March Bulletin

Shutterbee 2023, in-person bee ID, bees on green roofs, spring roller-coaster ride, bullies or beaus

Sign up for the Shutterbee 2023 Season!

The new season for Shutterbee is just around the corner! Regardless of if this is your first time participating or you have done it before, we want to know if you would like to participate this year. We are planning new fieldwork and want to be able to plan ahead of the summer. Additionally, we want to collect some general demographic information to assess the reach of the program and to determine when to schedule training sessions.

Interested or unsure? If you have any questions about Shutterbee or the registration process, please contact us at

Please fill out this brief form if you want to participate in Shutterbee in 2023.

We are also soliciting for new participants (trainings will be in May). Please share the flier below with anyone you know who might be interested!

Last chance to sign up for in-person bee ID course

On Saturday, April 1st we will host a semi-structured in-person bee identification course. 

The course will be a few hours long and will be an opportunity to look at specimens under a microscope. You will get to practice bee ID using the Shutterbee guide, ask questions, and look at multiples species of the same genus close up. 

Please fill out this form if you are interested.

We may not have room for everyone, so we will prioritize people who have attended bee id course and/or worked to identify their own or other people’s observations on iNaturalist.

The deadline to express interest in March 17th at 5PM. We will send out details about the course by March 21st.

Research on bees on food roofs

Growing plants on roofs can be a great way to regulate the temperatures in buildings and manage water during storm events. Further, in places where space is a premium or the soil is dangerous to grow food in because of contamination with chemicals such as lead, green roofs can be used to grow crops. Nina recently published a paper investigating which bee were potential pollinators of plants on green roofs.

The non-profit Urban Harvest STL used to manage a few green roofs in midtown St. Louis that grew crops. Two former undergraduates in the lab, Jordyn Riehn and Jordan Hathaway, Nina, and Dr. Gerardo Camilo investigated the bees found on these roofs. They found that compared to ground sites, there were significantly fewer bumblebees. There were also a large number of non-native species such as Megachile rotundata and Hylaeus leptocephalus.

Comparison of bees caught at three roofs and two grounds sites. Roofs have fewer bees in large Apidae genera and more Megachile and Hylaeus.

These results were in line with other studies that investigated bees on roofs that grow ornamental crops. However, the implications differ. Many common crops such as ones in the family Solanaceae (tomato, pepper) and Cucurbitaceae (squash, cucumber) require a special type of pollination called buzz pollination for there to be fruit set. Only certain bees are capable of that including Bombus (bumblebees). Therefore, the paucity of Bombus on the roof could have implications for fruit set and food yield.

You can read the whole paper here.

Welcome, Emma!

Hello, everyone! My name is Emma, and I am brand new to the Shutterbee team. My role will be focused on social media and community outreach this spring. Beyond this, I am excited to assist you all however I am able. If you ever think of a topic that you’d like us to cover, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

Currently, I am a Webster University student majoring in biology with a biodiversity emphasis. As long as I can remember, I’ve had an insatiable curiosity for all things “nature” – when I was a young child (and occasionally even still), if you couldn’t find me, there was a good chance I was off poking around the woods, or perhaps hindering sidewalk traffic somewhere to stare at a colony of ants. While I don’t know too much about gardening or bees (yet!), I am incredibly passionate about native biodiversity and the importance of our garden ecosystems. I can’t wait to meet with and learn so much from you all this Shutterbee season!

Early Blooms and Early Bees

Colletes inaequalis visiting a redbud last spring, courtesy of Shutterbee member Michael Wohlstadter.

As temperatures slowly rise and our (unusually warm, then cold) winter comes to an end, the sights, scents, and sounds of spring begin to take shape. With this seasonal transition comes the first blooms on some of our favorite trees and flowers!

I’m sure many of you have noticed the blossoms of redbuds, plums, and willows popping up in gardens and parks over the past few weeks. You’re not alone – early-to-emerge bees, like those of the genera Osmia, Andrena, and Colletes, can be found visiting these beauties while there is still a slight chill in the air. 

