Nov 22 – Survey Updates, Ceratina ID, and Wasp Course

Hi Everyone!

We have made it above 41,000 bees identified to at least genus, with half of those identified to species! Slowly but surely has been the mantra in the lab.


Small Carpenter Bee (Ceratina) species level identification:

Face of a male carpenter bee peeking out of at pithy stem nest. These bees are common at most sites, moreso at sites with plenty of pithy stemmed plants. We have 4 species in Ohio, with many sites having 3/4 of the species.

I had originally written up a whole blog on species level identification of Ceratina, but I ended up refining it into a presentation using powerpoint instead, and then saved it as a pdf. It is not a perfect guide, and applies mostly to Ohio (so if you are in a southern state, you will need additional resources). This is the guide that I have been training people with in the lab to help us get through our abundance of Ceratina.

The most helpful part of the guide is probably the summary slides, which give you the key characters you need to go through, depending on the sex.

The most helpful part of the guide is probably the summary slides, which give you the key characters you need to go through, depending on the sex.

See guide here: Ohio Ceratina ID

See also, Sam Droege’s presentation on Ceratina identification here (video 13): http://bio2.elmira.edu/fieldbio/beemovies/index.html 


Wasp course:

Want to learn more about non-bee wasps? Well, there is a course covering all the other wasps that are not bees, starting in January! Also, did I mention that it is a fully remote course? There is a small fee ($60 for regular, $45 for students). See more about the course here: https://waspidcourse.wordpress.com/ 

All for now,

MaLisa

Nov 8th – Bee Survey Update and weird wasps

Hi Everyone,

We made it up to 37,000 bees identified to at least genus, with 18,800 of those identified to species. We are slowly creeping towards our goal.

Slowly but surely, we will get to 100% identified to at least genus.


Not quite bees:

Occasionally, some non-bee wasps got past my sorting efforts and ended up getting pinned. Interestingly, it seems that cleptoparasitic wasps were more often accidentally pinned. These wasps look very similar to the cleptoparasitic bees, but they are actually in the family Crabronidae.

This Epinysson wasp looks superficially similar to Epeolus cleptoparasitic bees, but it is instead a parasitic wasp in the family Crabronidae. It was collected by K. Salvagno from Morrow County.

We also got a wasp that I believe is in the genus Nysson. It was collected by B. Stitt in Medina County.

Many of these non-bee wasps can look very similar to bees. I find that looking at them face on helps differentiate them from bees, as the antennae are often really low on the face of the Crabronids and *typically* rest more towards the center on most bees (with exceptions like Duforea). You can also look at the submarginal cells (see above image) to notice the odd shape which would be unusual for a bee.

Our last weird wasp is in the genus Oxybelus in the family Crabronidae. This genus has distinct flanges on the end of the thorax, which would be unusual for most bees (though Coelioxys also has projections in the same area, though they are a different shape). This was collected by C. Gottfried in Wyandot County.


Bycatch updates:

Between the undergraduate student and our intern, we have made good progress on the hover fly project! We have around 8,000 specimens, with 7,300 of those now identified in the genus Toxomerus. The second most abundant genus was Eumerus with under 200 specimens. The larvae of the genus Eumerus are considered pests of allium and similar plants. Meanwhile, larvae of Toxomerus are considered beneficial since they eat aphids and other soft bodied insects.

We have about 400 hover fly specimens that still need identified to genus, so Eumerus could have it’s second place spot usurped by one of the other genera.

In general, the hover fly specimens do not fare nearly as well as they bees. Many of the specimens are shrunken and shriveled from the bowl traps and then freeze/thaw. This specimen is unusual in that it is in relatively good shape, but lacks the typical markings in the center of the abdomen. We are currently thinking this is just an aberrant Toxomerus marginatus.


Bored? Want to help out in the lab?

Email MaLisa to visit the Newark lab and help with various tasks. We have simple things like trimming labels to more challenging things, like identifying Ceratina bees or learning harder taxa. Just let me know when and how you would like to help.

