Thanks for a great #PollinatorWeek!

Thank you all for a fun week of pollinator enthusiasm and engagement on social media! We’re closing out the week with a fun video by James, another new member of TPI, on the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly!

Miss any of this week’s fun? Check out the links below!

Monday: Bee hotels and Pollinator BINGO! (all week)
Tuesday: Pollinator-related recipes
Wednesday: Pollinator personalities (a quiz!)
Thursday: A look at our gardens, NEW native shrub planting guide
Friday: Planting herbs for pollinators (plus a recipe!)

Save the date for next year’s Pollinator Week plant sale, where you can purchase a pollinator-friendly plant, many of which we have grown from seed!

Pollinator Week BINGO!

Every year, a week in June is dedicated to celebrating pollinators. All week long TPI will be posting pollinator-related videos, blog posts, etc. PLUS, you can play BINGO for a chance to win a prize!

To play Pollinator Week BINGO, which features flower-visiting insects you can find in the Northeastern USA this time of year, download and print the Bingo card (below) or screen shot the image on your phone. Take your card/phone outside and if you find the correct insect, mark it off on your printed card with a pen/pencil or with your phone’s photo annotation option.

If you get BINGO! (five in a row, vertical, horizontal, or diagonal, TPI logo is a free space), send a photo of your annotated card to tuftspollinators@gmail.com or tweet a photo and tag @PollinateTufts by 11:59 pm on Friday, June 26. Each completed BINGO! card will be entered in a drawing to win TPI swag and a voucher for a free pollinator-friendly plant at next spring’s TPI plant sale! Limit one entry per person.

For help identifying the insects you observe, download our identification guides or reach out to us with photos via email or Twitter!


Stay tuned for more #PollinatorWeek fun!

Happy World Bee Day!

Did you know there are 20,000 species of bees in the world? And that 4,000 of those species are native to North America? In celebration of World Bee Day, we highlight some of the bees TPI members have studied across the United States and in Costa Rica.

Common eastern bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) are important pollinators of greenhouse tomatoes, blueberries, and pumpkins.
Photo: Genevieve Pugesek

Though the common eastern bumble bee is one of the more common bee species in the Northeastern US (as its name suggests), we still have a lot to learn! With help from Tufts undergrad and grad students, I am working to understand where queen eastern bumble beeshibernate. As it turns out, unlike most other species of bumble bees, these queen bees hibernate right next to the nest they were born in. So, if you are creating habitat for nesting bumble bees, you might be creating habitat for hibernating queens too! If you visit our pollinator gardens (while practicing safe social distancing) this spring, you’re likely to see these fuzzy bumble bees flying around.

Genevieve Pugesek, PhD Student, Tufts University

Yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii) pollinate many wild plants as well as crop plants such as tomatoes and berries.
Photos: Elizabeth Crone, Rachael Bonoan

For the past 5 years, I worked on this species in collaboration with Neal Williams (Assoc. Professor, University of California), Rosemary Malfi (now post-doc, UMass Amherst) and Natalie Kerr (now post-doc, Duke University).  We found that yellow-faced bumble bee colonies especially need resources to forage on during early stages of colony development.  In the same way that early childhood nutrition affects human health throughout their lives, early spring flowers help these bumble bee colonies grow!  Spring resources allow colonies to produce larger worker bees that are better at foraging for resources, leading to higher resource return even after the spring pulse of flowers ends.  The importance of spring resources has implications for bee conservation because native plants in California mostly flower during the wet spring, whereas irrigated crop plants mostly flower in the dry summer.  If we want yellow-faced bumble bees to be around to pollinate summer crops, we need to keep spring flowers on the landscape.

