The Backyard Brains 2018 Summer Research Fellowship is coming to a close, but not before we get some real-world scientific experience in! Our research fellows are nearing the end of their residency at the Backyard Brains lab, and they are about to begin their tenure as neuroscience advocates and Backyard Brains ambassadors. The fellows dropped in on University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) Symposium during their final week of the fellowship, and each scientist gave a quick poster presentation about the work they’d been doing this summer! The fellows synthesized their data into the time-honored poster format and gave lightning-round pitches of their work to attendees. BYB is in the business of creating citizen scientists, and this real-world application is always a highlight of our fellowship. Check out their posters below!
To foraging and bee-yond: where the bee project is headed next
I can hardly believe it’s time for my last blog post, I still have so many bee puns I haven’t taken advantage of yet! Since my last post, I’ve found that working with bees can be far more dependent on environmental conditions, like amounts of natural nectar available, than anything I do. It’s a plant’s world, and we’re all just living in it. When there was a lot of natural nectar available, I couldn’t get the bees interested in my top-notch, handcrafted, artisan sugar water, try as I might. I thought there might be something wrong with my tunnels that was repelling the bees, or that they might be too close, so I set up feeders in various locations around the hive. Sadly, those too were left untouched.
About a week later, things changed. I started seeing foraging at one of my feeders, and immediately moved a tunnel to that location to take advantage of it. Local beekeeping intelligence confirmed that sources of natural nectar were drying up, making my sugar water suddenly more desirable.
As a result, I finally got some data! I trained the bees to forage at a feeder about halfway down the tunnel, and then removed the feeder and observed where they foraged. My analysis of the video showed that more bees foraged in the target section of the tunnel (the one with the feeder), even when the feeder was removed. This confirmed that the bees had been trained to expect food at a certain point in the tunnel.
Now that we’ve shown that we can build our own tunnel, bees will forage in it, and that they will remember the location of the feeder, further experiments to test optic flow can be done in the future.
I have had such a fun time getting to share my research and spend quality time with bees! I think I have finally overcome my long-held fear of bees and I really will miss them, my stylish beekeeping outfit, and driving past the medium-sized canada goose sculpture on the way to the hive every day! I may not have been able to test everything I would have liked to this summer, but I was able to show that this experiment has the potential to expand further, and I have learned a lot about making things myself and solving problems (for me, the answer was usually superglue!) Plus, I now feel qualified to be a beekeeper, should anyone trust me with them again.
I have also learned a lot that will help further the experiment next summer, and I look forward to seeing how it develops in the future! For now, it’s time for me to return to return to my other favorite flying insect, Buzz, and our home at Georgia Tech for my last year of undergrad!
Why can’t we Bee friends? Bees (unsurprisingly) don’t do what I want them to
Hi everyone, your favorite amateur beekeeper checking in! Since my last post, I’ve moved up to the exciting step of testing on a full hive! The good news is, I’ve gotten over any lingering fear of bees (see my first post). The not so good news is, I am not a bee whisperer and not surprisingly, they don’t want to do what I want them to do, even though I dressed as a queen bee for the Fourth of July Parade! I guess it has more to do with “pheromones” and “being the right species” than great costumes.
On the more scientific side, I’ve learned a lot about bees and my experimental setup in the past few weeks. I built a rig to suspend my landmark elimination cloth above the tunnel in the field, and switched to a white cloth to allow enough light in. It looks like this:
I also learned that things that work well in the lab don’t always translate to (in this case, the literal) field. But half a bottle of super glue later, the tunnel was up in by the hive. Now I just had to get the bees to forage in it.
However, the bees didn’t seem to want to forage, even with the feeder at the end of the tunnel. I moved the whole tunnel closer to the hive entrance, and they seemed to get the idea. I was able to move the feeder back gradually, and as soon as it gets into testing position I can start my trials! …or so I thought, but the path would not be that simple. No sooner had I left my beautifully constructed (if I do say so myself) landmark elimination setup over the tunnel, than the wind knocked everything over a couple hours later! I was able to repair the damage, but I was back to square one. How could I get my pollinating friends to forage for science??
The answer, it turned out, was right there: pollen. These particular bees were finding plenty of nectar (like the sugar water I was providing), but there was a pollen deficit in the environment. By tempting them with pollen as well as sugar water, I was able to lure them into the tunnel. And now, the real fun begins: data collection! Will these bees learn to forage the way I want? Will I be able to construct a stable tunnel of a different diameter? Will I finally succeed in confusing them instead of vice versa? Stay tuned to find out!