Starkey and Hermiston

Bumble bee flying through vetch

My second week was split between Starkey and Hermiston.  I spent the first day with Scott in the Starkey Experimental Forest near La Grande.  I joined him to do timed hand netting on dog woods and hawthorns, where we attempted to collect as many bees as possible within 10 to 15 minutes.  Once collected we then approximated how many flowers were on the shrubs we had just trapped bees on.  One of the shrubs had over 1,000 flowers! I also joined Scott to various sites were he was identifying different willows.  Towards the end of the day we went to see if we could collect bumble bees from Engelmann Spruce.  We ended up collecting quite a few bees, which was surprising.  It was neat to see the bees taking advantage of the spruce instead of flowers.  Scott said that the behavior is not well researched, so I was glad to help him collect specimens. I also saw a ton of vetch, wild  rose, thistle, and (what is perhaps my new favorite flower) elephant head lousewort

Elephanthead lousewort at Starkey Experimental Forest.

My first bee pinned!

The rest of my week was spent at the lab in Hermiston.  While there I learned how to pin bees. Once pinned the bees are eventually sent off to Utah to be identified.  Over the course of the week I organized and pinned several pan traps from Starkey.  The pan traps are the multicolored containers that attract all types of bees, butterflies, flies, spiders, etc.. The insects are stored in a freezer until they are ready to be sorted and pinned.  As such, the first step is to dethaw the insects.  This was done by putting the contents of each pan trap into a mason jar with hot water and some Dawn dish soap.  I then shook the jar to loosen up the mess of insects.  After doing that for about five minutes, I rinsed the contents with more water.  I kept a mesh screen over the jar so none of the insects were lost in the human powered spin cycle.  The next step was to dry the insects, which was simply done with a generic blow drier until all the water is evaporated.  Dr. DeBano said that bumble bees, Bombus, can sometimes only be differentiated by their fur color so it’s critical that they’re completely dried when pinned.  If the bees are wet, or still have soap residue on them, the fur can become matted.

Bi catch from a pan trap before examining all specimens under a microscope.

Once I was confident all the insects were dried I placed them into a petri dish and began sorting out all the bi catch.  It was interesting to see the variety of bees and bi catch per site.  For instance, some batches seemed to only have bumble bees and mosquitoes, while others were full of wasp and sweat bees. A lot of sweat bees look similar to flies, so I ended up using the microscope, and Scott and Dr. Debano, to check.

As far as the actual pinning goes, I had to be careful not to place the pin directly through the thorax, as this will pop the specimen’s head off.  Instead, I placed the pin slightly to the right to protect the bee and to create a uniform look. Once the bees are too small to have a pin placed into them I used nail polish as an adhesive to attach the bees to the side of the pin.  Within the box bees are organized from largest to smallest, and arranged with enough space to keep their wings protected.

Various bees post pinning. They will eventually be shipped to Utah to be identified.

All in all, I ended up pinning several hundred bees over the week.  I was previously studying fine arts in school and have done taxidermy as a hobby, so the pinning felt like a nice blend of my interest.  It was also really helpful to get to look at the bi catch and bees under a microscope. Osmia (mason bees) and Halictidae (sweat bees) were absolutely beautiful. The sweat bees looked almost iridescent under the microscope.  It was an enjoyable week, and I was eager to get the opportunity to examine the bees up close.  On my off days, I’ve already noticed myself spotting more bees than before. This upcoming week I will be back on the Zumwalt Prairie for four days of field work.

 

 

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