Elizabeth Crone, Professor, Tufts University

Hibiscus bees (Ptilothrix bombiformis) pollinate plants in the Malvaceae family including cotton, hibiscus, and saltmarsh mallow.
Photo: Judy Gallagher, Flickr

I spent a summer surveying native bees along Virginia’s Eastern Shore and studying the effects of sea level rise on native bee communities. The hibiscus bee was the most common species found on farms, meadows, and salt marshes along the coast. On steamy summer mornings, this bumble bee doppelganger could be found buzzing around marsh hibiscus or visiting blooming cotton fields.

Jessie Thuma, PhD Student, Tufts University

Blueberry cellophane bees (Colletes validus) are specialists that pollinate blueberries.
Photo: Max McCarthy

Different bee species have different diets; some collect pollen from a wide variety of flowers (generalists) while other species forage on the flowers of only a few types of plants (specialists). I sampled pollen from blueberry cellophane bees to understand what types of floral resources this species uses throughout its flight season in May and June. After identifying pollen samples under a microscope, I found that, true to their name, these bees rarely collect pollen from plants other than blueberry bushes.

Max McCarthy, Undergraduate, Tufts University

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are generalist forages known to pollinate our crops.
Photo: Rachael Bonoan

I study how honey bees regulate in-hive temperatures in order to protect temperature-sensitive eggs and larvae. In order to develop properly, honey bee larvae must be kept at 32 – 36 °C (about 89 – 96°F). With the help of NSF REU students, I found that when an area of a honey bee hive is exposed to heat stress, the queen stops laying eggs in the “too hot” area. Instead of raising young in this hot spot, worker bees store nectar (food!).

Isaac Weinberg, PhD Student, Tufts University

Squash bees (Peponapis pruinosa) are known for pollinating…you guessed it…squash.
Photo: USDA ARS, Wikimedia Commons

As a lead field technician at UW-Madison, I worked with a team to investigate how the diversity and abundance of floral vegetation on small-scale organic farms impacted bee communities and crop flower visitation. We were interested in cucurbit (e.g. cucumbers, watermelons, squashes) pollination, as these crops rely solely on insect pollination. While I was fortunate to study a diversity of bees in this project, my heart was captured by Peponapis as the males scurried around giant squash flowers. Fun fact: When the squash flowers close mid-day, squash bee males nestle up and sleep in the protection of the closed flower until they reopen the following day. 

Sylvie Finn, Incoming PhD Student, Tufts University

Yarrow’s fork-tongue bee (Caupolicana yarrowi) pollinates wild nightshade, and is parasitized by a cuckoo beeTriepeolus grandis.
Photo: Nick Dorian

Yarrow’s fork-tongue is a large, ground-nesting solitary bee that inhabits high deserts of southwestern US and Mexico. Unlike most bees, it cannot be found during the day, but instead is active pre-dawn and post-dusk. In August 2018, several participants of the 2018 Bee Course and I woke up extra early to find nesting females. We found three nests and carefully excavated the long, sinuous tunnels to claim our prize: brood cells. Most cells contained just a Yarrow’s fork-tongue larva feeding on a slurry of pollen and nectar. In one cell, however, we also found an intruder: the larva of a cuckoo bee (Triepeolus grandis). With formidable mandibles, the cuckoo bee larva kills the host and develops on the stolen provisions. This may sound malicious, but it’s simply how the cuckoo bee lives. About 15% of all bees are cuckoos, meaning these pollinators would cease to exist without their host bees!

Nick Dorian, PhD Student, Tufts University

Stingless bees (Trigona spp.) are generalist tropical pollinators that forage on flowers and meat.
Photo: Rachael Bonoan

This past January, some TPI members traveled to Costa Rica with Tufts University’s Tropical Ecology and Conservation course. There, Nick and I studied mineral preferences of facultative “vulture bees,” stingless bees that forage at meat as well as flowers. We identified five species of bees (including Trigona silvestriana, pictured above) foraging at our baits and found that compared with unaltered baits (i.e. raw chicken), stingless bees tended to avoid baits soaked in calcium and potassium. In contrast, bees visited sodium-soaked baits just as often as unaltered baits. This suggests that like many herbivores, meat-foraging bees are likely limited by sodium and will suck up the salt wherever they can find it!

