Several Headwaters Master Naturalists were among the Virginia Master Naturalists who helped research Virginia’s bees in a project that got citizen scientists buzzing with excitement earlier this year. University of Virginia environmental sciences graduate student Kathryn “Kate” LeCroy coordinated the project and is currently analyzing the data collected by volunteers in the bee house hotels and wet traps that she constructed and distributed.
LeCroy and her faculty mentor T’ai Roulston will use the evidence to help determine if Virginia’s native blue orchard mason bee is suffering habitat loss, and possibly disease, due to the presence of non-native mason bees. With bee loss in the news and the increasing popularity in hosting mason bees as backyard pollinators, LeCroy’s research is among the most comprehensive of such Virginia bee counts.
Citizen science activity started in February due to unseasonably warm weather. LeCroy was kept busy constructing and delivering wooden and PVC bee hotels and bee collection bowls statewide to VMNs offering a variety of properties and eager to help with the project. Stephanie Gardner, Kate Guenther, Peggy Plass, and Elaine Smith were among the bee hotel proprietors. It was an exciting weekend when LeCroy brought the hotels and we mounted them on our properties following an instructional webinar. Peggy Plass wrote, “I definitely enjoyed the adventure of putting the hotels up (there were some interesting engineering problems involved there with the PVC pipe one–hard to attach a cylindrical object to a tree or post!).”
Solitary mason bees later inspected the tubes in the bee hotels, nested inside and capped the ends of the tubes with mud. Participants received instructions on monitoring their bee hotels from LeCroy. One important instruction was not to touch the hotels after we installed them. We emailed weekly photographs of the hotels while LeCroy kept in touch to share photographs, answer questions and update us on her work.
Kate Guenther also participated in a second part of the project that collected bees in a line of nine cups mounted on PVC stands and filled with water and animal safe antifreeze. While the thought of killing bees was off-putting to some, LeCroy addressed our concerns noting that such collection is the most effective census method and would have little impact on our local bee populations. Kate and others strained out the insects that they collected and placed them in little bags with small amounts of antifreeze to aid their preservation. Volunteers then sealed and labeled the bags and stored them in freezers.
Our bee hotel keeping ended in early June when we carefully followed the instructions to take down the materials and prepare them for pick up. We are now awaiting LeCroy’s analysis of the collections. Peggy Plass writes, “I’m really looking forward to hearing about the findings of the study–I think that Kate [LeCroy] is doing a session at the VMN state meeting in September, which I hope to be able to get to!”
It was an exciting opportunity to participate in citizen science focusing on local pollinators. LeCroy’s enthusiasm was contagious, and she reported enjoying traveling Virginia to meet and work with VMNs. We also enjoyed meeting and working with her!
Though there were some surprises including a cold snap after the bee hotels were installed; dead, sticky gnats for Kate to strain from her bee bowls; and an earwig invasion hiding behind Stephanie’s hotels; HMNs found the project easy to do and valuable. Kate Guenther wrote, “… I had the feeling I was helping bee science. Go bees!”
– Stephanie Gardner, July 2017
Top photo by Stephanie Gardner of one of the two bee hotels she hosted for the project.
Thanks to Elaine Smith for sharing this June 28, 2017, UVA Today article about Kathryn “Kate” LeCroy’s project through facebook: With Help From ‘Citizen Scientists,’ UVA Researchers Count Virginia’s Bees
That is Kate LeCroy at left with one of the 100 bee hotels she constructed for the project. Photo is taken from the article and credited to Dan Addison, University Communications.
Photos below are of Peggy and Stephanie’s bee houses. Find Elaine’s photos of her bee houses in this flickr photo album: Mason Bee Project.