- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The humble bumblebee might lack the star status of its Old World cousin, the honeybee, but the proficient pollinator with the hairy, round body has a charisma all its own, much like Tom Selleck’s upper lip.

Bumblebees, in another similarity to actor Selleck’s famous mustache, now have their own fan website, with a conservationist twist: BumbleBeeWatch.org.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports (https://bit.ly/1dsSMI6 ) the site’s creators want to bring bee experts and enthusiasts together in a continent-wide effort to track the bees and gain a better understanding of the 50 or so species found in North America, many of which experts fear could be in danger of disappearing.

“As many as a quarter of North American bumblebees are facing some degree of extinction,” said Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, based in Portland, Ore., which launched the website on Jan. 22.

Wild bees are difficult to track, and too little information is available on some species to get a reliable picture of their numbers.

Hatfield said it’s not feasible to fund and coordinate a group of researchers capable of surveying all of the United States and Canada looking for rare and endangered bees.

That’s where the website comes in.

Anyone with a smartphone or digital camera can be a bumblebee paparazzi, then load their images onto the website, creating a virtual bee collection.

The site features an interactive guide for identifying species, which will be verified with the help of about 20 experts, including Doug Golick of the University of Nebraska’s Entomology Department.

Twenty species of bumblebee are native to Nebraska, he said, although one - Bombus morrisoni, commonly called Morrison’s bumblebee - hasn’t been spotted in the state in more than 60 years.

Golick said nine species, four of which are pretty uncommon, make their homes in the Lincoln area. One, Bombus pensylvanicus, known as the American bumblebee, is believed to be in decline.

A study done by University of Illinois entomologist Sydney Cameron and published in 2010 found the range of the American bumblebee, once the most common in the Midwest, had shrunk by 23 percent, although its population remains strong in Texas and the West.

Bumblebees, which are active in Nebraska from April to October, live in colonies of dozens to hundreds of bees and don’t produce a surplus of honey, Golick said.

But they are amazingly efficient pollinators for flowering crops including eggplants, tomatoes, blueberries and cucumbers.

Within a week of BumbleBeeWatch.org’s launch, more than 500 people from 37 states and seven Canadian provinces had swarmed the site, submitting some 350 photos, some of which were taken several years ago, Hatfield said.

The data collected will help guide future conservation efforts, Hatfield said, and the Xerces Society plans to share it for scientific purposes.

“The issues with bumblebees - habitat fragmentation, pesticides, diseases, competition - those aren’t going away,” Hatfield said. “So the more data we collect going forward, the better (data) we will have our finger on when problems start.

“We will accept data requests from anybody. Our view of this is that it’s not us collecting the data. It is the citizens that are submitting it. So we’re not taking ownership over the data.”

In creating the website, Xerces Society worked with Wildlife Preservation Canada, University of Ottawa, Montreal Insectariu, Natural History Museum in London and BeeSpotter, a project supported by the University of Illinois.

Golick, who earned a doctorate in entomology from UNL in 2005, recently returned to the Lincoln campus and is promoting bumblebee awareness in Nebraska. His efforts include restarting UNL’s Bumble Bee Boosters program, a Kickstarter.com fundraising campaign that raised more than $4,000 in pledges to build bumblebee domiciles, working with area schools and planning an outreach program with Pheasants Forever.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com


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