Catching Bees in the Hocking Hills

On September 12, 2020, Dr Jamie Strange and the members of the Strange Lab visited Deep Woods Farm for a bumble bee catching venture. Situated near Logan, OH, an hour’s drive southeast of Columbus, this small farm in the Hocking Hills is surrounded by thick wildflower fields, forested hills, creeks, and even small hilltop caves.

With its floral diversity, abundance of good nesting habitat, and distance from urban areas, this land is prime territory for bumble bees. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees build their nests on or under the ground, often in abandoned rodent burrows, thick grass tufts, under compost piles, in fallen trees or in other sheltered areas. A wooded landscape thick with grasses, forbs, and shrubs provides these resources in abundance. The landscape also boasts many native wildflower species attractive to bumble bees, such as goldenrod and yellow crownbeard.

We caught dozens of bumble bees for our research training, although we only encountered one species (Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumble bee), likely because they are active later into the year than most other species. In the process we also witnessed the massive diversity of other insects in the area, including many solitary bee species, which are also important pollinators.

Though the Midwestern states have seen much destruction of native habitats for the sake of agriculture, expanses of untamed, unmanicured, species-rich land can still be found, if one looks in the right places.

Liam Whiteman and Dr. Jamie Strange, netting bees on a wildflower-covered slope.

 

A common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) foraging on yellow crownbeard.

Queen Quest 2020

Bumble bees are both interesting creatures and yet really similar to many other insects that have evolved to live in the temperate and cold climates of the world.  One of the main problems they face is how to survive the winter.  Some insects like Monarch butterflies avoid winter altogether by migrating to Mexico each year, while other insects will find a warm spot in your house to survive, but like many insects, bumble bees spend their winter in the soil. They dig just deep enough to keep from freezing solid, spending the winter under protective layers of soil and snow. They can stay there for 8-9 months until the weather warms enough for them to dig out and begin feeding on pollen and nectar in the spring.

For bumble bees, only the queen bumble bee survives the winter and she does this alone, but we know very little about how a bumble bee chooses a site to spend the winter. To answer this question a bunch of scientists from across North America got together and started Queen Quest.  You can see the details here.

The Strange Lab has put together a Queen Quest team with six primary people.  I have been going out to Chadwick Arboretum weekly to look for fall flying queens with two undergraduates, Lizzy Sakulich and Dalen Moore, two graduate students, Liam Whiteman and Iliana Moore, and the lab post doc Dr. Kayla Perry.  We even have some of the arboretum staff keeping an eye out for queens searching for wintering sites so we can add that data to the Queen Quest database.

We hope to find some queens this fall and help answer some questions about the basic biology of bumble bees that has remained a mystery for many years. Want to help out?  Drop me a line. strange.54@osu.edu

-Jamie