All for now,

MaLisa

Oct 24 – Progress updates and Specialist bee project pinning

Hi everyone!

We are now up to 33,000 bees identified to at least genus from the bee bowl project, which is just over 60% done. Of those, over 18,000 bees are identified to species (33% complete).

The lab has been busy for the past several weeks and we are happy with the help from volunteers and our intern in Newark. Our intern has help identify over 1,500 bees to species and is now helping process the hover fly specimens as well. We hope to have the hover flies identified by the end of the year, but thankfully there are only 8,000 hover fly specimens compared to the 53,000 bees. It also helps that about 90% of the hover flies from the samples are in the genus Toxomerus, which is an easy genus to learn to identify to species.

To learn how to identify hover flies (also called flower flies), see this online guide: https://sites.google.com/view/flyguide/syrphidae
or these good field guides: https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691189406/field-guide-to-the-flower-flies-of-northeastern-north-america

https://www.pollinationpress.com/store/p21/flowerflies.html


Specialist Bee Project Pinning:

In addition to the 2020 bee bowls, we also had people across Ohio target specialist bees. We had our first “pinning party” for the specialist bee project last week, with 4 people bringing 500 bees to the lab. We had a fun time and got everything pinned.

Jim Lundberg also brought his macrophotography focus stacking setup, so he imaged some cool specimens from our project.

This cuckoo wasp shows the high resolution of the focus stacking rig by Jim Lundberg. They are absolutely stunning! Even though it is not a bee, we can appreciate the cool pitting and textures.

An uncommon bee, this is a specialist mining bee on willows, collected by Gunn and Lundberg, and photographed by Lundberg in the lab.

One of my favorite bees, the Morning Glory Turret bee (Melitoma taurea) has a distinct black and gray pattern on the back. Photographed by Jim Lundberg.

Thanks to everyone who has made it to the lab and helped us pin, photograph, and identify specimens!


Weird finds from the bee bowl project:

Just in time for Halloween, we have the insect of nightmares: Twisted Wing Parasites!

This is a male Twisted wing parasite, but we rarely find the males alive or in any samples. Instead, continue reading to see the females that we found.

They may not look like much, but their life cycle is rather horrifying. They burrow into their host insect, and eat the hosts internal organs, often starting with the reproductive organs, but leaving enough organs for the host to survive. Since they start with the reproductive organs, the host often develops to look like an intersex instead of distinctly male or female (which makes identifying the host to species harder as many characters are sex specific).  The female twisted wing parasites are often a glorified sack of eggs sticking out of the abdomen of the host insect. We mostly find the females since they remain in the abdomen.

This Pseudopanurgus bee collected by J Poremski had a female twisted wing parasite sticking out of the abdomen.

An Andrena bee at the same site also had a female twisted wing parasite in it.

For more on the weird life cycles of twisted wing parasites, see: https://www.wired.com/2015/01/absurd-creature-of-the-week-strepsiptera/

I also covered twisted wing parasites (Order Strepsiptera) in two other blogs: https://u.osu.edu/beesurvey/2021/01/11/jan-10-progress-updates-and-at-home-tasks/ and https://u.osu.edu/beesurvey/2021/06/28/june-27-updates-of-the-week/

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We also had another terrifying predator, if you happen to be a beetle larvae.

Beware the Tiphia wasp, well, if you are a beetle larvae. These wasps parasitze a variety of beetle larvae that live in the ground, but thankfully do not go after humans. In fact, you should rejoice if you find a bunch of these in your lawn, as they are likely going after your invasive Japanese beetles.

All for now,

MaLisa

Oct 10th – Survey Updates

Hi everyone!

We are up to 27,700 bees identified to at least genus, which puts us halfway through our first round of easy IDs! Of those, 15,500 are done to species level, which puts us at around 30% completely done. I appreciate everyone’s patience as we slowly work our way through this large pile of bees.