Rachael Bonoan, post-doctoral researcher, Tufts University

Orchid bees (Euglossa spp.) are known for pollinating orchids in the tropics.
Photo: Atticus Murphy

Can you see the thin yellow object on the back of this shiny green orchid bee? This is a pollinium, a packet of pollen grains, likely from an orchid. Male orchid bees forage at flowers for nectar, which provides nutritional energy, and floral scents, which are used to court females. In Costa Rica, my research partner and I captured orchid bees and used tiny glass tubes to suck up the contents of the crop, where collected nectar is stored. We measured sugar content of the bee-collected nectar and found that bees caught in human-dominated open spaces had more dilute crop contents than those caught in the forest. This may be because the open spaces were sunnier and hotter, driving the bees to drink more water.

Atticus Murphy, PhD Student, Tufts University

Interested in learning more about the bees in your backyard? Check out our insect identification guides! For even more bees, our favorite books are The Bees in your Backyard by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carrill and Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide by Heather Holm.
TPI members at work!

Stop calling it the “murder hornet”

Recently, news outlets have been spreading fear of the “murder hornet” invading the United States. To be clear, the “murder hornet”, actually known as the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), does not pose a direct threat to humans. While a sting from this hornet may hurt, Asian giant hornets are generally not aggressive unless provoked. Stinging is a form of protection, and like any stinging insect, the Asian giant hornet is not out to sting you.

Instead, Asian giant hornets are after much smaller prey: honey bees.  Asian giant hornets are carnivores, meaning they feed insects to their developing young. A honey bee colony, with tens of thousands of bees, is a great place to collect protein-rich food. In one foraging trip, one Asian giant hornet can kill up to 40 honey bees! As you might imagine, a whole colony of these hornets could be fatal to a honey bee colony.

In their native range of eastern and southeastern Asia, Asian giant hornets have been predating on Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) for a long time. In response, Asian honey bees have adapted a defense strategy: heat. When the hornet invader is detected, worker bees sound the alarm by shaking their abdomens. Then, in a swift, coordinated response, hundreds of honey bees swarm the hornet and contract their flight muscles, generating intense heat. Together, the worker bees heat the hornet to about 117 °F, killing the intruder. As it happens, the hornet can only withstand temperatures up to 115 °F, while Asian honey bee workers can withstand temperatures up to 118 °F. Evolution is a beautiful thing.

Sterile female worker bees perform all the tasks in the colony, including taking care of the queen (white paint mark) and defending the hive from intruders.

But, the Western honey bees (Apis mellifera) that are managed in North America have not evolved with this predator and are not as well equipped to defend themselves. This is why we need to be worried about the Asian giant hornet. Managed honey bees provide valuable economic and ecosystem services such as beekeeper livelihoods and agricultural pollination—the Asian giant hornet jeopardizes the security of these services.

While this is certainly cause for concern, panic is unwarranted. Since August 2019, the Asian giant hornet has been spotted just three times in Washington State and three times in British Columbia. Following a recent report of a honey bee colony death that resembled the work of this hornet in Washington (although it is unconfirmed), Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologists are on the hunt to stop the hornet before it spreads.

Fortunately, Asian giant hornets have not been spotted on the east coast, and it would likely take a while for them to get here. As with any introduced species, however, attempts should be made to spot the hornets early on. If you think you have seen an Asian giant hornet in Massachusetts (which is currently highly unlikely) you can report a sighting to the Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project.

Identifying Asian giant hornets: The European hornet (Vespa crabro) is often confused for the Asian giant hornet. There are three main differences between these hornets:

  1. Size The Asian giant hornet is slightly bigger than the European hornet (photos not to scale, enlarged for detail).
  2. Stripes The Asian giant hornet has regular black-orange stripes along its abdomen; the European hornet has irregular brown-yellow stripes.
  3. Head The Asian giant hornet has an orange head; the European hornet has a golden yellow head.
LEFT: Asian giant hornet, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Flickr
RIGHT: European hornet, Chris Moody, Flickr

To learn more about the Asian giant hornet, please read this USDA report instead of news articles. To learn more about how you can help mitigate the establishment of introduced species in general, check out these resources:

Tufts University Medford-Somerville is now a Bee Campus USA!

