Entomologist Dr. Art Evans and VPM producer Steve Clark talk with University of Richmond senior Robert Ostrom about his bee survey on campus. Robert collected and prepared about 1600 bee specimens over the spring and summer. He is now in the process of identifying these specimens and writing up the results from his survey.
Steve Clark: I'm Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is What’s Bugging You. Robert Ostrom is a senior at University of Richmond. He's been engaged in a significant bee survey, and he's with us today.
Art Evans: Robert, why bees?
Robert Ostrom: Well, in the midst of all these articles about the insect apocalypse and the pollinator decline, I realized that we're trying to save the bees generally, but we don't know what bees live here.
Evans: So how did you go about putting together this survey?
Ostrom: It was kind of a shot in the dark. I reached out to a couple people at the Sustainability Department asking if they'd be interested in something like that, and they directed me to several other people, and I ended up finding my research advisor who researches gypsy moths. So I was kind of double dipping in the research this summer.
Evans: Now, was there a certain area of the university that you were focused on or were you casting your net far and wide?
Ostrom: I wanted to get a good balance between urban and rural areas, so about half of the traps were put on the University of Richmond's campus, but half of them were just spread out throughout the city in city parks or places where there was no concrete or impervious ground.
Evans: Now when you say traps, what are we talking about here?
Ostrom: So I was using malaise traps throughout the summer, and those look like tents, but they don't have walls on the outside. There's just a singular wall in the middle, so as bees or other flying insects are looking for food, they'll fly into that wall in the middle and then climb up and fall into an ethanol jar, which preserves them and collects them.
Evans: When did you first set out the traps and how often did you check them?
Ostrom: I set them up late-March, and I checked them every week.
Evans: And are you still checking them now?
Ostrom: I've just wrapped up my collection and brought all 1,637 bees to Maryland.
Evans: My goodness, so what did you do with all those bee specimens?
Ostrom: I started off just pinning them and putting a label on them with where they were caught, how they were caught, and when they were caught. But I soon found out that the bumblebees or the bigger ones got matted hair from all of the alcohol.
Ostrom: So I ended up putting up a bee salon where I would wash the bees and then dry them with a hairdryer and before I could actually pin them. (laughing)
Evans: So you're fluffing them back up so you can see all their necessary characters for identification? How long did that take?
Ostrom: Almost 10 minutes a bee. It was backbreaking work.
Evans: Wow, so you took the bees up to Maryland?
Ostrom: Yes, to the U.S. Geological Survey where there's a bee expert who helped me ID some of the bees.
Evans: I believe that was Sam Droege, who's been on this program with us before.
Evans: And what did he find?
Ostrom: He ID’d all of the bees. And of course a lot of them were the ones commonly found in Virginia, but two very interesting specimen showed up. One of them is the invasive bee, Hylaeus pictipes. And the other is a specialist pollinator, Psuedopanurgas passiflorae.
Evans: That's a specialist on passiflora, isn’t it, the passion vine?
Ostrom: Yeah, so it's really interesting because Sam thinks that both of those specimen are state records.
Evans: Well, okay, fantastic. What are you going to do with this information?
Ostrom: I'd like to compile it, write it all up, and then spread the word about it. Send it to the places where I set up traps and raise awareness about the bees that live in Richmond.
Evans: I, for one, appreciate all your hard work and thank you so much for joining us today.
Ostrom: Of course, happy to be here.
Clark: Dr. Art Evans is a research associate at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. You’ll find photos and audio with links to the museum and Art’s Facebook page at vpm.org/bugs.
Dr. Arthur V. Evans teams up with VPM Radio producer Steve Clark for a weekly feature, “What’s Bugging You?,” which airs during NPR’s Morning Edition. The program takes its name from another of Evans’ books “What’s Bugging You – A Fond Look at the Animals We Love to Hate.”
Tune in each Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. or at 5:44 p.m. on VPM News