While you’ve been hunkered down at home, have you seen any bumble bees in your urban yard? Maybe you’ve even seen a bumble bee nest! We want your help in scouting out the bumble bee nests of the urban greater Boston area.
TPI scientists have been hard at work trying to learn about the nesting ecology of bumble bees (Bombus spp). Bumble bee nests are the focal point of reproduction. In early spring, the queen emerges and forages alone for pollen and nectar. Then, she produces workers which take on foraging tasks, and the colony grows exponentially. Late in the season, as the colony begins to senesce, males and new queens are produced. After mating, males die and queens overwinter underground to start the cycle over.
We have learned a great deal about bumble bee nesting in natural areas, but now it’s time to take that work into the city. Preliminary results already suggest that bumble bee reproductive ecology may differ between natural and urban environments, and we want to explore this further. Bumble bee nests can be difficult to find, but that’s where YOU come in.
Do you think you’ve seen a bumble bee nest? We want to see it! Bumble bees are cavity nesters, meaning they nest in small openings, such as crevices in rock walls beneath garden sheds. If you see frequent traffic of worker bumble bees (~1 bee/minute) to and from a single location, chances are you found a colony!
If you think you have a bumble bee nest in your yard, or know of one in the greater Boston area (within 15 miles of the Tufts Medford-Somerville campus), take a photo and get in touch with us by filling out this survey.
Thank you in advance and we look forward to hearing from you!
Written by: Sylvie Finn, one of our newest TPI members!
It’s National Pollinator Week, so in an effort to learn about our diverse pollinators, take this quick quiz to see which pollinator is in your personality!
Directions: This is an old school keep-track-yourself type of quiz. Think personality quiz in a tween magazine. Grab a piece of scrap paper, keep track of how many A’s, B’s, C’s, etc you have, and at the end you will be able to discover something fabulous about yourself.
1. Imagine you step into your dream house. You look around and see:
A. Ornate geometric patterns B. Sophisticated plaster work all around C. The house you’re sitting in right now! D. This is a hard question…I’d rather have two totally different and exciting homes E. As long as there’s a stacked pantry, I’m happy! F. Something I build myself to my liking
2. Your friends would describe you as:
A. Hardworking B. Friendly C. High strung D. A social butterfly E. Loyal F. Hyper
3. On a Saturday night, you can be found:
A. Out on the town with “the girls” B. Working in your basement C. At a dive bar with your buddies hovering around the peanut and pretzel bowls at the bar D. Getting your beauty rest E. Cuddled up with a good book F. Indulging in your sweet tooth
4. Your personal style is:
A. Whatever your friends are wearing B. Stripes! C. All black every day D. Bold color choices E. Give me that fuzzy sweater F. Metallics anyone?
5. Your favorite color is:
A. Yellow B. Blue C. White D. Pink E. Ultraviolet F. Red
6. You get to the park and someone is sitting on your favorite bench, you:
A. Take a seat, there’s room for two B. Decide that going to the park was a horrible idea C. Linger in front of the bench until the person sitting there becomes uncomfortable and leaves D. Go to another bench, there are plenty of benches to go around E. What person? I see a bench, I sit F. I don’t have this problem, no one likes the kinds of benches I do
7. Your dream vacation:
A. Take me to a new city! I love a buzzing metropolis B. Exploring a cave with your pals C. An all-inclusive resort just for the all-you-can-eat buffet D. Mountains of Mexico, please and thank you E. Stay-cation works for me, as long as there are snacks F. Take me anywhere ~TroPiCaL~
8. For your birthday this year, you want:
A. A big party with all of my of friends and acquaintances B. A small party with only my closest friends C. To be left alone D. To fly in the sky! Paragliding? Skydiving? E. To make sure those around me are well fed F. To go on an adventure somewhere new
Time to find out which pollinator you are…
MOSTLY A’s: Honey bee (Apis mellifera)
are the “gold” standard for bees. Known for your incredible social intelligence
and honey making skills, you are very hardworking and constantly referenced.
You’re a total feminist, loving to live in female-dominated society.
are one of the lesser known pollinators and you like it that way. Your fast
paced lifestyle keeps others on edge and you always stay unconventional.
MOSTLY D’s: Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
are the poster child of all butterflies. Like a monarch, you are elegant and
have very specific taste. You also are a total travel junky and love to go to
new places beyond what your imagination can hold.
MOSTLY E’s: Bumble bee (Bombus spp.)
are everyone’s best friend, smart and oh so sweet. You know how to cuddle up
with a good book, but when you think theres some good food somewhere, you can
zoom there quite quickly.
You are many people’s favorite birds and a very special pollinator. While there are hundreds of species of humming birds in the tropics, you are the only one to grace us here in the North East. If people can catch a glimpse of you, you always dazzle them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 bee, Triepeolus grandis.
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.
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.
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.