TPI is excited to announce that we have reached our goal: Tufts University Medford-Somerville has become the first urban educational institution in Massachusetts to be certified as an affiliate of the Bee Campus USA program! Bee Campus USA is designed to marshal the strengths of educational campuses for the benefit of pollinators via the creation of pollinator habitat, service-learning projects, and educational programming.

Funded by the Tufts Green Fund in 2019, we created TPI as an ecological, educational, and collaborative effort to bolster pollinator health and promote community awareness on the Medford-Somerville campus. If you’ve been keeping up with our blog, you may have heard that we have planted three pollinator-friendly gardens on the Medford-Somerville campus, which provide forage for pollinators from May through October. In just one year, we reached over 2,000 people via public-facing events such as Tufts Community Day, workshops, lectures, and the recent screening of The Pollinators. We have also advised pollinator conservation efforts at other universities in the Boston Area (e.g. Lesley University, Northeastern University) as well as other Tufts campuses. In this year’s round of Green Fund projects, the Sustainability Committee at the School of Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts was awarded funds to create pollinator-friendly gardens on their Boston campus. We cannot wait to help the SMFA Sustainability Committee create signage and select plants for their gardens!

TPI members with Peter Nelson, director of The Pollinators, following our Pollinator Fair (complete with honey tasting!) and film screening.
Nick Dorian teaches young community members about which crops are pollinated by bees at Tufts Community Day.

Elizabeth Crone, Professor of Biology and TPI member, is excited about the opportunities for student research and service-learning with the Medford-Somerville gardens: “In the same way that National Parks were a new idea in the early 1900’s, urban pollinator gardens are the next frontier for conserving insect diversity in the 21st century.” Our on-campus pollinator gardens have already been integrated into a Tufts undergraduate-level course, “Insect Pollinators and Real-world Science,” where students visited a garden and created their own pollinator-specific planting guides. We are now working to create undergraduate research projects to survey pollinator biodiversity and the food resources (nectar and pollen) the gardens provide, and recently created an iNaturalist Project for community scientists interested in contributing biodiversity data.

Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA are initiatives of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Oregon, with offices across the country. Bee City USA’s mission is to galvanize communities and campuses to sustain pollinators by providing them with healthy habitat, rich in a variety of native plants, i.e. food resources for pollinators. Animal pollinators such as bumble bees, sweat bees, mason bees, honey bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, hummingbirds and many others are responsible for the reproduction of almost ninety percent of the world’s flowering plant species. In fact, one in every three bites of food we consume is thanks to animal pollinators, specifically insects!

“The program aspires to make people more PC—pollinator conscious, that is,” said Scott Hoffman Black, Xerces’ executive director. “If lots of individuals and communities begin planting native, pesticide-free flowering trees, shrubs and perennials, it will help to sustain many, many species of pollinators.”

We would like to thank to the Tufts Green Fund for funding this project, the Garden Club of America for their support, and our current and past members for helping us toward our goal! As a certified Bee Campus USA, we will continue doing outreach, education, and research, and spreading the pollinator love!

TPI supports pollinators by cultivating native plants on the Medford-Somerville campus. Here, a monarch collects nectar from blazing star.

TPI spreading across Tufts campuses!

Early last spring, TPI was officially funded by the Tufts Green Fund. Since last year, we planted three pollinator gardens on the Medford/Somerville campus, and generated outreach materials for events on and off campus. Through live-facing events alone, TPI reached over 1,000 people in Massachusetts and Rhode Island!

