Of bees and dancing

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After getting started on my field work in late March, the last month has yielded a frustrating lack of nice weather. Bees are like people; they don’t like being cold, and they don’t like getting rained on. Unfortunately, Boston has been giving us plenty of both these last few weekends. The one weekend it was nice enough go out, I was out of town. Just my luck…

At last, we have a nice weekend! High of 67°, sunny, and 0% chance of precipitation. Just the way bees like it. Pretty much the way I like it, too.

Now the fun part of the story. I have a ballroom dance competition this weekend. I danced yesterday (Saturday) morning, and I will be dancing again this evening at about 5pm. Which is all fine and good; I can just head out to the Arboretum, set out the bowl traps, net for a few hours, and head home and to the competition (it’s at MIT, so not far). Which is exactly what I’m doing. The catch? Hairstyles for ballroom competitions can be very intricate, which means that if your competition spans two days, you are not about to redo your hair for the second day. So, today, I am going to catch bees at the Arnold Arboretum with a lot of rhinestones glued to my hair. It’s going to be hilarious.

Field Trip #1 – A Review

This past Saturday, I spent my first day at the Arboretum. It was riddled with set-backs. I arrived early in the morning, only to discover that the outdoor pipes were still shut off for the winter, and the Hunnewell Buidling (the visitor center, for anyone who’s never visited) didn’t open until noon. Well, without water, I don’t have traps, so I wasn’t particularly thrilled. I used the hours until the Hunnewell Building opened to wander around, searching for blooming willows. During my quest, I came across this beauty:

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The first bee of the season (at least that I saw).

Saturday also happened to be the first really nice day of the year, so everyone and their dog was at the Arboretum. Literally. There were so many cute dogs. There were big dogs and little dogs, short-haired dogs and shaggy dogs, hyper dogs and stoic dogs. DOGS EVERYWHERE. It was like it was unofficial Bring-Your-Dog-to-the-Arnold-Arboretum Day or something. Now, I grew up with pets, and one of the weirdest adjustments I had to make when I got to college was not having a cat around all the time. So I get pretty happy when I see dogs. In honor of that joy, and in an effort to bring that joy to you, my loyal bee-enthusiasts, I have compiled a slideshow of adorable dogs. Enjoy!

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There will probably be another field trip this weekend. I’m keeping my eye on the weather. It’ll be a little chilly for bees tomorrow, but Sunday looks good.

That’s all for now!

And We’re Back in Business!

As a note … this post was supposed to be published on Saturday morning. For some reason, WordPress didn’t save my post, and I spent two days thinking I had actually updated this page. Oops!

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It’s been a while.

After a fantastic summer spent collecting and learning about bees, it was time for a break. I spent my sophomore year surviving (and sometimes even enjoying) organic chemistry, the summer in Costa Rica learning how to be a biologist, then I jumped back in at the start of junior year. Most of the last few months have been spent preparing for the spring and figuring out where to go. Well, it is spring, and I have a direction!

Essentially, it’s time to start resampling. My goal is to find out if there are any patterns in the species distribution at the Arboretum. Now that Boston has remembered that winter is over, the bees might even start coming out! This weekend will be nice and warm, so there’s step one. I probably won’t find much this weekend, but it’s always nice to have a start.

This time around, I will be doing 24-hour samples… setting out the bowl traps one day, then coming back the next day to pick them up at the same time. There are advantages and disadvantages, but the biggest advantage is that I don’t have to spend the entire day at the Arboretum to get data. This is especially nice because my spring and fall sampling will have to be balanced with my coursework and studying, so I won’t be limited to just weekends for sampling.

For now, I just have to get my spring field work in and make sure I have a place to live this summer. Some friends and I are exploring apartments around Harvard Square, and I’m waiting to find out if I received some grants for the summer, so here’s to high hopes!

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Obviously, these thoughts are a few days old, but I felt that my first post in a year and half should be introductory. More coming soon on the bees (and the dogs!) from my first field trip.

A similar survey the UK

Professor Farrell sent me a link to this report done by the BBC on a insect survey being done in urban and rural areas of the UK:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14380658

While the idea that urban gardens are a more reliable source of food than farmland and nature reserves might have merit, it seems to me that they haven’t thought about (or, more probably, haven’t reported on) certain other factors.

