Mark your calendar for the sixth annual BeeBlitz kicking off National Pollinator Week. Nature lovers and concerned citizens in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Ohio are invited to get outside and snap pictures of honey & bumble bees for BeeBlitz. Then, upload your findings to BeeSpotter, the citizen science project run in collaboration between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Department of Entomology and the Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education.
There are no in-person BeeBlitz events planned this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, this event is a perfect candidate for social distancing, as you can go out on your own or in small groups; there's no need to gather in large crowds to go bee spotting!
The name BeeBlitz is derived from a BioBlitz, an activity in which all of the biodiversity in a specific area is examined, to provide a snapshot in time of the flora and fauna present. During the BeeBlitz, we seek to know what species of honey & bumble bees are seen, and where they are, on this specific day. We encourage veteran and aspiring bee spotters alike to venture out on a nature walk and participate in the blitz.
Since its launch in 2007, BeeSpotter has been monitoring bee populations in parts of the Midwest using photographic data collected by citizen scientists, or bee spotters. Bee populations have seen dramatic declines in recent decades due to pesticides, habitat loss, and colony collapse disorder. According to a fact sheet entitled The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations released by the White House in June 2014, bees pollinate more than 35% of the crops grown in the world. This ecological service is estimated to be worth billions of dollars domestically each year.
Thanks to loyal bee spotters, BeeSpotter does have some good news to report. Bombus affinis, the rare “rusty-patched” bumble bee has been seen in Illinois for over ten years in a row. This bee was once prolific in North America but sightings of it are now exceedingly rare in the Midwest; it was added to the endangered species list in 2017. Likewise, the red-belted Bombus rufocinctus, was thought to have disappeared from Illinois in 1949. In fact, when BeeSpotter started, Bombus rufocinctus wasn’t even included in the list of local bees. Bee spotters have been invaluable in tracking Bombus rufocinctus’ return to Illinois and have raised hopes that it is making a comeback.
Help BeeSpotter continue to monitor rare bee populations and others by participating in the BeeBlitz. Visit your own garden, or take a walk through a park, and take photos of any busy bees you see. Upload your spottings to BeeSpotter and be part of the pollinator conservation effort – all from your own back yard!
For more information or to find an event near you, visit the BeeBlitz webpage.