For this cycle of the Green Fund, the Sustainability Committee from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts University reached out about applying to fund pollinator gardens on their campus. As of yesterday, the SMFA pollinator garden project was funded!

We extend our congratulations and are excited to collaborate! Some of the seedlings we’re growing in the greenhouse, as well as TPI signs, will find a home in Boston later this year. If you see a pollinator garden while strolling the SMFA campus, take a moment to watch. You might be surprised by how many pollinators you see!

Holiday gift ideas to spread the pollinator love

As you start (or finish?) your holiday shopping, here are some gift ideas to spread the love of pollinators.

For beginner and/or experienced gardeners

32 Plant Pollinator Garden, photo from prairienursery.com
  • Bee hotel/DIY kit: Bee hotels are a fun and easy way to support native bees in your own backyard or garden. While most people think about honey bees when they think “bee,” 90% of bee species nest alone in tunnels or holes. Putting out a bee hotel near your garden will provide more real estate for these bees. Here is a list of various bee hotel options.  
  • Pollinator introduction kit: This kit from Prairie Moon Nursery includes Pollinator Palooza seed mix (the mix we give out), a bee hotel kit, and a book on attracting native pollinators.
  • Pre-planned garden: For those who would like a pollinator garden but don’t want to do the planning, Prairie Nursery (not to be confused with Prairie Moon Nursery) sells a variety of pre-planned pollinator gardens complete with plants, planting instructions, and a design map. All gardens include a variety of perennials that will keep your garden blooming (i.e. providing food for pollinators!) from spring through fall.

For readers

Metallic green sweat bee, photo taken by Rachael E. Bonoan
  • Subscription to 2 Million Blossoms: The gift that will keep on giving through 2020, 2 Million Blossoms is a new quarterly magazine dedicated to transporting its readers to the world of pollinators. In the first issue, readers will get “distracted by bees” in my photo essay about bees on a Pacific Northwest prairie, like the brilliant green sweat bee, and the wildflowers they visit.
  • The Bees in Your Backyard by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril: This is one of my favorite books about bees! In this book, readers learn how to identify native bees that are likely in their backyard (in North America) and what they can do to help the bees. Gorgeous photos accompany easy-to-read text.
  • Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley: My love for insect pollinators started with honey bees. Although they are not native to North America and are more of a domesticated animal than a wild pollinator, we can learn a lot about our native pollinators from studying honey bees! In this book, honey bee biologist Tom Seeley describes the amazing ways in which honey bees work together to make decisions as a group.

For foodies

Photo from proudpour.com
  • Honey: Raw honey is one of the sweetest gifts to give (pun very much intended). You can often find local beekeepers at holiday craft fairs selling their delicious honey (sometimes gorgeous beeswax candles too!). If you can’t make it to a craft fair or they’re just not your thing, there are companies that will ship raw, delicious honey right to your door! Some of my favorites are: GloryBee, Boston Honey Company, and Savannah Bee Company. If you’re local to the Boston Area, check out Follow the Honey , a brick-and-mortar where you can find (and taste!) honeys from New England and around the world. Honey varietals make great gifts—that friend from Canada will go crazy for Canadian White Gold.
  • Save the Bees Pinot Noir: Proud Pour’s Pinot Noir from Oregon will pair beautifully with that holiday roast chicken. As a bonus, proceeds go towards replanting wildflowers on farms local to where the wine is purchased!
  • Beeswrap: I love my beeswrap! An environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic baggie, beeswraps are fun fabrics coated in beeswax that are washable and reusable, and perfect for wrapping up that sandwich or snack. Beeswrap can also be used in place of plastic wrap to cover and store leftovers.

For fashionistas

Cast honeycomb hoop earrings, photo from beeamour.com.
  • “Plant these” long-sleeved shirt: Support pollinator-friendly gardening as well as an artist with this adorable shirt from Etsy.
  • “Protect the pollinators” short-sleeved shirt: While TPI mainly focuses on insect pollinators, this shirt spreads pollinator love by including hummingbirds and bats in addition to insects.
  • Bee Amour jewelry: Made by a beekeeper in Texas, this jewelry is inspired by some of our most well-known managed pollinators, honey bees. Some of the pieces are even cast from actual honeycomb!

