thin. To obtain this ideal dot, it was suggested that a piece of wire whose diameter was the size of the desired dot be used.

We made new painting implements based on this information. We cut the wire on flags into about 15 cm sections, sanded one end flat, and then made handles for them from sticks and tape. We bent the sanded end about 45 degrees roughly 2.5 cm from the end so that we would be able to more easily paint the bees. At this point we were only marking Agapostemon virescens. It proved to be harder to paint them with the new tools as they were collecting pollen from the flowers. We had problems both getting a good dot on their thorax and also avoiding painting any other part of the bees, which would then decrease their survivability. We eventually planned on painting Melissodes. If we started painting them as well as A. virescens, we anticipated more problems with painting them on the flower heads because it appeared that they spent less time on the flower heads and moved faster and more jerkily while on the heads than A. virescens.
After a few poor painting jobs, we decided to chill the bees. The new protocol which proved effective was to catch 2-3 bees as we walked the random rows and then place them in labeled vials. These vials were placed in small lunchbox coolers that had ice packs in them. At first we used both glass and plastic vials, but we found that the glass vials worked better because the glass got cold while the plastic did not. We initially had 1 ice pack in each cooler and this worked fine for a little while, but once the ice pack was no longer very cold, we had problems with bees simply flying away before they could be painted or moving around too much for an easy paint job. To remedy this problem we started using two ice packs per cooler, which helped.
I found that the best way to continue to keep the bees cold was to paint the bees while they were still sitting on the ice pack. I left the ice pack in the cooler and placed a plastic bag on top of it. I did this so that the bee would not get wet from the condensation on the ice. This method worked rather well and the bees were usually very sedated and easy to paint. Working with the bees in the cooler also shielded them from the sun, keeping them cooler. One difficulty was making sure that the bees did not simply roll over on their backs in their stupor and smear the paint spot. Painting the bee on ice worked very well, but it also caused the ice packs to not last quite as long. It would be a good idea to have several other ice packs on hand in a larger cooler for when the first ones lost their coldness.
After painting a bee, we gently removed it from the cooler while it was on the plastic bag and allowed it to warm up in the sun, at which point it flew away. We released all of the bees within a few meters of where they were captured.

Pictures of equipment and painting will be posted once Andes has internet

Updates from the Bee Team

The frequency of bee sightings has slowed down in the past couple of days, but in the mean time we have been typing up our updated protocols, and begun looking at the data that we’ve collected. Read on for detailed protocols, the musings of this year’s Bee Team, and tips for next year’s Bee Team.

Bee Tracking

After we had painted a sufficiently large number of bees, we transitioned to tracking their flight paths between Echinacea heads. Our goal with this project was to obtain data that would allow us to determine average flight path distance of the pollinators between heads and therefore get a better idea of gene flow within the garden, and also to see if we could estimate the home range size for individual bees.
Our protocol for tracking bees didn’t undergo too many changes from the initial version. The biggest challenge that we ran into was keeping up with the bees both visually and in terms of taking data. We updated the visor form several times to increase the efficiency of the data taker. The current form seems to work well, although we’ve considered the idea of taking data on paper. It would also streamline data processing if the visor/paper form could assign and group each flight series by an ID number.
We found that it was most effective to work in groups of at least three, and up to five. One person would be data taking on the visor, and the others would be visually following the bee. It was best for the trackers to stay back a couple of meters from the bee so as not to scare it, and for the trackers to be spread in a circle around the bee, so that it could be tracked in any direction. When the bee left the flower, the trackers would call to the data taker that the bee had left the head, so that they could prepare a new data point in the visor, and would then call out the new plant coordinates and twist-tie color. If the bee visited multiple heads on one plant, the second, third, etc. twist-tie colors were recorded in the notes instead of calling up a new form every time. If the bee was lost for more than ten seconds, we marked lost track, and then would resume with a new flight ID for the next bee, even if it was the same bee that we had previously been tracking.
Because we got all the details of this protocol worked out after the peak flowering, there weren’t many bees still in the garden when we were searching for them. As a result, we tended to concentrate our searching for bees in the ’96 garden where the flowering plant density was the highest. This made the most efficient use of our time, since we weren’t randomly walking rows with few or no flowering plants, but resulted in a data set that is concentrated in one place. Therefore, our data, especially when it comes to home range estimates, may be inaccurate, as we concentrated our time in the one area.

Miscellaneous Info

We the members of the Bee Team (formerly Team Binocular) have done our best to track, mark, and record the position of bees in the common garden for the last several weeks. Our first suggestion is that you start early. This year we got a late start compared to the Echinacea flowering. We also had to figure out all the protocol from scratch as well so in the future this project can get organized shortly before flowering starts to be ready when flowering starts. Pollen set and bee activity are closely related and are both tied to weather.

After trial and error, we found that the best time for finding bees in the common garden was right around 7:30. Agapostemon virescens tended to be out earlier in the morning while the Melissodes were out later. We hoped that by getting out early we would be able to find A. virescens to track, but because of the late start of our project, we were unable to find any. Cold weather and windy weather both diminished the number of bees visiting flower heads. Wind also made it difficult to track bees because when the bees took off from the flower head they were caught by the wind and blown away.