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an amplified habitat installation for wild, solitary nesting bees and wasps
By Sarah Peebles; assisted by Rob Cruickshank – electronics, John Kuisma – woodworking and Chris Bennett – pyrography.
Aesthetically compelling, immersive and informative, Audio Bee Booths intersect habitat interpretation, bio-art, sound-installation and sculpture. They allow the public to safely view and listen to solitary-dwelling, native bees and wasps, pollinators which are quite different than European honey bees. (Above: at The Tree Museum, Gravenhurst, ON, Canada)
Bee Booth FAQ 2012: Download here
Bee Booth Education Habitat Monitoring Overview: Download Here
Audio Bee Booth Prototype (Above: Summer 2010, The Toronto Zoo)
The Audio Bee Booth is an amplified nesting cabinet which provides habitat for wild solitary native bees (which are not social insects such as honey bees or bumble bees) while providing an accessible window to the public to enhance our understanding and appreciation of our local pollination ecology. Many species of wild solitary bees and wasps throughout the world nest in vacated beetle bores and other pithy stems such as raspberry bramble, and are critical pollinators. In fact, some 30 percent of the world’s species of bees are wood and twig nesters, and 70 percent dig tunnels in the ground. The booth is a permanent installation which attracts local insects which aggregate over the course of several years between the Spring and Fall months in temperate regions (it is not pre-stocked). It incorporates a weather-resistant observation panel, vibrational sensors (embedded vibrational sensors acting as microphones), custom-built circuitry, and headphone jacks. Combined with reading glasses or magnifying lens, the booth provides an immersive environment in which to observe these pollinators in all stages of their life cycles.
The booth prototype was generously hosted by the Toronto Zoo Education Branch, Summer 2010 (see related pages re: development). Inquiries about the booth’s performance with zoo campers can be sent to Kelly Bentley via kbentley at torontozoo dot ca. All other inquiries about the booth, including orders for new booths, should be directed to Sarah Peebles [sarahpeebles at gmail dot com].
Concept, research and production by Sarah Peebles; prototype booth fabricated by Patrick Ellard; interior bee nesting audio plank fabricated John Kuisma; electronics by Robert Cruickshank; photos by Stephen Humphrey.
So, what’s inside?
The side of the nesting plank contains leafcutter bee nests made in July by a Megachile relativa (Megachile literally means ‘big jaws’), which saws off oblong leaf pieces with which she constructs her nests. This species of leaf cutter is indigenuos to this region, whereas some leafcutter species originated in Europe or Eurasia (see our Bee Trading Cards #1-4).
Audio Bee Booth prototype in action:
Leaf cutter bee builds a broodcell
Solitary bee (Hoplitis) makes a pollen ball
Another solitary bee – a kind of mason bee, Hoplitis spolias – uses masticated leaves to construct her nest, which she constructed in June. She is one of eight species of Hoplitis, another stem-nesting, summer-flying bee in our area (Eastern Canada); some species range into the sub-arctic regions. Note that this video is silent.
Preening Agapostemon – the sequel
Ground-nesting bees also visit the booth, as do the enemies of bees – cuckoo bees (cleptoparasites). In late-summer male Agapostemon, Toronto’s most glamorous bee, often drop by for a visit.
Bee Booth Listening
Photos: Stephen Humphrey
More About the Audio Bee Booth
The Audio Bee Booth was inspired by observing Peter Hallett’s bee/wasp ‘condo’ , one of which – the blue and yellow boxes pictured above – sits next to our booth (he calls his design a ‘hive’, but not in the traditional sense, as these are solitary insects).
Full project description: Audio Bee Booth description (PDF)
Are we getting stung?
No, we’re not! These pollinators do not take an interest in people observing their foraging or nesting activities and will only sting if accidentally stepped on or handled (such as getting trapped in one’s shirt). Observing solitary bees or wasps at their nest areas – even up close – does not command their interest in us, beyond being shy (which is common), because these insects have not evolved socially and therefor have no stores of honey or other food to defend from mammals such as raccoons or bears. Thus, they do not feel threatened by human presence at their nesting sites, though they can require patience to observe. The majority of Canada’s 800-pus species of bees are solitary.
Solitary bee and solitary wasp populations at habitat installations (places created for them, such as bee cabinets, bee houses or bee nesting logs for solitaries) are much the same as populations normally present in the environment, and as such persons with allergies should take the same precautions as in any outdoor situation. All bees in upper North America, including solitary bees, bumble bees (native bees which are social) and honey bees are by nature non-aggressive to people and are not interested in human food of any type, but rather forage for nectar and pollen exclusively. The same is true for solitary wasps, except that they prey upon aphids, grasshoppers and other insects.
A note on social bees: Social insects have evolved to defend the stores of food and brood in their colonies which make tasty snacks for mammals. Bumble bees (Bombus) generally live underground in abandoned mouse nests and similar cavities. Although it is unusual to find a bumble bee nest in the wild, caution should be taken if you do come upon a nest entrance, as bumble bees do defend their nests. European honey bees (Apis mellifera) mostly live in managed hives, as they are not native to the Americas, although occasionally feral honey bee hives do survive in the wild in Southern Canada. “Africanized” honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata), which are a hybrid of European domesticated and African wild honey bee species with aggressive traits, do not live North of the Southern United States and thus are not present in Canada. Read more about Bee Biodiversity (biology and more).
2011 – 2012: Veronica Vladico is gathering macro video footage of various bee species’ nest-building activities at two of the audio bee booths in Ontario for research by members of Laurence Packer’s wild bee lab at York University. Additional video footage by Toronto writer and bee enthusiast Stephen Humphrey, taken at his Kamisak Bee Lodge in Beaver Creek, Alberta, will also be reviewed at the lab.
Special thanks to the following people for assisting with development of the bee booths, the information sheets, and bee image IDs: Lincoln Best, Stephen Buchmann, Rob Cruickshank, Patrick Ellard, Peter Hallett, Peter Kevan, John Kuisma, Scott MacIver, Laurence Packer, Cory Sheffield, and James Thomson.
Thank you also to our demo booth hosts Tom Mason (at the Toronto Zoo) and Clement Kent.
Have a question, feedback or an idea you want to share? Comments are open here.
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