Counting Bumble Bees in the Peace Garden: Local expert surveys declining bumble bee populations

By: Marsha Trainer, Southwest Minneapolis Patch
August 16, 2011

Elaine Evans lets children pet a bee.

Elaine Evans got stung three times on Sunday, but didn’t complain a bit. A bumble bee researcher, it’s all in a day’s work as she visited Lyndale Park to monitor the bee population in and around the Peace Garden.

She was drawn to the park after a citizen snapped a photo of a bumble bee there and sent it to The Xerces Society as part of an effort to document declining bee species in the area.

“I’ve been looking at different parks, trying to survey for this particular bee, the rusty-patched bumble bee. And, I hadn’t seen in it in any of these other places around the Twin Cities, so I was really excited that someone found them pretty close to home,” she said.

Evans, a conservation consultant with The Xerces Society and a University of Minnesota graduate student, has been studying declining Bombus (or bumble bee) species all over the metro region. She’s been conducting these surveys for five years.

“I have volunteers go out to the flowers and catch the bees in the cups and bring them back to me. And I do the identification,” she said.

The helpers this past weekend, including her son August, used plastic food storage containers to capture the bees directly from flowers in the garden. He’s been doing this since he was five years old.

After noting the species and sex of the insect, she wraps them in netting and marks them with a small dot of nail polish, so as not to count the same bee multiple times. Once she’s done this process, she sets them free.

A quick look in the flowers near the peace crane statue reveals more than a few dotted specimens.

The rusty-patched variety (Bombus affinis) have a small orange-ish swathe on their second abdominal segment. On Sunday, her small group of bee catchers brought in one female affinis and bees from five other varieties as well, including a male Bombus fervidus, another species that Evans thinks may be on the decline in the area.

Curious onlookers and children stopped by as Evans sat under a tree, carefully handling the bees. She allowed some young girls to “pet” a male bumble bee, because they don’t sting.

One of the volunteers was Leah Darst, a naturalist. She came and enjoyed hours of bee capture-and-release, telling Evans she’s very interested in being a part of more surveys and learning more about the bumble bee populations here.

Evans coauthored “Befriending Bumble Bees” with her advisor, Dr. Marla Spivak, professor of Entymology at the University of Minnesota, and Ian Burns. She hopes to survey at least 200 bumble bees at Lyndale Park and each of her other Twin Cities sites this year. The focus of her Ph.D study is on native bee populations and how landscapes affect them.

The surveys are not only a great way to collect data, they also connect her with interested volunteers and community members who can learn more about the decrease in bee populations and how we can combat the problem.

“Bumble bees are really important pollinators. They pollinate raspberries, tomatoes, peas, squash — things that people grow in their gardens,” said Evans.

She’d like people to know, “They can have an impact with how they manage their own gardens.”

She agrees with Dr. Spivak, who emailed that people can help the bees if they “(p)lant large plots of flowers that secrete nectar and pollen (see the Xerces Conservation Society web site for plant lists in our region: and eliminate pesticide use as much as possible.”

Keep an eye out for Evans in the Lyndale Park Peace Garden in the future. She intends to be back out next week looking for bombus affinis, terricola and fervidus in the native plants, and continue her survey for five more years.

For more info on Elaine Evans’ bee survey, check out her website at Befriending Bumble Bees and for general bee knowledge The Xerces Society is a great reference.

Read the article in Southwest Minneapolis Patch