Bumble Bee Surveys for Xerces Society

October 28, 2019  •  1 Comment

For the past two years I have been doing Bumble Bee surveys for the Xerces Society's project, Bumble Bee Watch, to help them collect data on bees and their habitat. This is a citizen science project that has been really fun and rewarding. 

The project has been broken up into 400-square-mile adoptable grids in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. My grid is in the Umatilla National Forest. 

Using Google Maps satellite view I zoom in to select an area that looks like good habitat. In this case it is open grassland surrounded by pine forest.  

I then draw an approximately 2.5 acre boundary using Google Maps polygon tool. The tool will tell you the area of your shape as you draw it. I normally draw it over the satellite view but am using the map view here so you can see the shape more clearly. I save this map to my phone, make it available offline and then when on site I can use it to tell if I'm within my survey boundary.

I load up all of my gear and head into the mountains. My survey area often requires four wheel drive and high clearance. 

I make sure to obey all national forest laws regarding off road driving and wilderness boundaries for the area that I'm in.  This is where I set up alongside the main forest road.

I bring a load of supplies including a net, vials and a cooler. I get my specialized supplies from BioQuip

I number a bunch of vials and put silica packs in them. 

I then use a wind meter (This link goes to Amazon. I am an Amazon affiliate and receive
commision on referred sales.) to record wind speed and air temperature.

I then scout the area for where the bees are. This field had thousands of them. 

Each survey should last 45 minutes total survey time. I use a stopwatch on my phone and start the timer as I walk the survey area. Once a bee is found the clock is stopped until the bee is collected and I am ready to start looking for the next one.


I photograph the numbered vial next to the host plant the bee is captured on. Each submitted bee must include the host plant.

Bees are then put on ice to put them in a sort of hibernative state which makes them easier to work with.

The silica pack keeps moisture from condensing inside the vial. If moisture condenses the bee's hairs become wet which makes it more difficult to identify them by their markings. 

This is my camera setup with a macro lens, an extension tube and a flash with diffuser. 

I place the chilled bee on a 2mm graph paper to photograph.  The bee will be inactive for a couple minutes until it warms up and flies away unharmed.

To properly identify a bee it requires three angles. The side, top down and face of it.   Bumble bees can detach their wings from their wing muscles and vibrate. This is used mostly for a process called vibration pollination as a specialized way to extract pollen from flowers with encased stamens. They can also produce body heat this way. Here is a short video of a bee warming itself and flying away after being photographed.

After I'm done collecting and photographing the bees and plants I download the photos to my computer and begin organizing the files per bee. 

Every flowering plant in the 2.5 acre survey area must be identified regardless of bees being seen on them.

Once I've organized all of my files and identified all of the plants I begin uploading the data to Bumble Bee Watch. I do my best to identify the bees but thankfully it is reviewed by a scientist who either confirms the identification or corrects it. I do the minimum of two surveys per season but try to do as many as possible. The first year I did five. With driving time, doing the survey and processing and entering data each survey can take up to 10 hours of time. 


Lady Lydia(non-registered)
Omg omg omg!! This site is a work of art!! So beautiful! The world thanks you for this gift.
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