Recently in Bee Team 2007-2008 Category

While perusing the BBC Mundo website to improve my Spanish, I ran across an article explaining the relation between tracking bees and tracking serial killers. And apparently, these British scientists are using tiny, tiny radio transmitters to track their bumblebees. An article just about the scientists from February was linked to on the page, and that article even has a video on how they attach the transmitters! Again, no ice packs, but no dominant hand and forefinger, either. Using forceps, it looks like they have the bee put in a special container that presses the bee against a mesh with foam, and then place the tag. Pretty cool, but I think a Melissodes is a little to jumpy for that, compared to a quiet bumblebee. Food for thought, though, I suppose. Thanks, BBC!

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Hey everyone,

We've been working at organizing and analyzing our data and just wanted to share some of the highlights with all of you and give some tips for next year's bee squad.

- 9 bee genera recorded
- 72 bees painted
- 258 bees recorded
- 330 flights recorded
- 831 head visits recorded

We'll post some nice flight maps once we have them put together (Denise is quickly becoming an R expert).

And now some advice for next year...

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These bees thought it would add some excitement to their lives if they hired Team Echinacea to stand around them watch their... relations. Naive as they were, they didn't realize that there was a camera in the crowd and the photos would inevitably be leaked to the Internet. This is sure to cause a scandal among the insects of the common garden when they read of it in the tabloids tomorrow.

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Here's one of this year's painted bees. It's big enough to see (sometimes) when it flies around, which is a plus.


As for the day-by-day flowering sequences of Echinacea, I'm trying to figure out a way to put them together without exploding my computer.

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Hey everybody, I pleasantly stumbled upon this blog today and i'm glad to see this year's Team Echinacea is up and running. Everything is looking good. The Flog is definitely proving to be a useful, as well as fun and interesting tool. I was a member of Team Echinacea last year as well as the Bee Team.
I recently got the chance to watch an experienced beekeeper mark a queen honey bee. The process was very quick and easy and I think could be tailored to use in the field in MN. There is a special container used for capturing and marking. A marking pen with special bee marking paint is used. There is no cooling involved. I'm going to try to find a website that explains this. The marking paint used by beekeepers is designed to last for the lifetime of the bees. Here is a video from youtube that demonstrates the marking of a queen bee.
I think that you guys should invest in some marking pens and look into getting other beekeeping equipment, at least just to see what is out there. Last year we didn't really look into that stuff so we were just kind of reinventing the wheel.


After spending a good while talking about our independent project and looking over the work of last year's Bee Team, Denise and I have come up with a preliminary plan for the next two weeks, sure to be revised once we actually get out there and figure out what works and what doesn't. We considered how many different topics might affect bee behavior, including home ranges and the quantity of pollen on an echinacea head, but we ultimately decided that observing flight distances in relation to local daily densities of pollen-presenting echinacea would be the best complement for the lab work we've just finished. How will bee flight patterns change throughout the season--will they fly farther than usual between two echinacea before and after peak flowering, causing beneficial gene flow, or will the extra distance between the echinacea heads cause the bee to move to a neighboring non-echinacea, reducing the chances that the pollen will reach another echinacea plant? Due to the late flowering the year our observation time has shrunk to just two weeks, but hopefully it will be enough time to catch pre-peak and at least part of the peak flowering behavior.

The key data we'll want to gather during our observations are:
- species of bee
- the row/position/head of echinacea visited, and in what order
- any other plants species visited between echinacea visits, and approximate location
By combining this data with a daily map of pollen-presenting echinacea heads in the Common Garden, we'll be able to chart the bees' flight patterns and analyze their behavior.

Thanks to the time spent by last year's Bee Team working out the kinks in their painting and observation protocol, we should be able to save a good deal of time by adopting their methods. So, following their lead, here's the general plan:

Last year's team suggested that 7:30 AM would be the best time to begin catching bees. Because of our reliance on others for transportation to the garden, this may or may not happen, but we will try to get started as soon as possible each morning. Using a row number randomly generated by our visor as a starting point, Denise and I will search for bees in that row plus the row to the west and two more to the east. When we find a bee on an echinacea head we will catch it with a net, place it in a vial, and label the vial with the row, position, and twist tie color. The vial will be placed in a soft-sided cooler underneath an ice pack so the bee can calm down while we continue searching.

Once we have a few bees in the cooler we will return to the original capture site, take the first bee out of its vial and place it on a plastic bag on top of the icepack. Using handy dandy paint holsters made out of eppendorf tubes and duct tape, we will place a small dot of paint on the bee's back, being careful to avoid the wings and antennae. The previous bee team suggested applying the paint with a short piece of metal from a flag, bent, sanded, and taped to a stick, but we will probably have to make do with toothpicks for the first day or so. Once the bee is painted and has warmed up a bit, it will be returned to the echinacea head where it was collected and observations will begin.