I’ve always gotten a great catch, both from netting and from bee bowls, while working in the cultivated gardens at the Arbortetum, particularly the Bradley Rose Garden and the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden. There’s no doubt that bees will flock to gardens. But they shouldn’t discount the role of weeds and wildflowers in the fields; I’ve seen little white grass blooms I would not have otherwise considered flowers crawling with honeybees, and I got my largest catch of bees ever from a field of overgrown grass and wildflowers. In that catch, I saw many of the same bees I’d seen in the gardens (some in greater numbers), but I also saw several types of bees that were totally new to me; strangely shaped black bees with fat thoraxes and skinny abdomens, bees with wide, short abdomens with yellow stripes that don’t quite meet in the middle, even one with yellow spots instead of stripes! So, I wonder if they might not find greater numbers in the cities’ gardens but greater diversity in the fields.

A (not so) brief reflection on my work to date

Since I began working on this project over two months ago, there have obviously been countless moments that I was not able to document. So, I thought I’d do a quick gloss over of some of the memories that stand out most clearly in my mind.

  • In my first week and a half of work, I spent a lot of time inputting the wasps that had just been identified by Dr. Bill Stubblefield of the Fresh Pond Research Institute into the Boston Harbor Islands Insect Database, as well as creating species labels. Although the work was long and somewhat tedious, I learned a lot about what it takes to keep a collection organized, and subsequently had much less trouble setting up my own database for the Arnold Arboretum.
  • My first field trip was very successful! I was accompanied (and taught) by Steve C. and Erika D., who have worked in the Farrell Lab for the last few summers. They taught me what I needed to know about catching insects with aerial nets, sweep nets, beating sheets, and aspirators. We also set up FOUR transects of bee bowls, which proved to be WAY too many for one trip. Lessons learned: never set up more than two transects, wear sunscreen, mosquitoes love me, stinging nettle really hurts, and bring a frozen Powerade. Pictures of our adventures are at the bottom of this post.
  • On one of my earlier trips, and elderly man on a bicycle saw me with my nets and asked what I was doing. When I told him I was catching bees, he told me how he and his father used to collect wasps when he was a child, and how sad he was that people didn’t appreciate insects (particularly wasps and bees) more. It was a really nice conversation that made my day.
  • Another random conversation, this time on the Red Line back to Harvard Square, actually led to the creation of this blog! Thanks to Mark Who Frequently Rides The Red Line for the idea and the title! (He misheard “research on bees” as “bee-search”, which we both thought was pretty brilliant.)
  • Taking weekly trips to the Arboretum gives me a fantastic chance to see the changes that happen throughout the summer. I always enter the park through the Forest Hills Gate next to the Bradley Rose Garden, and about three weeks ago, I saw a swarm of huge wasps I had never seen before flying above the grass next to the road. It turns out they were cicada killers (genus Sphecius), and they’ve been coming out at that time of year in the same place for the last four years.
  • The same day I saw the cicada killers for the first time, we got to a high temperature of 102 degrees. Now, I grew up in Oklahoma, so it’s nothing I haven’t seen before, but I’m out of practice with that sort of heat! Plus, the bees were more intelligent than I was and stayed out of the heat that day, so the catch was disappointingly small.
  • In the lab, I’ve had the chance to see how beautiful bees are close-up. I’ll post high-resolution pictures once I’ve imaged some of the specimens.
  • I have done seven field trips so far, and the collection has been simply astounding! In the slideshow below is a picture of all the pinned specimen I had six field trips in, with more since, and more to come!

All in all, these last two months have been incredibly successful and educational, and I can’t wait to find out just how many species I’ve collected in this short time! I’ll be doing my last field trip of the summer tomorrow, with one more this fall as the marigolds start blooming, then it’ll be hours in the lab identifying, labeling, and organizing!

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Welcome to Bee-Search!

What is this blog about?

For the last two months, I have been working for Professor Brian Farrell at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology Laboratories documenting the bees of the Arnold Arboretum.  Along the way, there have been interesting finds, frustrating moments, hilarious conversations, and a plethora of strange looks from passersby.  I’d like to share with you those moments, as well as the knowledge I have gained.

Who am I?

I’m Georgia! I’m a Harvard undergraduate, Class of 2014, living in Winthrop House and concentrating in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (with a secondary in sleeplessness).  In addition to staring at bees, I’m a musician (oboe, tenor sax, voice), dancer (ballroom), and occasional actor, and I’m never without a book on my lunch break.

Who should read this blog?

Anybody.  I want this to be really accessible to a general audience, particularly since I’m learning at the same time.  If you have any interest in the Arboretum or in bees, bookmark this!  No need to be an expert (because I certainly am not).

Anything else you should know?

I’ll try to update as frequently as possible, but I won’t bore you with mundane things like, “It was really hot at the Arboretum today.”  I’m more likely to bore you with, “It was really hot at the Arboretum today and the bees were smarter than I was and didn’t come out, so I barely caught anything.  It was disappointing.”  I’ll post interesting events, and of course, any knowledge of bees I gather.

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