Beth’s Solitary Bees

We’re creating new work for Lost & Foundto be installed at ONCA in Brighton later this year, based on Dr Beth Nichols project on the solitary Mason bee (Osmia bicornis).  Back in February I visited Beth in her lab at the University of Sussex to see how the project was progressing.  Beth was sampling pollen from the nesting tubes of solitary bees, sent to her by the public from all over Britain, to determine the range of flowering plants they have been feeding on.  She had also begun testing the levels of neonicotinoid insecticide residues present in the pollen as well as soil used to construct the nests.

Another stage of the project is now underway.  Beth is containing newly emerged Mason bees in flight cages in the lab.  After the bees have mated they lay eggs in nesting tubes, some of which will be treated with neonicotinoids and some left as controls without being exposed to neonics. Osmia bee boxes have also been installed in a local, pesticide free, organic orchard – shown in photos below. Beth will examine the impact of the insecticides on development at the larval stage, and as the bees emerge from the pupal stage.

This is a fascinating project – we’re looking forward to finding out the outcomes.  The pollination services of Osmia bicornis are becoming increasingly recognised.  It’s a particularly efficient pollinator of fruit trees and interest is growing in rearing Osmia commercially for orchards and soft fruit farms.

Equally fascinating is the equipment Beth uses in the lab, much of it adapted from all kinds of recycled materials reflecting how tight budgets are for scientists carrying out independent research. This has really made us focus our thoughts on the priorities for subsidies and funding in this country.

We are very taken with Beth’s creative methods of record keeping and the archive of samples and slides she’s accumulating.  We’re working on ideas for incorporating some of this intriguing paraphernalia into our installation.