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Join Bumble Bee Watch

This week on “What’s Bugging You?” entomologist Dr. Art Evans and 88.9 WCVE producer Steve Clark discuss the plight of Bumble Bees and how listeners can get involved with a new Citizen Science project. By joining “Bumble Bee Watch” and submitting your photos of bumble bees, you can help researchers map the distribution of species, locate nesting sites, and record the plant species bumble bees visit to gather pollen and nectar.

“You know, I love these Citizen Science projects. We had a great one last year with the 17-year cicadas and I know there is one going on right now. I think it’s called Bumble Bee Watch,” said Steve Clark.

Dr. Evans agreed and said he’s had bumble bees on the brain lately. “I was wandering around the woods and, of course, I noticed several queen bumble bees flying very low over the ground. The bumble bees you see right now are queens. They’re the mated queens that over-wintered looking for a new spot to make a nest.”

Dr. Evans explained that, “the colonies only persist for one year so any bumble bees you see bright and early in the season -that’s a queen. She’s out and about looking for a nest site and depending on the species, that could be in a grass tussock, or could be on the surface of the ground, or more often they are down in abandoned rodent burrows. They will create these little waxen cups and lay their eggs in them and the whole process goes from there.”

Bumble Bee Watch is an important Citizen Science project that is co-sponsored by a number of organizations involved in researching the current state of bumble bees in the US and worldwide. Why? Because bumble bees are in trouble.

“They are succumbing to the same pressures that other insects are: habitat degradation, pesticide use, lack of food and now they’re finding in some areas that the diseases that are affecting honey bees are now being transferred to the native bumble bee populations,” said Dr. Evans. “Scientist are very interested in finding out where bumble bees are and citizen scientists have an opportunity to contribute to this study by logging onto bumblebeewatch.org. You can submit photographs of bumble bees you find in your yard, park, or in the woods. They provide information on identifying your bumble bee and then it will be verified by an expert. All those little data points will become part of this project.”

Photo by Steve Clark“Photographing Bumble Bees is very hard,” Clark noted via an email. “I once took 80 photos in Salisbury, England of bees feeding on lavender.  I think I ended up with only two photos that were even close to what I was trying to capture. Granted, it was a windy day, and bumble bees don't stay long on any particular flower.”

At Bumble Bee Watch you can find tips on how to photograph bumble bees, information on the anatomy of a bumble bee as well as how to create a bumble bee habitat.

Dr. Evans said he wants everyone to know about a fantastic new field guide that has just been published titled Bumble Bees of North America. This book includes excellent illustrations to help identify the different species of bumble bees. It also includes distribution maps and information about plants that certain species of bumble bees frequent.

There is a lot of information and some great opportunities out there. Grab your camera (or phone) and submit your photos to be part of an important scientific study at Bumble Bee Watch.

If you’d like to learn about more Citizen Science Projects Worldwide check out SciStarter and especially take note of their Spring projects.

Be sure to listen to “What's Bugging You?” on 88.9 WCVE every Tuesday at 8:35 a.m. Dr. Art Evans is the author of The National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. Join him on Facebook to find out about upcoming lectures, books, and other insect events.