Posts Tagged ‘citizen scientists’

That revolutionary rascal, Benjamin Franklin, is the most recognizable “citizen scientist”; someone who volunteers his or her time in the IMG_2400pursuit/study of science, often assisting professional scientists with day-to-day observances. A citizen scientist may gather data, monitor bees or dragonflies, note migration patterns of birds bats, chase tornadoes or measure water depth, reporting to a specific site or merely taking a photo and recording where they saw in a journal. We know a great deal about climate year’s ago from the daily weather journals farmers recorded.

If you have been tagging Monarch butterflies for Monarch Watch or photographing bees for university extensive services, you are a citizen scientist. Even if you are posting a slow moving turtle on Facebook, you are such a scientist.

Last week, while our Minnesota branch of the family tree was visiting, I noticed a caterpillar on the meadow rue during my early morning walk. I believe it to be a Tiger Swallowtail as they have chosen this plant to eat and grow in the past. You might imagine my glee at this discovery, for these little occurrences in life are really rather grand for me.

I hurried inside to announce my discovery, especially to our Keziah, who had already spent a considerable amount of time chasing after Monarchs and moths in our garden. We slipped on sandals and scurried out faster than a Beatrix Potter rabbit. Still in our pajamas, we snaked around the peony bush, tip toed through the ferns, the Echinacea and the brown-eyed Susans.

There it was, a very hungry caterpillar with yellow and black stripes, stripping a leaf in the slow and steady fashion of a caterpillar.

IMG_2330We talked and talked about caterpillars and cocoons and such, then I mentioned that we could watch this one while she was here. She was now a scientist. A citizen scientist, to be exact. We would watch the insect and I would take pictures and we would see what happens. Each morning, she queried “how are the caterpillars, Yia Yia?” and out we would go to check on their progress.

Kezzie was excited to receive such a distinction. Such things are important to children employed in the occupation of learning about life. Papa showed her how to use his magnifying glass and, as the days wore on as August days do, she and I frequented the meadow rue. We found a second, then a third caterpillar, which allowed us to observe how much and how fast a caterpillar grows and eats and to see them in a few different sizes. I made a promise that I would take more photos to share with her, and so I have.

It is such grand fun to experience nature with children and to see such things as caterpillars inch along from a child’s point of view. For your own point of view, remember to click onto the photos to see the caterpillar a little better.

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DSCN1707I’ve mentioned Jane and Pat before. They are at times referred to as our butterfly ladies for all their efforts in saving and tracking the beautiful monarchs and all the butterfly gardens they have certified. They have gently pushed our members to plant native species, prodded us to compost, and encouraged us to recycle those used coffee grounds into our soil. They walk the talk, leading by their examples in how they live and how they garden – and they are always a source of knowledge and inspiration for me.

I had just finished reading our club’s monthly newsletter. Inside its pages was a message from Jane and Pat telling us about a program initiated at the University of Illinois engaging citizen scientists (that would be you and me) in the gathering of information about honeybees and bumblebees. (For this posting, I will refer to both as bees)

DSCN1702As many of you are aware, the bee population is in rather precarious state right now. Hives are suddenly being abandoned and bee populations  have been diminishing at increasingly alarming numbers, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, where all of the worker bees suddenly disappear. Gone. gone.

While this may seem like a problem only beekeepers face, it is, in reality, a problem for all of us. Hives being threatened threatens our food supply. Without these colonies of pollinators, mainly the workers bees, our vegetable crops and fruit trees are at grave risk of  being destroyed.

Scientists have been attune to this and are actively seeking answers, but, they can’t do it alone. That’s where we come in; citizen scientists with the simple task of monitoring bees. All it involves is a camera, the internet, and a little initiative to become a BeeSpotter.

If you’ve been visiting the Cutoff for even a few posts, you know that I tote my camera around most places I go, especially if I’m out in nature. The day that I captured this lone bee in the pictures,  I was merely taking one of my daily walks around the garden.

There I was, filled with glee as I spotted the first of the tree peonies opening, and there, in the very first blossom, was a very busy bee who was actively collecting pollen. He was so busy that didn’t pay me any mind, affording me the opportunity to get quite a few pictures, which I promptly downloaded and buzzed with delight when I saw I had quite a few good, clear shots.

The BeeSpotter link noted in the newsletter was quickly opened, a few clicks of the keyboard and I was logged in. Within five minutes I became a BeeSpotter by simply providing a few pictures, some basic information about where I saw the bee, time of day, date, and a click to send it. A few days later, I received an email from an expert BeeSpotter, identifying my bee, which is a Bombus impatiens (common eastern bumble bee).

BeeSpotting data is currently being collected  only in Illinois. If you are an Illinois resident, or passing through Illinois, I encourage you to visit the website and consider sending in a few photos of the bees you see. If you are not an Illinois resident, I encourage you to visit the site, see what it is all about, and be aware of the bees in your area. Similar programs may soon be in your area. To all of you, I encourage you to look at other ways you can be a citizen scientist, like keeping a gardening or birding journal, keeping  a photo journal of what you are seeing, or writing down simple observations of what is going on in nature around you.

Oh, if I’m not posting, I’m likely out Bee-ing a BeeSpotter!


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