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Catch the latest buzz

  • A leafcutter bee lands on a flower in Peterborough. Photo by Wyatt Shell

  • A sweat bee collecting pollen from a Peterborough flower. —Photo by Jake Withee

  • A sweat bee collects pollen from a Peterborough flower. —Photo by Wyatt Shell

  • A collection of insects – including bee specimans – gathered in Peterborough during the Bee Bioblitz this weekend. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Jake Withee of Dover shows a collection of bees caught in a field off of Route 202 in Peterborough during the Bee Bioblitz weekend to catalogue the bee species in New Hampshire. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Wyatt Shell of New Market, right, and Jake Withee of Dover work to collect bees in a field off of Route 202 in Peterborough during the Bee Bioblitz weekend to catalogue the bee species in New Hampshire. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Jake Withee of Dover checks his skimming net to see if he snagged any bee species. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Wyatt Shell of New Market deposits a speciman caught from a trap into a collection vial. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Wyatt Shell of New Market checks his skimming net for bee species. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Jake Withee of Dover marches through fields of long grass and wild flowers in Peterborough to catch bee specimens. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, July 13, 2016

As Jake Withee moves through the long grass, he swishes a net of white muslin over the ground, quickly, to capture any insects that might be thinking of making a daring escape. After a few yards, he deftly twists his net and makes his way back to the edge of the field to take account of his prizes – local bees.

Withee, of Dover, recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a master’s degree in zoology, but returned this summer to participate in UNH’s Bee Bioblitz, an intensive weekend where volunteers gather and catalogue the variety of bee species that make up New Hampshire’s insect population.

The project, which started last year, is intended to take species from varied parts of the state. This year, there is a focus on the southern half, with volunteers collecting bees from the greater Hancock area, including Greenfield State Park and Otter Lake, Evas Marsh State Wildlife Marsh and State Wildlife Management area and Mt. Monadnock in Jaffrey.

“We keep adding different species each year,” said Withee. “Last year, we catalogued well over 200, and there were several species that were not previously known to live in New Hampshire.”

Last year’s event – which collected bees from the White Mountain National Forest – discovered 72 additional bee species to add to the state bee list.

Withee, along with his collecting partner Wyatt Shell of Newmarket, a Ph.D. student at UNH, were collecting near a community garden in Peterborough on Friday. Along with a skimming net, the two set out “traps” – small bowls with painted interiors meant to look like flowers, but actually filled with water with a bit of Dawn dish soap to trap bees and insects.

“In the course of a day, you can get over 100 specimens,” said Shell.

It’s important information to gather, said Withee, because bees are a key pollinator in the United States, not only of flowers, but of food.

When people think of bees as pollinators, they generally think of the honeybee. But what many people are unaware of, is that the honeybee is not native to North America. It was brought to the United States by European settlers, and soon proliferated, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. So while honeybees are hugely important pollinators, it’s also important to realize that many plants and food sources were existing with the help of the native bee population long before the honeybee arrived – and the honeybee is not necessarily the most efficient pollinator for all plants, particularly some that are native to North America.

The honeybee, for example, does not know how to pollinate tomato or eggplant flowers, and is a poor performer compared to native bees when it comes to pollinating native plants such as pumpkins, cherries, blueberries and cranberries.

Beekeepers have noticed in recent years a phenomenon known as “Colony Collapse Disorder” where colonies – of the western honeybee, in particular – simply desert their hives, leaving behind the queen, for a reason that has yet to be pinpointed. While accounts of phenomena similar to Colony Collapse Disorder have been recorded since humans began keeping records of beekeeping, the rate of hive abandonment has increased drastically – in some areas as much as double the usual loss, according to the USDA – in the last seven years or so.

“Wild bee species are important because sometimes they can be very specific to the pollination of particular wild flower,” said Withee. “Everyone jumps to honeybees first, but native bees are just as important.”

“The greater the diversity of your native bee species, the greater richness of plant species you’re going to see,” said Shell.

But native bees have also seen a similar rate of decline, probably for the same reasons that are theorized to be impacting honeybees – mites, fungus, change in environment, pesticides, malnutrition, genetic factors, pathogens and immunodeficiency.

Getting a sense of what bee populations are present in the state, where they are located, and when they start declining or increasing in population can help researchers pinpoint some of the causes.