An Andrena visiting a willow (Salix sp.), courtesy of Shutterbee member Janet London Ward.

Their interest is not merely aesthetic, however, as the survival of many bees is reliant upon the resources these flowers provide. Early-blooming trees are some of the first supplies of nectar and pollen before spring kicks into full gear. In turn, the plants rely on these early bees for the reproductive success of their early blossoms. The biological timing, or phenology, of blooming and bee emergence for these taxa is deeply and crucially intertwined. 

Many of the early trees are fruit-bearing and in the Rose family (Rosaceae), such as apples, apricots, and pears. Accordingly, late winter fliers like blue orchard bees (Osmia lignaria) – as their common name might suggest – are incredibly helpful in many orchards! The hard work these go-getters put in early in the year pays off for us in later months when fruits develop and ripen. In fact, they are often brought in by farmers to improve pollination and fruit success. So, next time you take a bite of locally grown peach, consider thanking the adorably fuzzy-bellied Osmia that could have helped it grow.

A blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria) peeking out a bee hotel, courtesy of Shutterbee member Cathy Brown Potts.

Unfortunately, with the decline of natural habitats and climate change, it’s becoming increasingly tricky for bees to find the resources they need to survive. While weather swings are pretty normal in this region (and therefore our native bees have evolved to deal with them), extreme events are on the rise, and early season bees have limited food options if they miss the timing. Non-native fruit trees are particularly vulnerable to frost. But, luckily, you can help! By adding early spring flowers to your garden and providing bee nesting habitats (such as small tubes and crevices for Osmia or bare ground for Andrena), you can create more of the necessary resources. Planting winter-blooming, bee-friendly flora in your garden is not only a great way to add early interest to a landscape but also incredibly helpful in maintaining essential plant-pollinator interactions.

Bullies or Beaus?

As some of you may have seen on our Facebook page, Shutterbee member Melissa Renee shared a series of stunning shots earlier this month. These photos captured an unusual and interesting bee behavior – male cellophane bees perched on the back of a larger carpenter bee!

While we can’t be entirely sure what is happening without seeing the whole interaction play out, we have two main working theories:

1. The cellophane males are biting the male carpenter bee as an act of aggression and territoriality.

Some male bees are known to be protective of flowers that the females of their species require. To successfully safeguard these resources, males will attempt to ward off any competitors that visit their territories. Because they lack stingers (which are modified ovipositors and exclusive to females), males may use their mandibles to bite down on their enemies! We postulate that these cellophane bee males might have been nibbling on the wings of the carpenter bee to get him to leave. The success of these tiny aggressors seems to be dubious, though, as the robust victim appears relatively unfased while he gathers nectar.

2. The cellophane males are attempting to mate with the male carpenter bee. 

This theory might sound a bit far-fetched, but male carpenter bees have been documented to be recipients of mating attempts by males of other species. The motivation behind this is not well understood, but it could be attributed to “mistaken identity” or confusing a male (or another target, such as certain orchids and even human fingers!) for a potential viable mate. Many male bees rely upon visual and olfactory signaling to locate and copulate with a female, but this ability is clearly not perfect.

Photo of a male Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) mounted by what appears to be a male furrow bee (Halictus sp.), courtesy of iNaturalist user Jerry Finlayson (@ jerryfinlayson). See the posting here.

Why might this behavior persist? It could be evolutionarily advantageous. In other words, male bees that are less sexually discriminatory may actually have a higher reproductive success over males that are too scrutinizing in their choice of mate.

So, in the case of male carpenter bees as the misplaced objects of affection of other male bees… it could be that they just smell really good.

Regardless of what the actual reason may be, the fact of the matter is that so many gaps still exist in bee literature and knowledge. This serves as a reminder of just how important the work of the Shutterbee community is! The photos you all take and (perhaps even more importantly) the questions asked about them are incredible tools for learning and discussion. As we learn more about this phenomenon, we will continue to share our findings!

Again, shoutout to Melissa for these wonderful images. We can’t wait to see what other incredible shots you all will take this Shutterbee season!

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