Bee curious. New online guide helps you ID wild pollinators

Green sweat bee

If you’re puzzling over a pollinator, Rachel Mallinger is ready to help. The entomology grad student has developed an online bee identification guide to benefit farmers, landowners and curious citizens.

Entitled “Spring Wild Bees of Wisconsin,” the resource will help users distinguish among different types of bees and learn about the important roles they play in nature and agriculture.

“My goals are two-fold: to satisfy people’s curiosity and provide education, and also conservation,” says Mallinger, a student in the lab of entomology professor Claudio Gratton.

Funded by a USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant, the step-by-step guide presents spring native bees by type, such as the ubiquitous bumblebees (13 native species), the medium-sized black-and-white striped bees (200 species), and the surprisingly-blue Mason bees (7 species). In addition to identification, the guide provides users with information on the benefits of bees, such as pollination.

The guide helps users distinguish between bees and other similar insects, like wasps and flies. “People often try to get rid of bees because they think they are wasps, which do not have as many obvious benefits to humans,” says Mallinger. “If people realize it’s a bee, they might be much more likely to put up with it.”

Mallinger’s graduate research focuses on determining whether wild bee populations alone can adequately pollinate Wisconsin’s primary commercial fruit crops, which include cranberries, cherries, peaches, apricots, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and apples. While she has found that native populations are indeed healthy enough to pollinate these crops, some farmers opt to bring additional, managed bees onto their land—mainly for peace of mind. Learn more.