For observations, last year's Bee Team suggested having teams of 3-5 people, with one person recording data and the others a few meters back from the bee, standing in a circle. When the bee lands on an echinacea head, the observers will call out the color of the twist tie and, if they can, the specific position of the plant. If the bee is moving from plant to plant too quickly for the observers to check the position, one of them will put a stake in by the plant before moving on and the data recorder will check the position. Due to the difficulties voiced by last year's Bee Team over consistently recording accurate start and stop times for the bees on each head, and because we plan to use paper forms rather than the visor this year, we will not be recording these times. We will, however, make note of the collection and release times, as well as the time at which we lose track of the bee.

According to this plan, it looks like the materials we will need are:
- bee catching nets
- vials (glass was recommended)
- sharpie & labeling tape
- soft lunch cooler (1 per group?)
- hard ice packs (2 per cooler?)
- clipboard, data sheets, and a pen
- duct tape/eppendorf tube paint holsters filled with acrylic paint and marked with each color's 3-letter abbreviation
- painting apparatus (toothpicks, until we can rig up the metal/stick deal)
- plastic bag, to keep the bee dry on top of the icepack while we paint it
- flags for marking echinacea if the bee is too fast for us

Things that we probably will not want:
- bug spray
- eye patches
- cement shoes

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We have gotten the chance to look briefly at some of the bee data that we gathered this summer. The first numbers that we have to report are the average flight distances that bees are making between plants. Average flight distance between different plants of Echinacea is 3.73 M. When we added the data for the flights between different heads on the same plant (these intraplant flights were all considered to be 0 M long) the average flight distance was shortened to 3.27 M.

In the next couple of days, we will potentially do the following with our data:
-construct a histogram to visually represent the distance distribution of flights
-print out the homerange maps for each bee, and determine their size, overlap with other homeranges, etc
-compare the maps of flight tracks to the phenology data to see if we can find patterns in which inflorescences bees are visiting and which they are choosing to ignore
-try to determine the percentage of flights that are not successfully transmitting pollen between compatible plants

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Our initial protocol for painting bees called for painting bees as they were collecting pollen on the flower heads using a small paintbrush. Before starting painting, we had created "paint bandoliers" that consisted of microfuge tubes filled with different colors of paint and then taped in a line with duct tape to keep them together. We ordered the colors according to the rainbow to make it easier to keep track of the colors. Each color was given a three letter abbreviation. Painting the bees with paint brushes was fairly easy, but the shape and thickness of the dot had the possibility of being very variable. After researching bee painting, in particular queen honeybee marking, it appeared that the ideal dot that would last the longest amount of time is circular and uniformly thin. To obtain this ideal dot, it was suggested that a piece of wire whose diameter was the size of the desired dot be used.

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The frequency of bee sightings has slowed down in the past couple of days, but in the mean time we have been typing up our updated protocols, and begun looking at the data that we've collected. Read on for detailed protocols, the musings of this year's Bee Team, and tips for next year's Bee Team.

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The Bee team has been busy (I'm avoiding including a bad pun here) lately. We have implemented and perfected our tracking protocol in the past couple of mornings, and have gotten some good data looking at the flights between flowering heads in the Common Garden. Yesterday morning we successfully tracked the flight of one bee to 57 consecutive heads! For the most part, we have been faithful to the original protocol, although we have found that working in groups larger than two is more successful.

We discovered yesterday that the bee we have been identifying as Halictus rubicundus is actually neither that genus nor species. Stuart brought up a reference collection from the U of M, and our best guess is now that our bee is Melissodes cf. subillata.

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Several pictures of the Bee Team marking bees.



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This morning, due to a revolutionary development in our marking protocol, the Bee team members caught and marked 6 Halictus rubicundus in a relatively short amount of time. The secret to our success was capturing the bees and cooling them before any painting was attempted, instead of trying to mark them while they worked the Echinacea heads. Tomorrow we will spend a good portion of the morning marking bees in the common garden, and then hopefully be able to train the rest of the crew in, so that we can begin taking data in earnest later in the week. Read on for new and revised protocols...


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Here are some preliminary instructions on how to observe and record bee/ant presence or absence while we are doing phenology measurements. I thought that while we are looking so closely at each head, we might as well try to garner some information on the Hymenopteran vistors as well. It will not be continuous data, but rather a simple 'yes' or 'no' measurement for each plant (bees) or for each head (ants).


