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Category — Invertebrates

Pollen Nation: Helping Out Honeybees

Here at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, we are embracing the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Honeybees do more than just pollinate flowers and make honey. They also pollinate a third of the world’s crops and are critical to our agricultural system. Their populations, however, are in severe decline.

Honeybees

Honeybees

Here is where Pollen Nation, the newest group of beekeepers, steps in. A diverse group of Zoo staff and volunteers, Pollen Nation was established in 2014 to promote pollinator awareness by re-wilding habitats and inspiring action while connecting the community to nature.  “We’re not just beekeepers, we’re a group of people passionate about all aspects of a healthy ecological system…down to every little detail, including the honeybee,” says Melanie Evans, one of Pollen Nation’s founders.

Pollen Nation logo

Pollen Nation has established 18 honeybee hives on the “EcOhio Farm,” a portion of the Zoo’s 600-acre off-site property in Warren County. The hives will boost the declining honeybee population and also raise awareness about conservation action that can be taken in one’s own backyard. Though it may take a few years for the colonies to establish themselves before we can extract honey, eventually we expect to sell honey produced from the hives in the Zoo Shop.

Checking on a beehive at EcOhio Farm

Checking on a beehive at EcOhio Farm

How can you get involved and help out honeybees?

  • Come see the new beehive on Zoo grounds across from the World of the Insect building. Learn more about bees during Honeybee Chats at 2:00pm on Fridays through Tuesdays. Chats will wrap up at the end of October and start up again in spring.

    Honeybee Chat at the Zoo

    Honeybee Chat at the Zoo

  • Sign up for an Education Program series on honeybees that will be led by Pollen Nation members in January. Details to be posted soon at http://cincinnatizoo.org/education/.
  • Help us learn more about bees in the greater Cincinnati area. Simply snap pictures of bees that you see and submit to beespotter.org/cincinnatizoo with the date and location. An expert scientist from the Entomology Department at the University of Illinois will identify the species and add it to the database, helping us to further understand bee species demographics in our area. We are currently developing an app that should launch in spring.beespotter-logo-2015
  • Follow Pollen Nation on Facebook to learn about honeybees and keep up with our activities.
  • Plant native and pollinator-friendly vegetation such as milkweed, sunflowers, bee balm, and other wildflowers for bees to pollinate in your own backyard.
  • Limit pesticide use in your gardens and don’t use during mid-day hours when honeybees are most active. Consider choosing natural pesticides or home-made remedies.

What will the bees do over the winter? In about two weeks, we will winterize the hives where the bees will hunker down. We plan to stack hay bales near the hives as wind barriers and ensure there is enough honey for the bees to feed on to survive the winter.  The bees themselves will make their own sort of caulking, called propolis, to seal off the hive’s seams and keep the cold air out. After that, we’ll leave them alone until it’s time to re-emerge in April and get back to work.

How can you spot a honeybee?

About ½-inch long, honeybees have slender, slightly fuzzy abdomens that are pointed at the tip, and they have an obvious striping pattern. (Photo: Brad Smith)

About ½-inch long, honeybees have slender, slightly fuzzy abdomens that are pointed at the tip, and they have an obvious striping pattern. (Photo: Brad Smith)

Bumblebees are bigger, pudgier, furrier and have rounded tips to their abdomens, and they don’t have many stripes. (Photo: Mark Robinson)

Bumblebees are bigger, pudgier, furrier and have rounded tips to their abdomens, and they don’t have many stripes. (Photo: Mark Robinson)

Wasps and hornets are similar in size and color, but they have smooth, narrow abdomens with no hair.

Wasps and hornets are similar in size and color, but they have smooth, narrow abdomens with no hair.

 

October 16, 2015   1 Comment

No Need To Fear The Carpenter Bees!

Spring has sprung at the Cincinnati Zoo, and so have the Carpenter Bees! However, the Zoo’s Curator of Invertebrates, Winton Ray, has some comforting news for you. It’s time to stop fearing the bee. At least the Eastern Carpenter Bee!

The Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylacopa viginica) is the large, yellow and black flying insect frequently encountered on Zoo grounds at this time of year. Though they are often mistaken for Bumblebees they can be most easily differentiated from them by their black, hairless abdomens; Bumblebees have fuzzy abdomens. Carpenter Bees were so named because the females excavate nest tunnels in wood. They only nest in the wood, they do not eat it. And while nesting bees can sometimes damage wooden structures the damage associated with them is sometimes caused by woodpeckers working to excavate the bees themselves for food.

