Bug of the Week: Bumble Bee Identification and Citizen Science

While much of North America has had cold and snow, here it was warm enough that some local bumble bees were collecting pollen and nectar from desert mallow flowers. Unfortunately the bees were landing and leaving so fast that I wasn’t able to get a photograph, so this one from the East Coast will have to do.


What can you do while it is too cold to do much insect watching? It is a perfect time to pull out the field guides and learn more about a group that is interesting to you.

Bumble Bee Identification

Take for example the bumble bees. They are important pollinators and easy to spot because of their large size.

This video shows some of the benefits of encouraging bumble bees.

If you are interested in learning more about the different types of bumble bees in your area, the USDA Forest Service and The Pollinator Partnership recently have created two identification guides for bumble bees: Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States by Sheila Colla, Leif Richardson and Paul Williams and Bumble Bees of the Western United States by Jonathan Koch, James Strange and Paul Williams

The two guides can be downloaded as free .pdfs at The Xerces Society (scroll to bottom of page).

(There are free downloadable bumble bee posters at the USDA Forest Service, too -scroll down.)


Looking through the Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States guide, I believe the bumble bee above on the thistle flower is Bombus impatiens, the common eastern bumble bee.

Ready to take your studies to a new level? Try a citizen science project.

Bumble Bee Citizen Science Opportunities

1. Bumble Bee Watch Citizen Science

This group is looking for individuals interested in taking photographs of their local bumble bees and uploading the photographs to the Bumble Bee Watch website.  Once you have uploaded your photos, experts will verify the identity the bumble bees for you. The website also has tips for what you can do to help conserve bumble bees, like grow a pollinator garden.

2. Bumble Boosters

Based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, this project involves testing designs for artificial bumble bee nest boxes and also tracking bumble bee queens, again via photographs.

If you decide to participate in one of these projects, or if you know of other bumble bee citizen science projects, be sure to let us know!

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Mystery Seed of the Week 226

 Here’s another seed with interesting packaging.


This structure might make you wonder what part is the fruit and what part is the seed.

mystery-seed-226-fruitHint:  This plant has a limited distribution and it does not grow in Arizona.

Do you recognize what plant this seed is from? If you choose to, please leave a comment with your ideas.

(New mystery seeds and Seed of the Week answers are posted on Tuesdays.)

Thank you to my mom for finding this. She has sharp eyes and is the one who taught me much of what I know about botany.

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Seed of the Week: Cardinal Climber

Our mystery seeds from last week are from a plant in the morning glory family. They are from the cardinal climber, Ipomea x multifida.


The cardinal climber is an annual vine named for its beautiful bright red flowers. With color like this, you just know they are hummingbird favorites.


The leaves have deep lobes that give them a lacy, almost fern-like appearance. Ours seemed to be a bit confused by the Arizona weather, and began flowering in the fall. In cooler climes they bloom in the summer and fall.

cardinal-climber-flower-222The cardinal climber is a human-created plant. It is a cross between the scarlet creeper (Ipomoea hederifolia) and cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit).

Interestingly, most species of morning glories in the genus Ipomoea are prohibited in Arizona as noxious weeds (see list), but cardinal climber is not (#33). It can be invasive in certain areas, so check before you grow it. I also read that the seeds can be poisonous if swallowed.

Have you ever grown cardinal creeper? What did you think of it?

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