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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!

Usually we have the Bug of the Week series on Wednesdays, but since we are going with an ocean science theme this week, let's take a look at a group of marine invertebrates, the jellyfish, instead



Jellyfish live in oceans throughout the world. They can be a variety of shapes and colors.


In general, jellyfish have a bowl-shaped main body called the bell. They also have slender tentacles that usually contain the stinging cells or nematocysts. The jellyfish in the photograph above have long, slender strand-like tentacles, but some species have only a tiny fringe of tentacles along the edge of the bell, or even no tentacles at all. The frilly, lighter colored parts are the oral arms, which help capture and move prey.

Jellyfish range in size from those having a bell about 2 cm in diameter to some that are over 40 cm in diameter.

You can see some of the diversity of sizes and shapes in this video:

One concern that marine scientists have, which was mentioned at the end of the video, is that as the numbers of predators of jellyfish rapidly decline that jellyfish will become much more abundant and have more frequent blooms (see for example, this infographic).

Jellyfish Craft Activity

Learn about jellyfish anatomy by making a jellyfish model.




  • Coffee filters
  • Markers
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Yarn
  • Tape, glue and or stapler

Color the coffee filter with markers. It will represent the bell. If you have time, wetting the coffee filters will allow the marker inks to run and bleed together, making an interesting effect. If you wet them, allow the coffee filters to dry (on paper towels or wax paper to prevent the ink from staining other surfaces).

Fold the construction paper lengthwise. Have the children either cut strips to be the oral arms, or cut arm shapes as shown in the example, depending on their skill with scissors. Cut the yarn into 10 to 16 inch lengths, 6 or as many as desired.

Staple, glue or tape the oral arms into the center of the coffee filter "bell." Tape, staple or glue the yarn to the edge of the coffee filter to form the tentacles. You may want to attach another piece of string or yarn to the top and center of the coffee filter for hanging.

If your children are familiar with a particular type of jellyfish, modify the pattern accordingly.


Are you going to a beach sometime this year? Are you interested in learning more about jellyfish? If so, you might want to look into the citizen science opportunity known as JellyWatch.


This post is part of our ocean science series. Visit the landing page for links to all the related posts.



Do you know any want-to-be entomologists? Today we have two opportunities for readers to learn/think more about insects and insect collections. goliathus-book-cover

First up we have a new middle grade novel, In Search of Goliathus Hercules by Jennifer Angus (see giveaway details below). The story revolves around the adventures of a young boy who learns that he can talk to insects. He embarks on a quest to find both a specimen of the giant beetle, Goliathus hercules, and also to locate his missing father. Author Jennifer Angus takes us back to 1890, creating the period feel of late-Victorian natural history when collecting insects and other natural objects was a favored pastime. For a full review of this unique, imaginative debut novel and information about the blog tour for the book, see our sister blog, Wrapped In Foil.

Author/artist Jennifer Angus
Author/artist Jennifer Angus

Jennifer Angus is an artist who uses real, although dead, insects in her art exhibits. She creates intriguing designs and patterns with the posed insect bodies. One of the questions that comes up both in the book and in the author's unique art is the ethics of collecting and preserving insects from nature. The author discusses the dilemma from an artist's point of view at her website. Her main points are that there are bigger threats to insects due to habitat loss than collecting, as well as that her art exhibits draw attention to the plight of insects.

From a completely different point of view of insect collections, Calbug is looking for citizen scientists to help them digitize the specimen labels from several insect collections housed in museums. Typically each specimen is labeled with a handwritten tag, and the curators are asking for citizen helpers to read the tags that have been photographed and type the information into a database. Scientists will use the databases to study things like trends in insect populations with changes in habitat over time. Reference collections like these are also used extensively in the area of taxonomy, so that scientists can verify the insects they are seeing today are the ones with the names used in the past. As a side note, many of these collections were started during the late 1800s, the same time period as the book.

If you or someone you know might be interested in the novel, children's book publisher Albert Whitman & Company has graciously offered a signed copy of In Search of Goliathus Hercules by Jennifer Angus for a giveaway contest. For a chance to win the book, please leave a comment with a valid e-mail address on this blog post between today (Saturday June 1, 2013) and Saturday June 15, 2013. A winner will be selected at random from the comments on this post and the book will be sent directly from the publisher. Note:  Don't worry if your comment doesn't appear immediately. I will be away from my desk a lot during the next two weeks, so it may take longer than usual for comments to be approved. Edit:  The contest is now closed.

In Search of Goliathus Hercules

Suggested Age Range: 8 and up
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company (March 1, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0807529907
ISBN-13: 978-0807529904

Ebooks are available from Open Road Media.

Physical copies are available at Albert Whitman & Company.

Disclaimer:  The review copy of the book was also provided by the publisher.