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Carpenter Bees are among the first insects observed in spring. The Carpenter Bees Zoo guests are generally encountering are males. Male Carpenter Bees can be easily distinguished from females by the white or gold patch between their eyes. Each male stakes out a territory in the vicinity of a nesting female awaiting the opportunity to breed. Any other males entering the territory will be chased away and just about anything will be investigated. It’s these investigative flights that bring them into close proximity with you, the innocent bystander zoo guests. Carpenter Bees are large and fast flying so it’s easy to see why people mistake their curiosity for aggression even though they’re essentially harmless. Male Carpenter Bees, like all male bees or wasps cannot sting. Let me repeat that: they cannot sting! The stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg laying organ). Female Carpenter Bees are capable of stinging but rarely do. They spend most of their time visiting flowers or in their underground nest tunnels.

In a few weeks the Carpenter Bees we’re seeing will be gone but in the tunnels they’ve created their offspring will live on. In late summer young Carpenter Bees will emerge to feed on nectar in preparation for a long winter hibernation. They’ll generally hibernate in the same tunnels their ancestors survived previous winters in. Carpenter Bees on Zoo grounds are going about their lives the way they have for countless millennia, they’re just doing it at the Zoo instead of in an Eastern forest.

So, good news for your next Zoo visit! Carpenter Bees pose essentially no danger to us. You’re actually more likely to be injured trying to swat or flee from Carpenter Bees than by the bees themselves. Next time you see a Carpenter Bee, you can let your friends know, there’s really nothing to fear!

 

April 25, 2015   2 Comments

Come See the New Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

Numbering in the billions in 1800, the passenger pigeon was formerly one of the most abundant bird species on Earth. On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, passed away at the Cincinnati Zoo after tireless efforts over several years to find her a mate.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha’s passing in 2014, the Zoo renovated its Passenger Pigeon Memorial, transforming it from a single-species memorial to an educational exhibit with a positive and hopeful conservation message that segues from the story of the passenger pigeon to modern wildlife conservation efforts.

Welcome to the renovated Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

Welcome to the renovated Passenger Pigeon Memorial!

A small crowd of Zoo visitors and staff along with media representatives gathered at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2014, as Zoo Director Thane Maynard dedicated the Memorial and officially reopened its newly restored doors. Watch the dedication video here.

Visitors to the Memorial are greeted by a large reproduction of John Ruthven’s 2013 painting of Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon on the entry wall.

Entry wall featuring a reproduction of John Ruthven's Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

Entry wall featuring a reproduction of John Ruthven’s Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

A display case on the back side of the entry wall contains a reprint of John J. Audubon’s Passenger Pigeon hand-colored engraving from The Birds of America, along with an actual net used to catch passenger pigeons, a platform stool to which blinded pigeons were tied as decoys, a cast model of a passenger pigeon and an Aldo Leopold quote.

Display case

Interpretively, the exhibition flows from left to right along the interior walls, circulating around an octagonal case in the center of the building containing passenger pigeon sculptures carved by Gary Denzler.

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Passenger pigeon sculpture by Gary Denzler

Signage was designed based on elements from Ruthven’s painting with pop-up panels featuring colorful images and text. The first wall tells the story of the passenger pigeon and its extinction, why it happened, and the scope of this loss.

The Passenger Pigeon: From Billions to None

The Passenger Pigeon: From Billions to None

Next, it describes how the passenger pigeon’s extinction was a wake-up call that spurred the conservation movement in America, highlighting the stories of native species that were nearly lost, such as white-tailed deer.

A Wake Up Call to Save Wildlife

A Wake Up Call to Save Wildlife

The last wall introduces conservation champions of the Zoo and presents examples of how we are working to save species today, including the Sumatran rhino and the American burying beetle, from going the way of the passenger pigeon.

Saving Species: Conservation Champions of the Zoo

Saving Species: Conservation Champions of the Zoo

The rehabilitation of this historic building and exhibit was made possible through the generosity of the H.B., E.W. and F.R. Luther Charitable Trust Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, and Narley L. Haley, Co-Trustees.

 

September 10, 2014   2 Comments