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Bee Informed: Why These Pollinators Matter

Many people are afraid of bees.  Some are allergic to the venom when stung. And some are worried about getting stung.  But if you know anything about bees, the last thing they want to do is sting you. 


Whether it’s the European honeybee (the ones that make the honey), bumble bees or solitary bees (mason, carpenter) all they want to do is go about their business collecting pollen and tasting the nectar of flowers.

Brown-belted Bumble Bee on Common Milkweed      

Photo by Ann Shult


First a little background on these industrious insects.


Bees are classified in the same group as ants, termites, and wasps. Unlike wasps, bees only sting to protect themselves or the hive.  Once they sting, they will die because the stinger pulls out their insides. So bees are selective about who or what they will sting.  Other the other hand, wasps will sting as a means to incapacitate their prey.


Bees have two pairs of wings.


This is an important indicator when trying to tell bees apart from some flies who mimic bees. The bees will collect the pollen on the hind legs either on hairs or in pollen baskets. Sometimes the pollen will gather on the hairs of their thorax and abdomen.


After collecting the pollen, they will travel to other flowers and pollinate them. Once the colleting is completed, the bees take it back to their hive or underground nest to provide food for the next generation, or use it for food over the winter.

Bumble bee on Butterfly Weed. Arrow pointing to full pollen basket.

Photo by Ann Shult

 

Most bees are solitary. However, bumble bees do form small colonies. European honeybees are the most social, living in large hives.

 

However, one of the most important tasks of bees is that of pollinator.  Traveling from flower to flower, collecting an abundant quantity of pollen, bees transfer it to each flower they visit. This is a vital task for our crops, fruits and flowers. Without bees, we lose most of our favorite fresh foods.

 

Citizen Science Project

BeeSpotter is a citizen science project hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s  Department of Entomology and the Office for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education.


Upon reading studies indicating a decline in the European honeybee and our native bumble bees, professors and graduate students started BeeSpotter.  


In their words,

“…to engage citizen scientists in data collection to establish a much-needed baseline for monitoring population declines, to increase public awareness of pollinator diversity, and enhance public appreciation of pollination as an ecosystem service. The use of photography for identification, instead of the net, pin, and spreading board of traditional entomology, is consistent with the goal of preserving bee diversity and enhancing pollinator appreciation.”

Figure 1: Screenshot of a Yellow Bumble Bee siting recorded on BeeSpotter.

 

It is simple to set up an account. The web site has lots of educational resources to learn more about bumble bees. Plus, it provides suggestions how to get the best photograph of bees, and how to identify them.

 

And now is the perfect time to follow some of the bees native to our area. 


BeeSpotter is preparing for their tenth annual BeeBlitz on Saturday, June 22, 2024. This event is open to citizen/community scientists in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri.


Whether it’s your backyard or a local nature preserve, help scientists track these incredibly important pollinators. If you miss BeeBlitz, don’t worry. Bumble bee and honey bee observations can be recorded on BeeSpotter all summer long.

 

For more information about bees, I highly recommend Heather Holm’s book, Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide.

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