Bee collecting composite pollen, copyright Jon Sullivan


As you begin your phenology measurements only scan for bees once you are within 1m of the plant. If there are any moving, active bees on any head, mark the appropriate box in your phenology form. As soon as you touch a head for phenology measurements, stop recording any bee presence/absence. So, if you are looking at a head and a bee lands on an adjacent head, just ignore it. For bees, we are interested in bee presence for the ENTIRE plant, so as soon as you see one, you are finished entering data.

Remember, wee are only interested in active bees, so don't count sleeping bees, dead bees, bees caught by crab spiders or assassin bugs, etc.


Ant, copyright Alex Wild


Ant data are collected on a per-head basis. As you take each head into your hand and begin your anther count, notice if you see any ants on the top of the inflorescence (either ray OR disk florets). Don't make any special effort at looking underneath the inflorescence. If no ants make an appearance as you are handling the head, mark the head as having no ants, if ANY ants appear whilst you are searching the head, enter the data as such.


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We have finished two weeks of the summer field season and I feel like we haven't settled into a routine because we have been doing something new and different each day. It's exciting.

Here's a recap of accomplishments this past week...

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The team formally called "Team Binocular" has now been christened "Bee Team" because of our apparent lack of need for binoculars. We found after some preliminary observations that watching bees with binoculars is pretty much impossible. There is simply too much swaying of brome to be able to track a small darkly covered bee. The wind also picks up too quickly in the morning, making the bees' flights very erratic and difficult to follow. We tried to follow the bees as they flew off the Echinacea heads, but they would usually catch in the wind and then disappear from our field of view. We also used a step ladder to see if increased height above the garden would help us, but it did not. This stage of the project was a tad disheartening and we began to doubt the feasibility of our project.
We did make some positive progress however, and found that we could often follow the bees with the naked eye. Many times we could actually follow the bee with our eyes as it flew to the next flower, although these flights were typically very short, often just to one of the closest flowers a few meters away or to another flower head on the same plant. The uncertainty of whether that bee is actually the same one led us to devise strategies for distinguishing this fact. People mark honeybees, so we figured that marking our bees the same way with a bit of paint on the thorax would be a feasible option. To determine the feasibility, I "pet" the bee with a bit of brome grass to see if we could mark the bees while they were on the flower heads. In most cases, as long as you moved slowly, the bees were not in the least bit disturbed and continued to explore the flower heads. We put small paint dots on several small non-metallic halictids that we figured we were not going to track due to the difficulty in identifying them on the fly. What was amazing was that we saw some of these bees again as we walked around the common garden not only about 5 minutes after we had marked them, but also almost an hour later when we returned to the common garden.
The most common bee species we saw was Agapostemon virescens, which is a Halictid with a metallic green head and thorax. This bee is fairly large and is also readily identifiable. We also saw another bee fairly fre quently, another halictid Halictis rubicundus. While this bee is also large and even easier to track as it flies because it is slower moving, it would also be harder to paint because it is somewhat more skittish and moves quicker and more erratically on the flower heads. Because of this, we have chosen to focus on Agapostemon virescens first and then maybe expand to other species.
Anyways, that is enough observations for now, but the opportunities for this project are exciting and seem very promising. Several things seem possible with this project (according to Stuart), including determination of home ranges, estimation of population size, and flight patterns.

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Ian tries out his marking technique as he pets a bee with a brome straw

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Tomorrow marks the official kick-off day for the Bee Team. We plan to mark several species of generalist bees found in the common garden with paint spots on the thorax. Our painted bees will hopefully provide data that will answer questions about their population size in the common garden, home ranges of individual bees, and flight path distances between echinacea heads. Before we begin marking our bees tomorrow, we need to:
-find and/or make nails with rounded ends with which to paint the bees (nails are the recommended tool, according to Ian's online research, as they transfer thin, even circles) and
-make a pendragon form for the visors with which to collect data (this form should include date, time, bee species, paint color, plant on which the bee was originally observed, and a place for notes)

Equipment needed:
paint bandoliers
nails/other paint applicators
list of random numbers

Tomorrow's protocol:
1. Generate a list of random number 10-56. Distribute evenly divided lists of these numbers to the 2 groups of 2 people participating. Walk the rows of the common garden in the perscribed order with one person on each side of the row, scanning the row for Agapostemon virescens
2. When a bee is sighted, paint a circle circle on its thorax. After painting radio/yell to the other group and relay the color used, so as to avoid doubling up on colors.
3. Record data for each painted bee into the pendragon form on the visor

Depending on the success of our painting efforts in the morning, we will maybe begin to collect data for home range and population size estimates.

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