Squash Bee Observation Data Needed!

July 26, 2018

Are you growing melons, pumpkins, squash, or cucumbers? If the answer is yes, Michigan State University needs your help with its volunteer Squash Bee Citizen Science Project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic Program. And no, you don’t have to be an organic gardener to help.

 

“We would like to collect a large amount of data from a large geographic area,” explains Zsofia Szendrei, associate professor of entomology at Michigan State University, who notes the Project is well suited for public help with its easy observations.

 

The process is simple:

 

  1. Go to: http://vegetable.ent.msu.edu/squash-bee-project/

  2. Learn how to identify squash bees from honey bees (very important)

  3. Answer 10 questions about your garden and the crops used for squash bee observation

  4. Follow easy instructions for bee observation

  5. Enter the data and return the information to Szendrei

 

Szendrei offers workshops, and several methods to collect and send in the data. There is no limit to the number of surveys one can do and the study will continue through summer 2019. Szendrei notes the full data set will be published in a yet-to-be-determined peer-reviewed journal in 2020.

 

“There’s really, really limited information on these bees,” notes Szendrei. “For example, we don’t know the exact distance they will travel - they are coming from surrounding areas and even multiple miles to get to the squash blossoms, and once the females start building the nests – they won’t travel those multiple miles.

 

The squash bee is a solitary, ground-nesting bee that digs a vertical chamber the diameter of a pencil with offshoot chambers to create individual nurseries under ground at varying depths. She gathers squash pollen, makes a ball at the end of each chamber, lays an egg on each pollen ball, and seals each chamber. The larvae overwinter, hopefully make it through a farmer’s spring tilling, and emerge from the ground as adults, to continue the life cycle.

 

Identifying the squash bee can be tricky and Szendrei advises using multiple identifiers to tell them apart from honey bees. The squash bee carries its pollen dry on the brushy hairs of its hairy hind legs but the honey bee carries its pollen in baskets attached to each smooth, or less hairy hind leg. And observing two squash bees mating in a squash flower is something you won’t see with honey bees.

 

Another interesting note - both the male and female squash bees forage in the squash flowers all morning, but the male takes an afternoon nap in the wilted flower while the female is busy preparing the nursery in the afternoon.

 

Szendrei says parasites differing from those that affect honey bees are an enemy of the squash bee as are squash vine borers – the attractive, yet pestilent moth that lays eggs at the base of squash plants to develop into voracious larvae and ultimately suck the life out of the entire squash plant.

 

With July and August as prime time for blooming cucurbits – melons, pumpkins, squash, or cucumbers, anyone growing these crops is encouraged to become a Squash Bee Citizen Scientist and help MSU researchers learn more about the population.

 

Go to: http://vegetable.ent.msu.edu/squash-bee-project/

 

 

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