Concern about pollinator declines has increased in recent years, and, where pollinator status has been monitored over time, scientists are seeing some dramatic reductions in numbers. For most pollinators, however, there are simply no baseline data available to allow for an evaluation of changes in abundance. Beespotter is a Web-based partnership between the professional science community and citizen scientists—starting in Illinois exclusively but with the goal of spreading nationwide—to meet a critical need for data collection and to provide opportunities for the public to learn more about these ecologically essential organisms.

Species in the family Apidae—honey bees and bumble bees—are ideal subjects for citizen-scientist contributions to experimentation and data collection. Because of their striking coloration and readily recognizable shape and behavior, as well as their relatively large size (at least as far as insects are concerned), honey bees and bumble bees are far more easily "spotted," photographed, and identified based on color pattern than most of the other 3,500+ species of bees in North America.

There is currently no systematic nationwide effort to document pollinator status in North America beyond the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) annual survey of honey bees used for honey production. The goals of Beespotter are to engage citizen scientists in data collection to establish a baseline for monitoring population declines, to increase public awareness of pollinator diversity, and enhance public appreciation of pollination as an ecosystem service. The use of photography for identification, instead of the net, pin, and spreading board of traditional entomology, is consistent with the goal of preserving bee diversity and enhancing pollinator appreciation.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: May Berenbaum, Professor and Department Head
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Entomology Department
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • LOCATION: Illinois - Project coordinators hope to expand BeeSpotter nationwide
  • PROJECT TYPE: Fieldwork
  • COST: Free
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages

    Project organizers have been receiving a number of queries from people wondering how they can get involved in this initiative. The best way to get involved is to get out there with your camera and capture some good pictures of bees. BeeSpotter's coordinators want to get a better idea of bee demographics in the state of Illinois. In order to get your bee pictures on our website, just create an account and then add your bee spotting.

    For more information, contact May Berenbaum,

See more projects in IllinoisFreeFieldworkAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.

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