Cool bees:

The coolest bee of the last two weeks was one of the dull green sweat bees! Normally, bees in the genus Lasioglossum have greenish thoraxes and brownish abdomens. However, S. Nelson’s site had several specimens of an uncommon Lasioglossum that has a pumpkin orange abdomen instead!

Most Lasioglossum bees have dark brown abdomens, but this species is bright orange instead! They are still really small (size of a grain of rice), so it would be hard to spot these in the wild while they are still alive, but they are distinct.


Upcoming Events:

Are you looking for more bee content in your life? There is a digital bee conference that might be of interest.
BeeCon 2021 – Oct 15/16 Free bee talks over Zoom. See more information here: https://www.yorku.ca/bees/beecon-2021/
If you have trouble registering, try using a different browser.

All for now,

MaLisa

Sept 27th – Identification updates

Hello everyone!

I have started to do the blog updates on a semi-weekly basis, in part because I am at the stage of identification where I am mostly identifying Ceratina for days on end and you might get tired of hearing about Ceratina once again. I was also on vacation for the last week, so that has not helped with new content creation.

A male bumble bee from my vacation says hello.

Either way, since our last blog update, we are now up to 22,000 of the bees identified to at least genus, with 12,500 of those identified to species.


Cool bees:

We did get our first male Hoplitis spoliata collected by Heath White, which is nice enough to have rather distinct antennae.

The bee looks normal and generic enough from the side. The two submarginal cells puts this in the family Megachilidae. This is not the genus Megachile because it has an arolia between the tarsi (though not visible in this photo).

Looking at the antennae directly, we can see the distinctly expanded segments. It is unusual for bees to have segments so disproportionally shaped in comparison to the rest of the antenna, with these wide segments almost double the width of the end segments.

 

All for now,

MaLisa

Sept 13th – Identification Progress and answers to guess that structure!

Hi Everyone,

I do not have that much exciting information to share, hence the decrease in posts. We are now over 21,000 bees identified to at least genus, with 12,000 of those finished with species level IDs. There is still plenty of work left to do, but we are making progress. I will also be out the next week and a half, so there will once again be a probably three week delay in the next blog post since I won’t be making any progress while I am out.

 


Interesting bees:

Most bees have somewhat wide heads, as shown by this Pseudopanurgus specimen below.

Pseudopanurgus are a group of mostly black bees that are generally uncommon, but most likely to be found in the fall on plants in the family Asteraceae. They have somewhat wide heads. They also have distinct facial fovea, which helps identify that they are in the family Andrenidae.

In direct comparison, perhaps our skinniest bees are in the genus Chelostoma.

Chelostoma bees are most often found in the spring. They are in the family Megachilidae, so they carry pollen on their stomach instead of their legs. They also are so distinctively skinny that it is hard to confuse them for the other Megachilidae.

 


Guess that structure:

No one guessed correctly for this structure, which is not that surprising.  They are the tibial spurs on the inner part of the legs! They are thought to help the bees brush pollen off their body to then load it onto their legs and help with general cleaning. Different species of bees have different tibial spurs and sometimes the shape is diagnostic for species level ID.

This is best shown in the Hook-spurred Longhorn Bee, Eucera hamata. A few people got these large bees in their samples, though they are not nearly as common as bumble bees.

The tibial spurs are on the inner side of the legs, so they are not often seen in most photographs. You have to move the specimen just right to be able to see the spurs.

In Eucera hamata, the tip of the spurs are distinctly hooked at the tip, which helps separate them from other Eucera species.

 

All for now,

MaLisa

Aug 22 – Identification Progress

Hi Everyone!

It was just me in the lab last week. Things were much quieter in comparison to the previous weeks with all the students. We are up to over 16,700 bees identified to at least genus and over 10,000 bees identified to species. Still plenty of work to go, but we will keep chugging along.


Identification fun:

We have over two thousand Calliopsis andreniformis. The females are black with distinct facial patterns. However, we have at least a few individuals with particularly reduced facial patterns like the image above. As far as I can tell it is just variation within the species, but it is interesting to see the level of variation that we are encountering.

