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Scientist Rob Dunn's lab at North Carolina State has two new citizen science projects which might be fun learning experiences for you and/or your family if you choose to participate.

shower-head(Photo via Visualhunt)

Project 1. Showerhead Microbiology

Have you ever wondered what microbes might be growing in your showerhead? If so, you will be interested in the Showerhead Microbiome Project.  If you sign up, the members of the project will send you a short interview and a kit to take samples. You will need to send those back to the lab for analysis. They warn it may take some time for the kit to arrive and also for it to be analyzed.

bread-home-made(Photo via Visualhunt)

Project 2. Sourdough Bread

Members of the lab are also interested in the microbes in sourdough cultures. They are looking for people to send in active cultures and also for people to use cultures to bake bread. People without sourdough starter or with no cooking experience are still encouraged to participate. See the website for detail.

We would love to hear from you if you participate. Let us know what happens.

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Ever see fireflies light up a summer night? It can be an amazing sight.

What are fireflies?

firefly-side-aFireflies (also called lightning bugs) are beetles. Many of the adults and some of the larvae are able to produce light via a chemical process.

firefly_0365Not all fireflies light up. The ones that fly during the day and don't flash at night are sometimes called "dark fireflies." Without the ability to flash, dark fireflies attract each other via chemicals called pheromones.

firefly-1Adult firefly beetles often can be found resting on plants during the day.

Do fireflies occur where you live? Would you like to study them? You might want to get involved with the Firefly Watch citizen science project.

To learn more about the science of fireflies check out this video from ScienceFriday which explains more about why and how fireflies light up (Note: It does talk about fireflies mating and a predator, so check for suitability before showing to children.)

Related:

See a review of the new adult popular science book Silent Sparks by Sara Lewis at Wild About Ants.

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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.

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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.)

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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!