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


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