Targeted Ohio Specialist Bee-Flower Associations Project

As part of a statewide effort to document native bee species, the Ohio Bee Survey has enlisted volunteers across the state to collect bees with passive water bowl traps (“bee bowls”). These efforts in 2020 were successful in collecting a large number of native bees.

Bee bowls have some limitations, however. They can be taxonomically biased, sampling some species better than others, and they also do not provide information about what flower species the bees were visiting when we collect them. To address these knowledge gaps, we are planning a second phase of the Ohio Bee Survey in which volunteers will target specific bee species of interest from an ecological and conservation perspective.

Bees can be broadly divided into categories based on their diet: specialists or generalists. Specialist bees feed their larvae on a narrow range of plant species, often closely related plants while generalists visit a wide array of flowers to collect pollen and nectar. Specialists are considered more vulnerable than generalists to threats such as habitat loss because of their narrow diet requirements. Conservation efforts aimed at these species would need to address these diet preferences. An estimated 25% of bees in Ohio are classified as floral specialists (a current list of known pollen specialist bees of Eastern North America is found here: The more information we can gather about what bees are visiting, the better we will be able to promote conservation measures that benefit these species.

Bees are hard to identify to species and many require microscopic examination of features to confirm to species identity. Therefore, we will use lethal sampling of bees directly from flowers known to be the species for specialist bees. For additional information on the pros and cons of lethal sampling, see: Pros and Cons of Lethal Sampling.

None of the specialists that we are interested in are bumble bees, which is fortunate because some bumble bees are threatened or endangered. Because there is a slim possibility that you might encounter a bumble bee that is protected, we will have volunteers record (and photograph, if possible) bumble bees, but they will not collect them. For those who need a refresher on how to distinguish a bumble bee from other bees, watch the video by Olivia Carril on Identifying Common Bees in Ohio here:

Goals of the Targeted Ohio Specialist Bee-Flower Associations project:

  • Collect bees from host plants known to be used by specialist bees
  • Contribute to the first county and state list of bees in Ohio

Challenge level: Medium to Difficult. This project will require you to recognize specific flowers (identification guides will be provided). You will have to distinguish between bees, flies, and other insects. We do not expect volunteers to identify bees to species, but knowing the broad groups of bees will increase your chances of finding a target specialist species. Volunteers will turn in bees to MaLisa Spring at the Native Bee Lab on the Ohio State Newark campus (or pre-arranged location).

What you will need:

  • A jar, bag, or net, depending on your collecting method
  • Paper, pencil, clipboard, rubber band to hold paper in place
  • A timer (pre-installed in most smart phones)
  • Freezer space for temporary storage of specimens
  • Written permission to collect specimens, if collecting on property that you do not own
  • Not required, but useful: Knowledge of some plants, a wildflower guidebook, access to other plant identification resources, a camera, or access to the internet

How we will help:

  • Email updates and target lists: By signing up for this project, you will get regular emails of what bees you can expect to be active, and which plant species that host specialist bees you should look for.
  • Pinning Parties: In the fall, we hope to host pinning parties (pending pandemic status), where we will train you how to pin and prepare specimens if you are interested. Pinning and curatorial supplies will be provided on the caveat that we get to retain at least one specimen of each sex of each species. We ask that we be able to retain these “vouchers”, so that they can be archived in the museum for future research.
  • Identification assistance: Once the specimens are properly pinned and labelled, we will assist with identification. This process is one of the hardest parts of a bee survey, as there are somewhere between 350 and 500 species of bees expected to be in Ohio. Even though we will have collected the bees from specific plants, many generalist bees also visit these species. So, the plant host will suggest a species identity, but does not guarantee that the bee is the targeted floral specialist associated with the flower.

Does this sound like a fun challenge to you? Sign up for this project by filling out the form below. This information helps us keep track of who is collecting bees in Ohio, specify standardized collecting methods, share dates for pinning parties, and send out details on species to be expected.

Not sure if this project is for you? That is okay! You can still help document Ohio’s biodiversity by contributing to one of the following projects:

  • Ohio Bee Atlas on – submit photos of bees and we will attempt to identify them
  • The Ohio Dragonfly Survey – take photographs of dragonflies and damselflies anywhere in Ohio! They help you identify them, so no worries if you do not know what it is.
  • Ohio Tiger Beetles – take photographs of tiger beetles anywhere in Ohio! They help you identify them, so no worries if you do not know what it is

You can also help out in the lab with current specimens if you are near Newark. Reach out to MaLisa via email at spring . 99 @osu . edu

If you would like to sign up for the Targeted Ohio Specialist Bee-Flower Associations Project, please fill out the form below.


Want to learn more about bees in Ohio?

Get our guide to specialist bees of Ohio here:

Feel free to have the guides printed at your local print shop.

Field guide to Ohio Bees: Check out the first version of the Bees of Ohio: A Field Guide! Feel free to have this printed and bound at a print shop near you to have a handy physical copy.