Buzzy, buzzy bees (Apr. 28 and anytime)

April 25, 2008

I have never been afraid of bees. Even when I was about 8 years old and stepped a bee that responded by stinging the bottom of my foot, I was more upset that I stepped on the bee in the first place than by its reaction. It’s a little hard for me to relate to M., who’s terrified of bees — and as far as I know, he’s never been stung by one or chased by a swarm or anything. Once I realized the direction things were heading, I made a point to explain to him what bees do and how important they are for our garden. We also read books and sang songs about bees, to the point that 22-month-old S. expects me to hum Laurie Berkner’s Bumblebee (Buzz, Buzz) whenever he sees a bee picture. This PR campaign hasn’t really been working with M., however.

My new strategy is to get more scientific with him, especially in light of the current worries about colony collapse disorder and the potential loss of bees as a pollinator of important ag crops. I was very gratified to see an upcoming class from the Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center, Busy Buzzy Bees, on Monday (Apr. 28 ) at 10 a.m. Targeted to kids age 3 to 6, it’s an info session about what bees do and how they “talk” by dancing, and it includes a visit to the center’s own hive. (The thought of this doesn’t freak me out at all — when I was growing up we always had hives on our ranch, out by the alfalfa fields, and I don’t remember any of us being in jeopardy of a swarm attack out there.) There’s no need to register in advance for this free session; for more info and directions, visit the Powder Valley site.

The project I think will really help M., though, is something the University of Illinois came up with to help track wild bee populations (both honey bees and bumble bees). It’s called BeeSpotter, and it’s an online identification tool that helps the scientists find out which of the species it monitors are being sighted where. Because it’s primarily set up for Illinois bees, I contacted the project director, May Berenbaum, to find out if we St. Louisans could participate. She sent a nice reply: The only limitation is that the color-guided keys for identifying bumble bees were developed for the 11 species that are found in Illinois–some parts of Missouri have some bee species we don’t have so we might not be able to identify your bee conclusively. If you live near Illinois, though, the keys should work, and we can certainly record your beespotting.”

We’re so close to Illinois — about half a mile from the Mississippi — that I bet some of our bees commute to the city. We’ve registered at the BeeSpotter site, and M. has his little automatic digital camera ready to capture pictures of the Missouri state insect at work.

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