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There are 438 identified bee species in Pennsylvania, nearly 70% of which nest underground. About 33% of all these bees are active for only 4-6 weeks in early Spring. The most common spring bees in Pennsylvania include the solitary ground-nesting bees Colletes and Andrena species (commonly known as cellophane and mining bees, respectively). Although these bees are solitary (meaning that the female lives and rears brood on her own), they nest in large aggregations where hundreds to thousands of individual nests can be found in one small area. The female bee digs her nest underground, lays eggs on pollen provisions, and these eggs will develop and remain underground as a prepupa through the summer, fall, and winter until they emerge the following spring when flowers are in bloom.

The nests are obvious and easy to spot above ground because of the conical piles of dirt with a hole in the middle. If conditions are right, many times you can find these bees in your backyard. Although these bees are very common, the basic biology and diseases of most of these bee species are unknown and we want your help to find out more about them. The “Bee Germs” project is focusing on learning more about bees that live underground. We know very little about bees that make their homes underfoot; by learning more about their germs (or pathogens) we will be able to understand what diseases they are suffering from and, eventually, find ways to help them.
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Underground bee nest

Mathewson, J. A. 1968. Nest Construction and Life History of the Eastern Cucurbit Bee, Peponapis pruinosa (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 41:255–261)

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How to participate in this research

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Bees collected with this protocol will be used to quantify pathogens and understand how much diseases are affecting native bee pollinators in North America. Learning about where these bees live and what pathogens they have could help us provide more suitable habitat for them and help them fight off diseases. We want them to thrive, after all, so this project helps researchers learn more about the germs they carry with them. The first step is to identify nest aggregations. Then you can begin collecting bees. Below is a detailed protocol on how to collect and ship the bees. If you have questions please contact us at lopezuribelab@gmail.com.

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Step 1. Identify bee nesting aggregation sites

The ground under which ground-nesting bees prefer varies between species. For example some prefer urban lawns while others prefer sandy or bare soil. In all cases the soil is typically dry and loose. Good places to look for these bees include garden pathways of packed dirt, unpaved driveways, undisturbed mounds of soil, or sand-pits.
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Andrenidae are commonly referred to as a mining bee because they nest under the earth and are most abundant during early Spring in Pennsylvania
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Colletes are ground-nesters which can be easily spotted because of their conical shape and the small mound of dirt left behind after digging

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Although these bees are solitary, they nest in large aggregations (many nests can be found in one area)

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Step 2. Collect samples

Once you have found a nesting aggregation site the next step is to collect 5-20 bees.  If you would like to contribute to our study, please collect the bees as seen in the below protocol, fill out the form and ship samples to the following address: Margarita Lopez-Uribe, Penn State Entomology Department, 501 ASI Building Shortlidge Road, University Park PA 16802
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In field protocol

Here is the in-field protocol including materials needed and how to collect bees.

Please include a data card along with each sample. Download the data card here
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In-side protocol

After collecting the bees, here are the steps taken including what to do with the bees after collection and shipping
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Pictures taken by  Lauren Nichols & Margarita Lopez-Uribe
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References

Students Discover, Bee Germs

Guide to Native Bees

Common northeast spring-time bees

Spring Bees: Who Are They and Where Do They Live?
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