For the person who doesn’t need anything

Happy holidays from TPI!

Providing shelter for native bees

Last month I had the opportunity to run a workshop on protecting native bees for 250+ kids at Camp Micah in Bridgton, ME. Like humans, bees need three things: food, shelter, and water. In my workshop, the campers focused on shelter—we built 200 bee “hotels” to donate to the Honeybee Conservancy for their Sponsor-A-Hive program.  

We hear a lot about honey bees, which make their homes in hives, but most bees are solitary and make their homes in less conspicuous manner. Mining bees (Andrena species), as their name suggests, make their home by digging tunnels in bare soil. In addition to digging tunnels, cellophane bees (Colletes species) line their nests with a clear protective secretion that resembles…you guessed it..cellophane! To provide shelter for these types of bees, leave your garden un-mulched.

Hanging by a couple of our research hives, typical man-made honey bee hives, at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Photo: Rachael E. Bonoan
Blue orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria) female.
Photo: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab

Mason bees and leaf-cutter bees also nest in tunnels, but they do so a bit differently. These bees use ready-made tunnels in wood, hollow sticks, or dried-out plant stems. Female mason and leaf-cutter bees collect pollen and nectar to make a “food ball,” which she shoves to the very bottom of the nest. She then lays an egg on top of this food ball and makes a divider out of either mud (mason bees) or leaves (leaf-cutter bees). The momma bee then collects materials to make another food ball, which she puts in front of her “divider,” lays another egg, and the cycle continues until the nest is full of food and baby bees.

Cross-section of a blue orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria) nest with mud dividers, orange-yellow food balls, and bright white bee eggs.
Photo: USDA ARS

The baby bees hatch out of their eggs, eat their nutritious food ball and develop from larvae, to pupae, to adult. In mason bees, pupae spin a cozy cocoon in which they complete their development to adult. The adult mason bees stay inside their cocoon until the weather is just right. In early spring, they chew their way out and emerge into the bright new world. To provide shelter for these bees, leave some of the larger, dried out stems in your garden. Or, like the campers, you can make a bee hotel!

Bee hotels don’t have to be five-star. They can be as simple as taking some dried out stems or reeds, creating a bundle, and securing the bundle with twine. You can hang this bundle somewhere near your garden (where the bees have food!) or in a tree. A variety of tunnel sizes ensures a variety of bees can use your bee hotel—bees come in many shapes and sizes. To provide enough space for the momma bee and her babies, the tunnels should be about 4 – 10 mm in diameter and about 15 cm (6 inches) long. If you don’t have dried-out stems readily available, you can purchase small cardboard tubes or paper straws to make your bundle. Avoid using plastic straws or bamboo as they don’t let the nutritious food ball breathe and may harbor mold.

You can add some amenities to your bee hotel in the form of PVC. A piece of PVC pipe 2 – 4 inches in diameter and a few inches longer than your tubes allows for some protection from the elements. Simply place a cap at one end of the PVC and pack your tubes in until they fit snugly. Again, use twine or if needed, zip ties, to secure your bee hotel. To keep birds and other possible predators out, you can add a security system with 1-inch wire mesh loosely secured to the front of your bee hotel. If possible, face the entrance of your bee hotel to the south so the bees get lots of warm morning sun (and a nice view).

When constructing your bee hotel, think about making it as big as the food (flowers) in your general area will support—you don’t want to raise too many bees and not have enough food. A meadow of wildflowers can support more/larger bee hotels than a small urban garden. To avoid spreading disease, replace the hotel’s linens (the tunnels) every year or two. In March and April, watch the entrance to your bee hotel to see how many bees emerge!