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Bee Hunt!

Discover Life no longer manages Bee Hunt. We have turned our attention to moths, as these species are an ideal group to study for scientific, educational, and logistic reasons. If you would like to participate in our mothing project, please email dl@discoverlife.org. To learn more about Bee Hunt, please email Sam Droege.

Arilus cristatus
Photograph by Sam Pickering
Arilus cristatus (Linne, 1763)
Wheel bug nails non-native bee


The easiest way to participate in Bee Hunt is to inventory the natural history at a site. Simply choose a time when pollinators are likely to be out (a sunny day with some flowers present) and follow THESE steps.


What to compare? You are comparing two different "treatments." This simply means you are trying to keep everything else the same but vary one thing. You might keep patch size the same but compare pollinators on two different species of plants. Are there more pollinators on Salvia or Coreopsis, for example? Or you might keep species the same but compare patch size, density of the flowers, or proximity to water or a clover field.

What time period? We find that it works well to photograph every insect on your chosen flower patch for five to fifteen minutes. You can choose what works best for your time constraints, and for the experience and interest level of the participants. But whatever time period you choose, make sure to use the same time period for each sample you take.

How to replicate? The data you collect will be stronger if you can repeat the experiment, or have someone else repeat it. So we ask that for each treatment (those variables you chose like different species, patch, density) you sample it at least twice if possible.

How to randomize? If you take photographs of flower species A in the beginning, when you and your students are just learning, and take all the photographs of flower species B in the end, you can't be sure whether you got more pictures from species B because you took them toward the end, when everyone figured out what they are doing. So there are ways to make the replicate (repeated) samples more random. For example, split your class into two groups - you can have group 1 sample treatment A first, and treatment B second, but group 2 sample treatment B first, and treatment A second (in other words, you just switch them). Or if you are working alone, you can sample treatment A first and last, and sample treatment B with two replicates in the middle.


  • Example One: Mr. Benning's seventh grade life science class decided to compare pollinators on two different species of flowers planted in their schoolyard. Some of the students noticed that there were a lot of bumblebees on the yellow snapdragons in front of the school; others argued that the hot-pink sweet pea vines by the playground were much busier. So they set out to do a Bee Hunt experiment to find out.

    Because their time was limited to one class period, Mr. Benning decided to limit the class' samples to five minutes each. To randomize the samples, he split the class into two sections, and asked Group A to sample snapdragons first and sweet pea second, and Group B to sample sweet pea first and snapdragon second.

    On the Bee Hunt day, the students brought digital cameras to school and split into teams of three, each team with two "spotters" hunting for insects and one "shooter" taking the pictures. In Group A, the teams took pictures of the GPS, the site from North, East, South and West, the sky, and all the students in their group. They set a timer for five minutes. Each photography team then took a picture of their cell phone at the beginning of the sample, took as many photographs as possible of EVERY insect they saw on the snapdragon flowers, then stopped after the five minute timer went off. While this was going on, Group B was doing the same for sweet pea. After the first samples, they discussed what they learned from sampling - what kinds of insects they found, what problems they had.. then they switched, with Group A sampling sweet pea and Group B sampling snapdragons.

    After the sampling day, Mr. Benning helped the students upload their photographs, enter locality information, identify the insects using Discover Life's IDnature guides and count how many of each type of pollinator were on each species of plant. Who won? You'll have to do your own experiment to find out...

  • Example Two: Nadine is a curious naturalist. She has always noticed that there seem to be a wider variety of pollinators on the big patch of asters along her backyard fence than there are in the small patch of the same kind of asters in the side yard... but she wasn't sure. So she decided to use Bee Hunt to design an experiment.

    As a retiree, and someone who loves to be outside, Nadine had plenty of time to take her samples. So she chose to sample each patch for a full fifteen minutes. She knew that she might take a while to tune in her observation skills, learn the subtleties of using her camera, and figure out the best way to take her photograph samples. So she decided she would sample the big patch first, then move to the small patch to do two samples in the middle, then finally sample the big patch again at the end. That would ensure that any differences she saw in pollinator diversity would indeed be due to differences in the ecology of the two patches, and not just differences in her "learning curve."

    On her Bee Hunt sampling day, she began by taking a photograph of her GPS; then the big patch habitat from North, East, South, then West; a photo of the sky; and then her cell phone. She set a timer, and began to photograph every insect she saw on the asters in the big patch at her back fence. She repeated this for two samples at the small patch in her side yard, and finally repeated the big patch one more time at the end. After taking her photographs, she followed the instructions on Discover Life to upload her photographs, used ID Nature Guides to ID them, and entered locality data. In the notes section of each photograph, she also noted whether it was taken in the large patch or the small patch. Which patch had more diversity of pollinators? Better try it yourself to find out......

  • Example Three: The Three Forks Nature Center is located near apple orchards. Several local farmers, naturalists in the community, and scientists at the nature center have been concerned in recent years about a perceived decline in native bees and other pollinators in the area. They were especially concerned about a new road which has gobbled up local habitats. So the Nature Center decided to participate in a Bee Hunt study to help local farmers monitor pollinators throughout the season. They decided to compare two orchards, both growing the same variety of apple. One orchard is located close to the new road, and the other orchard borders on the edge of a national forest.

    Instead of doing just one sampling, they monitored pollinators at the same time of day, every other day, for three weeks during peak apple blooming season. Their samples were ten minutes each, from 2:00 pm to 2:10 pm. To randomize the samples, they made sure that the two different interns taking the photographs, Diane and Ben, took turns sampling from the two different orchards. Each day, Diane and Ben photographed the following: their GPS, their site from North, East, South, then West, the sky, and then their cell phone. They then took photographs of every insect they saw on the apple blossoms.

    They uploaded their photographs, entered locality data and identified insects. Then, because they noticed an interesting difference in pollinator diversity over the three week period, they decided that next year, they would repeat the experiment, and concurrently monitor pollinators on a few selected native wildflower species at the nature center.

    What did they find? You tell us...

Now you're ready to participate. Please click here.

Updated: 2 June, 2015
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