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You can help save pollinators — by taking photos of bees

Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot in Colorado.
Candace Galen
Bombus balteatus, commonly known as the golden-belted bumblebee, pollinates a sky pilot.

When  a native bee received federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for the first time earlier this year, it drew an attention to a growing public concern.

Many  bee species in the United States have become threatened or have declined sharply in the last couple decades. Since native bees are crucial to pollinating crops, scientists are making a major push to keep track of them.

Researchers at Webster University and the Saint Louis Zoo are inviting residents to help the effort by leading a bee photo survey in Forest Park this Saturday. Images taken at the St. Louis Bee Blitz will help scientists better understand the abundance of various native species that live in the area.

“Bumblebees are important because they’re actually good pollinators of plants that honeybees are bad pollinators at,” said Nicole Miller-Struttman, a biologist at Webster University.

The non-native honeybee can pollinate a wide variety of plants. But some crops, such as blueberries and tomatoes, are better pollinated by native bumblebees. That's because those species can deliver a technique that scientists call “buzz pollination,” in which antennae vibrate to a particular frequency.

Miller-Struttman wants residents to come and learn how to take photos of bees so they can continue to document species that live in their backyards and local parks.

“We would love to get photographs all throughout the city so, that way, we can actually look at diversity in urban and suburban areas,” she said.

Last year, Saint Louis University researchers published a study that showed that native bees are more abundant in north St. Louis. They’re also showing up in larger numbers in cities than in rural areas.

When it comes to snapping pictures of bees, Miller-Struttman says people should not worry about focusing the images.

“The main bumblebees that live in this area, they’re easy to identify based on their color scheme,” she said.

The photos taken will be uploaded to an online database called BeeSpotter, which is operated by researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Follow Eli on Twitter: @storiesbyeli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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