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Peponapis pruinosa, commonly known as the squash bee, is a specialist pollinator of plants in the genus Cucurbita (a.k.a. squash, pumpkins, gourds, zucchini, among others). Over the past several weeks, members of the López-Uribe lab visited 19 pumpkin farms throughout central and eastern PA to collect squash bees, bumble bees, and little green sweat bees! These three species, in addition to honey bees, make up approximately 90% of the bees that visit pumpkin and squash flowers. In total, we collected nearly 850 specimens! These collections are part of a project that seeks to understand how different landscape features in and around pumpkin farms impact the population sizes and pathogen pressure on our pollinator pals. Now that we’ve collected bees, the next step is to screen them for pathogens and gather genetic information from them in the lab.

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Another part of our field work this summer involved setting up large mesh cages over pumpkin plants and stocking them with squash bees. Because squash bees are solitary ground-nesting species, we are trying to find nests in these cages to dig them up and collect samples of the different life stages (egg, larva, pupa, and adult). These samples will be used to sequence the squash bee genome and contribute to our understanding of how this species has adapted to a wide range of ecological and climatic conditions.

If you are interested in learning more about squash bees, join our citizen science project ‘The Great Pumpkin Project’. Our goal with this project is to describe the geographic distribution of the insects and pathogens that interact with squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers.

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By Katy Ciola Evans
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