Given the number of Calliopsis that we have in the samples, it is not surprising that we have so many of their parasitic bee counterpart, Holcopasites calliopsidis. This is a black and red parasitic bee with small white patches of hair on the abdomen that help determine the species level ID. I often find these parasitic bees resting on fleabane flowers, so keep an eye out for their red butts when you walk by fleabane.

We also have many yellow faced bees in the genus Hylaeus. This female was conveniently sticking out her tongue to show us the “paint brush” mouthparts that she uses to paint the cellophane like material that line their nests.

It should be unsurprising that we also have a ton of dull green sweat bees (Genus Lasioglossum). We also have been getting a few of the parasitic Lasioglossums.

The parasitic Lasioglossums have extra long mandibles and a wider face in comparison to the other sweat bees. We haven’t identified most of our Lasioglossum, so we are saving the final ID of these for a later date.


Guess That Structure:

I’ll give everyone one more week to try to guess these spine structures on this bee. No one guessed correctly last week.

All for now,

MaLisa

Aug 15th – Updates of the week and another cool microscope!

We had a busy week of identification, but last week also represented some changes for the lab. It is the end of summer hours for the students before they head back to classes. All the students are moving to the Columbus campus, so I will not see them as much. Tt was a bittersweet week. We could not have made as much progress this summer if it was not for the students collectively working almost 130 hours a week between the 5 of them.  Thanks again team!

As for the progress of the week, we are now up to 13,375 bees identified to at least genus! Of those, 9,485 are identified to species, so we are almost 1/5th of the way done with species identification. About 1,000 of the species level IDs were from the Lasioglossum specimens that we shipped out to Rob Jean to ID, so that progress was technically not this week, but we finally got around to entering them into the database.

Our Identification progress looks good when placed in a pie chart!

Our current speed is based on selectively pulling out the easy to identify bees (Melissodes bimaculatus, Calliopsis andreniformis, Halictus ligatus, and the green bees), so progress will slow down once I focus on the harder bees. Progress will also slow now that students will have greatly reduced hours. But I am tentatively hopeful that I will have everything to at least genus by the end of November so I can send out interim reports.


Scanning Electron Microscopes!

A few weeks ago, you will recall that we got a demonstration of a Hirox microscope. Well, that was not our only microscope adventure recently. Dr. Goodell visited Denison University to test out their Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Typically, the old type of SEMs required coating the specimens in metals (often gold) get the microscope to work. The electrons would bounce off the metal and then hit the sensor to create the super high magnification view that is not possible with normal light microscopes. However, that also meant that your specimen was now coated in metal, thus effectively destroying your specimen for normal use. That would also mean that taking any images with an SEM was somewhat costly.

The SEM is a very large machine (and also much more costly compared to a normal light microscope). Quintin helped us image the bee specimens. Photos by Dr. Goodell.

However, recent advances in technology have made it so some SEMs do not need to have specimens coated in metal in order to get the high magnification. This is the type of SEM that is available at Denison. Below are a few of the images that Dr. Goodell was able to get.

Loading the pinned specimens into the SEM. Photos by Dr. Goodell.

View of a male Megachile campanulae from upside down.

Since SEMs work by shooting tiny electrons at the target and recording what bounces back, all SEM images come back as a grayscale. Sometimes people add color back to the image, but this is the original image from the microscope.

This is the same bee as above, but zoomed in on the tongue of the bee so you can see the micro-sculpturing

They look like fish scales, but this is actually a close up view of the compound eyes!

This image shows the scopa of a female Megachile centuncularis

Zooming in on the scopal hairs, you start to see some interesting texture.

Zooming in even further you really start to see the structure! Look at those twists!

Anyone want to guess what these two structures are? I will give you a hint that it is on a bee, but not the mouthparts.

Dr. Goodell also scanned some small wasps. Check out all those pits!

Zooming in on the wasp antennae. Every bit of dust and dirt shows up in high contrast. It also looks like small crystals have started to grow on the specimen.

 

All for now,

MaLisa

Aug 8 – Guest Blog on Making Maps!

