**Entomology graduate student April Hamblin will be studying bees in backyards across Raleigh this summer, and she’s looking for folks to volunteer their yards as field sites. Read on to learn about her study and how you can get involved!**
One of my happiest childhood memories is sitting on the back porch at my grandmother’s house, enjoying a fresh slice of watermelon, slopping the seeds down my shirt, watching the birds pick blackberries from the bushes across the street. I didn’t know then that the birds and I relied on pollination for much of our food, but I did know that if I did not clean myself off, my grandmother would throw me in the tub and I’d have to wait until she finished a chapter in her old western novel for her to drag me out.
Bees pollinate 1/3 of the entire world’s food and 4/5 of all flowering plants. There are many types of bees, like the familiar honey bee and the lumbering bumble bee, both of which you’ve likely encountered in your yard. Yet as a group, bees are so much more diverse – in North Carolina alone, there are over 500 bee species!
These beautiful wild, native bees, many striking metallic blue or green in color, buzz around your yard, pollinating the beautiful flowers and fruits that may be growing there. As a graduate student, I am interested in studying wild bees in urban areas to understand how different factors such as temperature and nesting resources influence the native bee communities.
Although it may seem like agricultural areas need bees most, urban areas also need bees to pollinate plants, providing an important ecological service that results in berries for the birds, tomatoes for your salad, and flowers to admire in your yard. By better understanding what native bees need to be successful, we may be able to create better habitat for them in any location, even busy, buzzing cities. My research will focus on native bees in urban areas using two different sampling methods:
- Building artificial nest homes for the bees using bamboo and other natural reeds
- Monitoring bee activity and abundance in yards using traps filled with soapy water and nets
I’m currently recruiting volunteer yards in the greater Raleigh, NC-area for this project. Here’s how I will study your native bees if you kindly volunteer your yard:
For the nesting study, I will install two reed bundles, attached to a metal stake and securely fixed to the ground, in your yard in April. I will visit your yard to monitor activity in the nests once a month throughout the spring and summer. I will remove the artificial nests in September or October. Most native bees have a mild temperament and will not sting unless they feel threatened from a fist or shoe. The nests will be elevated on a stake, a few feet in the air, to minimize stinging risks for children or pets.
To monitor bee activity and abundance, I will visit your yard about two or three times a month between the hours of 10am and 2pm, from April through September. I will use two methods: a net that I gently sweep over your yard’s vegetation to collect all bees I observe in a 30 minute period and small traps (bee bowls and vane traps) that I would deploy and return to collect all bees captured a few hours later on the same day. No collecting equipment would be left over night or for the entire field season.
Bee bowls are small brightly colored bowls filled with water and a drop of dish detergent that will be placed on the ground to attract and collect bees. I will work with you to install bowls in locations that are out of the way of children, pets and lawnmowers. Vane traps are installed off the ground and filled with alcohol to similarly attract and collect bees.
I need 40 study sites for my study and will be selecting yards based on their location and features of your yard. If you volunteer for my study, I will ask you a few questions in a brief online questionnaire to help me decide if your yard is a good field site for my study. If I choose your yard and you permit me to study your bees, I will send you a brief report summarizing my findings and the bees I specifically collect in your yard over the field season.
To volunteer, please complete this online form. Your name, address and contact information will only be used for the purpose of arranging field work and will not be disclosed online, in publications or during presentations.
If you would like to see more amazing bee and other insect photographs, please visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/.
Header photo: One North Carolina native bee, Agapostemon virescens, pollinates many different plants, including asters, sunflowers, primrose, rose, mint, morning glories, and many legumes. Credit: Sam Droege, USGS.
April Hamblin is a graduate student at North Carolina State University in the Entomology Department in Dr. Steve Frank’s lab. For more information about April and her past work with native bees, please visit http://aprillhamblin.blogspot.com/.