The Tamalpais Bee Lab came to the San Domenico Garden to work with the 12th Grade Field Studies and Ecology Class. Field Biologists Sara Leon Guerrero and Nicoletta Michel brought their posters, bee collections, microscopes, and lab equipment to our campus to share, demonstrate, and teach about the conservation work they are doing with Golden Gate Recreational Area, Point Reyes National Park, and the Marin Municipal Water District.
Sara introduced the students to the ecology of bees, including their life cycle, their importance to our ecosystem as pollinators, and the major role they play in our California agricultural economy. Students learned that there are 400 different species of bees on Mt. Tamalpais. Students learned how scientists like Sara and Nicoletta engage in passive collections of bees throughout the Bay Area to study and analyze what species are here. This is the first research of its kind in this field and will help ecologists and conservation biologists learn how the environment is impacting the life cycle of bees.
Students were then each given a sample of insects from either Point Reyes National Park or the Marin Headlands. They were asked to sort the insects into categories including bees, wasps, and others. They were then shown how to pin the insects for further study and identification. The insects our SD students pinned will be part of the broader collection that scientists will use to learn more about insect distribution and diversity, changes over time, evaluate risks to pollinators of declining plant species, and start to develop distribution maps.
A Word about Insect Pinning
Insect pinning is a necessary step in the collection and preservation of insect specimens for scientific study. Entomological pins are placed through the thorax of the specimen while very small specimens are glued to pins. Labels are attached to pins for long-term storage and curation of the collection. It is necessary to collect and pin insects because they are incredibly diverse, small, and poorly studied. Bee knowledge is extremely regional and we are just starting to learn about them in a systematic way. It is not possible to tell apart the 400+ species of bees on Mt. Tam without looking at them closely, often under a microscope. Insect collections, like all museum collections, provide information to present-day and future scientists, allowing us to learn more about our environment and how we can best care for it.
Students shared their appreciation and learnings with Sara and Nicoletta at the end of our event. Our students were amazed by how much they learned, staying longer than expected to continue their work categorizing and pinning the bees. Students said that the instructors were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Sharifa H. ’24 remarked, “I really enjoyed the class today and never knew we could learn so much about bees.”
Sara and Nicoletta explained the important role that citizen scientists (like our students) play in research being performed across California all over the state and around the world. Anyone in the community can participate in this bee lab. Volunteer bee labs take place at the Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters in Fairfax. Individuals can learn more by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.