Carpe diem and count native bees

All right, this is it! This is the chance you have all been waiting for. Now don’t get too excited and start jumping around. There are a few instructions to get through first. And you are going to have to really get hot on this now, because it’s today. Cancel all other plans you may have for the morning.

It will help if you have planned ahead and planted some sunflowers a month or two ago. OK, so I forgot to tell you. But you can still participate, and perhaps in an even more meaningful way. Just go outside and find some sunflowers.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. I have written in this column before about the decline in bee numbers. It has been possible to track honeybee decline because there is a commercial interest and a large number of people who are involved with honeybees. This past winter, a nationwide survey showed that about 30 percent of all hives were lost over the winter.

Native bees are harder to quantify. Native bees don’t build large, identifiable hives. They are also small and fast. They are only out and visible for a few weeks of each year.

However, it is believed that humans derive a substantial benefit from the native bees. The value of pollination services from wild pollinators in the U.S. alone is estimated at $4 billion to $6 billion per year. This pollination is produced for “free.” Replacing the natural ecosystem from which it is derived would cost many trillions of dollars. The problem has been that we have not had a way to accurately estimate numbers of native bees.

In 2008, San Francisco State University scientist Gretchen LeBuhn initiated the “Great Sunflower Project” and the accompanying “Great Bee Count Day.” This is not to be confused with the National Honey Bee Day, about which I will write more in a later column, as I have been designated the Colorado state coordinator for that event.

No, the “Great Bee Count,” the first to be in Grand Junction (doesn’t it all sound big and important?), is to happen July 16. That’s today.

Actually some people count bees all summer, but if you can only count once, it should be on July 16. And because your correspondent didn’t alert you until the summer was half over, you may be somewhat restricted in your opportunities.

But here’s how it works. People all over the U.S. pick a warm sunny day, as long as it is July 16, and sample in the morning around 10 a.m. You will need some paper and a pencil. (A refreshing beverage is optional.) Set yourself up near a sunflower. If there are several, you might count how many plants are blooming. Focus on one plant with young blossoms. Then count and write down the number of open flowers on your plant. Next, write down your starting time. Then, for each bee that visits the plant, write down its arrival time. Stop after 15 minutes have passed.

You can enter the data you’ve gathered at After you log in, look to the left and find “Submit Sample” and click. Then, if you also will send your data to me, I will start a log of bee counts for our valley. You can send me your data at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

To learn more about this project, simply go to the site listed above. On average, volunteer gardeners report seeing a bee pollinate the plants every 2.6 minutes. About 20 percent of the participants never see a bee at all. It’s important to report not seeing any bees because that information helps us estimate the health of the bee population.

One last thing ... if you cheat and go out on the 17th, I won’t rat on you. Just get the data in.

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Gary McCallister is professor of biology at Mesa State College.


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