Pollinator Bioblitz: How you can help save endangered pollinators!
September 11, 2023 | Topics: Events
Story and photographs by Kris Gould
Are you familiar with the Pollinator Bioblitz? It’s one of the easiest ways for the general public to support endangered pollinators, yet many people aren’t aware of it. I participated this year and found it to be fun, easy and an amazing learning experience. I hope you’ll be inspired to help the pollinators too!
First of all let me explain what a bioblitz is…. It’s an event where the public assists scientists with identification of wildlife or plants in a specific area during a set period of time, e.g. a day or a week. A bioblitz can be done in person in a single location, or observations can be submitted online. The data collected during a bioblitz is then available for scientific research.
The Pollinator Bioblitz is an online event that lasts one week and covers all of North America. I joined the project online and then went out, armed with my phone and camera, to protect the pollinators! Every day during the bioblitz, I visited locations in the Lapham Peak Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest such as the Schoeninger Savannah or the Butterfly Garden. I took pictures of the bees, butterflies and other insects that I encountered and uploaded the photos to iNaturalist.org.
The first lesson I learned is that it’s hard to get a good picture of a bee! When it’s windy, it’s nearly impossible. The bee is buzzing around from flower to flower and as soon as it settles down a wind gust blows both the flower and the bee out of the frame. Fortunately, the photo doesn’t have to be perfect to allow for identification.
How does identification work? I’m not an expert on bee and butterfly species, but you don’t need to be in order to participate. When you upload photos to iNaturalist.org it automatically suggests an identification. Other users review the photos and add their own identification which increases the confidence in the data. iNaturalist has a free app, called Seek, which makes taking photos and uploading them even easier.
On my first day out, I was surprised and concerned by how few bees I saw in the Schoeninger Savannah, a restored prairie. One of the few flowers blooming was the Wild White Indigo and that was where most of the pollinator activity was. On the second day of the bioblitz I visited the Butterfly Garden, which had a greater concentration and variety of blooming plants (and is more protected from the wind) so I photographed a lot more bee activity.
I saw insects that looks like bees but aren’t and I started to be able to tell the difference. There are a lot of interesting insects out there and each fulfills a role in its habitat, but not all of them are pollinators. My curiosity about these creatures, which we depend on to grow about 35% of our food crops, was peaked.
As I continued to visit these locations throughout the week, I saw a variety of bumblebees, honey bees and butterflies. I learned that Wisconsin, historically, was home to about 20 species of bumblebees, of which 15 can still be found. One of those species, the rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis), was the first federally protected bee species under the Endangered Species Act. I didn’t personally see a rusty-patched bumblebee this summer, but others have, so we know it’s still hanging in there.
I also learned about other ways to help. Some people think that beekeeping is a good way to support pollinators. If you’re interested in that, it’s great, but honey bees aren’t actually native to North America (nor are they endangered). The best way to support our native pollinators is to plant native plants. During the bioblitz I checked out the pollinators that were visiting downtown Delafield and saw some great examples of gardening with native and pollinator friendly plants.
Anyone can participate in citizen science projects like the Pollinator Bioblitz, which is an annual event. It most recently occurred in North America during Pollinator Week (June 19 – 25, 2023) and was hosted by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) Pollinator Communications Taskforce. During the week of the Pollinator Bioblitz, there were 156 observers, 2,976 observations, and 572 different species identified. Every piece of data helps, but if more people knew how easy and rewarding it is to participate in citizen science, we could do even more!
A Wisconsin specific bioblitz organized by UW-Madison, Division of Extension Horticulture Program happened at the same time. The goal of this event was to raise awareness of pollinators, their habitat and what can be done to protect them. These bioblitz events lasted for one week but there are other programs that collect data throughout the year. Check out the Bumble Bee Brigade which is sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
So why should you help the pollinators? Well, if you like chocolate, coffee, blueberries, apples, cherries, green beans, cucumbers, almonds (and the list goes on), then you have a pollinator to thank. But pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, are in trouble. Their populations are declining. It’s easy to assume that there’s not much we can do, however there are several ways we can help. Gardening with native plants is good for pollinators and beautiful. And even though the Pollinator Bioblitz is complete for this year, there are other opportunities to capture data and support scientists. So, let’s get out there with our cameras and phones and do our part in the fight to save endangered pollinators!
For more information about the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Lapham Peak Unit go to our Find-a-Park page.
Kris Gould is a landscape and nature photographer based in Wisconsin.