Thursday, June 18, 2009

All invited to participate in Bee Spotter program, National Pollinator Week events

All invited to participate in Bee Spotter program, National Pollinator Week events

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One day last August Johanna James-Heinz of Peoria took time at her lunch hour to photograph the plants in bloom at a prairie restoration in the Peoria Park District’s Robinson Park. She’s a landscape architect by trade, and she collects pictures of plants for her files. Outside her professional life, James-Heinz is also a member of the Bee Spotter network, and that day she was happy to see and photograph a bumble bee with a distinctive marking on the back of its abdomen. [The photo here is one she took.] She recognized the rusty-patched bumble bee, Bombus affinis, for a species she hadn’t seen before. But she didn’t realize that this once common bee was now so rare that scientists were not even sure it could still be found in Illinois.

The photos she took that day caused a sensation among people interested in the well-being of pollinators, and they represent the most remarkable observation yet to be recorded as part of the Bee Spotter project.

Based at the University of Illinois, Bee Spotter is a program that encourages everyday people to participate in an important scientific effort. That is to establish baseline information about the numbers of honey bees and bumble bees buzzing around in Illinois.

We know that managed honey bee colonies have suffered steep losses in recent years, and it seems that numbers of wild honey bees and bumble bees are also declining. But a 2006 report issued by the National Academy of Sciences emphasizes that researchers don’t have enough information about populations of wild pollinators to know for sure whether or how steeply there numbers are dropping.

What does it take to be a bee spotter? You do not need a degree in entomology, only the capacity to photograph bees with a digital camera and upload your pictures to the Bee Spotter website. You need not be able to identify every bee yourself, although the Bee Spotter project provides some excellent tools for making identifications. Most bee spotters simply photograph bees when and where opportunities arise, although the project also includes an option for setting up regular monitoring of a specific place, too.

Although no specific training is required to sign up as a Bee Spotter, people who are interested in the program are welcome to attend demonstrations of how to participate on the afternoon of Sunday, June 28th, at the recently established Pollinatarium on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana. At these demonstrations, participants will learn how to navigate the Bee Spotter website and get hands-on training in bumble bee identification. The afternoon will also include a workshop on photographing bees and other insects in nature.

The Bee Spotter workshop on the 28th will serve as a sort of grand finale for National Pollinator Week, which kicks off this weekend. Pollinator week is designated to recognize the importance of pollinators to ecosystem health and agriculture and to support efforts to increase awareness about pollinators. The celebration of pollinator week in Champaign-Urbana will include a show of bee-themed art, workshops on the types of bees found in Illinois and ways to benefit them in landscaping, and nature walks guided by U of I experts on plants and insects.

For further details about National Pollinator Week events and the Bee Spotter project, follow the links from the UI Department of Entomology website at