Do you think the Bee Team spends all of its time in the lab? Heck no! This past Thursday, we had the pleasure of sojourning over to the Koshland Science Museum for a unique lecture led by May Berenbaum about her Beespotter program. Berenbaum has been working as a professional entomologist at the University of Illinois for over 30 years, but through her lecture, stressed the importance of “citizen science” – locals taking up science as a hobby and contributing to data collection. Berenbaum started the program in October of 2007 after the National Academy of Science appointed a committee to figure out if pollinators including bees, bats, hummingbirds, and other insects were in decline and why they were in decline. What the committee discovered was that hardly any data sets existed because few, if any, species censes existed. Cue Beespotter to the rescue. The Bespotter program (http://beespotter.mste.illinois.edu/about) encourages locals to take photos of bees and upload them to the site. So many new eyes looking out for insects is a two-fold boon: entomologists like Berenbaum can confirm or discover patterns in populations based on these photos and day-to-day civilians become more aware of the life around them. The website enables Berenbaum and her team to track different bee species, answer questions about bee population decline, or observe any changes in the geographical preference or behavioural patterns. One submitted photo showed a honeybee on the 35th floor of an apartment building in November, not a very expected time or a place for the insect. Essentially this allows entomologists to gather, quantify, and analyse the data, which can potentially contribute to studies on CCD. Right now the program is regional, only Illinois area, but Berenbaum said that a national ‘bee spotter’ program is in the works.
But how do the citizen scientists know if the digitally captured bees are the real deal? The site has an organized color key for citizens to use for identification and once submitted, professionals on the Bespotter team double check – some of those dastardly mimicking insects make it difficult! Some other highlights of the lecture included Berebaum’s description of what exactly makes a bee a bee and how we can identify them in the wild. Our team had a blast learning about bees beyond our typical Genus, Apis, and as we carefully tried to identify mystery bees up on a screen, laughed when we realized what we were looking at was a drone fly! I guess the job is a lot more difficult than expected, especially with almost 20,000 species of bees to keep an eye out for! The Bee Team thanks May and the Koshland Science Museum for an engaging lecture and we hope that we too can proclaim to the DC community Berenbaum’s apt closing, “Go find bees!”
-The Bee Team