Hi Everyone!

This guest blog is a bit different, as the blog is on a different webpage, so you have to clickthrough to read it. I guarantee it is something cool, so it is worth clicking through to read more.

Read the guest blog about making maps and ArcGIS (a program to make maps) here: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/86eac50470434902a3bd50a16d132ae7

We will use ArcGIS to make maps of our sample data and run various analyses on our bee and bycatch data.

Here is a really quick map of all of our sites of the kits that were turned in. We got pretty good coverage of Ohio once everything was turned in! Thanks Cheyenne for making this! And thanks to everyone who got their specimens turned in!

So if you are curious to learn more about cool map making and other uses, go to the storymaps blog linked above, or click through here: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/86eac50470434902a3bd50a16d132ae7


Updates of the week:

Since we have a guest blog above, I am keeping it short. We had more students go through and pull out easy to identify species. That work is ongoing, but we have at least pulled out almost all of the male Calliopsis andreniformis. Plenty of work left for the other species though. Next week is the last major week for most students, so things will really slow down and then progress will mostly be MaLisa and the new graduate students in the lab. We are now up to almost 9,000 bees identified to at least genus and 5,200 identified to species.

The other update is that OSU is back to a mask mandate regardless of vaccination status thanks to the increased infectiveness of the Delta variant.

All for now,

MaLisa

Aug 1 – Updates of the week

We did it! We finally sorted all the kits that we had turned in so far! There are still a few unaccounted for kits that I know exist, but we have successfully sorted the kits we do have, sorting the kits by S. Upperman (Wayne) and P. Dutton (Holmes) last week. We still need to wash and pin a few bees, but our current number of bees pinned and databased is close to 52,000.

These pizza boxes are almost all of our 52,000 bees. So there is plenty of work ahead to get these identified. We will slowly but surely make it through them.

Since we finished the sorting, I have started training our student assistants on identifying select groups of bees. So far, they have started pulling out the male Calliopsis andreniformis, m +  f Melissodes bimaculatus, and the bright green bees. I have been identifying specimens as well, so we are now to almost 6k specimens to at least genus and almost 4k specimens identified to species. Several of these were identified back in February, so we really only added 500 species level IDs this week.

Left to right are Calliopsis, Melissodes, and Augochlorini. The male Calliopsis are distinct with their entirely yellow legs, yellow face, and otherwise black body. The Melissodes bimaculatus are also distinct with their larger size, mostly black hairy body, and two yellow spots on females (or diffuse white hairs on males). The bright green bees are distinctly bright green, though this group includes several different genera, so we will need to ID them lower once we get them all together.

The other update this week is that we got a demonstration of a Hirox 3D microscope.

In a matter of seconds, the representative had several high quality, high magnification stacked images of one of our Lasioglossum specimens. For those of you who have struggled to identify and see Lasioglossum, you know how hard this is.

Full body shot of a Lasioglossum specimen. Photographed by Christian L. Munoz.

We also convinced him to get a closer image of the thorax showing the pitting.  We could have probably played around with the settings more to get a sharper image, but I was still very impressed with the result given that it only took a few seconds to get this image. Photographed by Christian L. Munoz.


Bycatch: 

A rather unusual Stilleto Fly was found in Blyth’s kit from last week. Not many people get to see these odd flies. They are similar to robber flies, but have spongy mouthparts instead. The larvae are thought to be predatory. See more here: https://bugguide.net/node/view/7015

No clowning around! This clown beetle was in Kadonaga’s kit. This family of beetles have a diverse range of niches, with the exact niche depending on the species. See: https://bugguide.net/node/view/6577


Other Updates:

There have been bee ID courses offered by Sam Droege and Clare Maffei. They have all the videos posted here: http://bio2.elmira.edu/fieldbio/beemovies/index.html

I plan to have several of our students watch these videos as they go in depth for the different groups. They are also creating nice ID resources, which can be found here: http://bio2.elmira.edu/fieldbio/handybeemanual.html

All for now,

MaLisa