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The Buzz

Snap A Pic Of The Next Bumblebee You See In The Name of Science

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Next time you see a bumblebee flying around in its haphazard manner, you can snap a photo of it to help research efforts.

The Bumble Bee Watch is a citizen science project aimed at recording sightings from the public across the country. To help better target conservation efforts, scientists need more information about bumblebee populations and the distribution of these essential insects across the United States.

Bumblebee conservation is necessary because bees are important pollinators of both wild plants and agricultural crops. Bumblebees are particularly effective pollinators because they engage in "buzz pollination," which occurs when a bee grabs the pollen-producing part of a plant and vibrates its wing muscles, causing the pollen to become loosened, the U.S. Forest Service reports. Some our favorite foods, including tomatoes, peppers and cranberries, are aided by this type of pollination. 

Bee populations are in decline all over the world, including in the United States, according to a study released in 2017 by the Center for Biological Diversity. Factors contributing to the decline include habitat loss, expansion of agricultural practices and climate change. 

The United States is home to more than 4,000 bee species, including more than 40 species of bumblebees, according to the Forest Service. In 2017, the rusty patched bumble bee was the first bee species in the continental U.S. to be listed as endangered.

The Bumble Bee Watch initiative is designed to help track bumblebees in an effort to determine the status of various species' populations as well as identify conservation needs. People can help by taking a photo of any bumblebee they see and then uploading it via the Bumble Bee Watch site in just a few simple steps:

  1.  Take a photo of a bumblebee.
  2.  Log onto the Bumble Bee Watch site and upload your photo. You'll also fill out the required fields for the date and location of the sighting, as well as optional fields about what kind of plant the bee was found on and any other observation notes.
  3. Identify the bumblebee in your photo. A guide will be provided to help identify the species based on coloring, markings and other characteristics. You can also select unknown if you are uncertain. The species will be verified by an expert.
  4. Submit your photo and information.

Bumblebees as a group are easy to identify by their large, fuzzy, yellow and black bodies, although they are sometimes confused with carpenter bees. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is by looking at their abdomens. Bumblebees have uniformly hairy abdomens, while the abdomens of carpenter bees are shiny, Bumble Bee Watch advises.

With more than 40 bumblebee species in the United States, identifying an individual species can be difficult. However, Bumble Bee Watch has experts review submitted photos to verify species identifications. 

Those wanting to participate in the project shouldn't be concerned about the risk of being stung, because bumblebees will only sting when they are cornered or their nests are threatened, according to the group. When taking a photo, do not touch the bee or get closer than a couple of feet away.


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