More on “Spring Swarm”

Earlier today, I heard a wonderful NPR story by Robert Krulwich that provides a more extended and experimental discussion of bee swarming behavior that I blogged on a few weeks ago.

His story is called “Nature’s Secret: Why Honey Bees are Better Politicians than Humans.”  It’s only 7 minutes in length and really provides interesting insight on this beehavior.

Spring Swarm

An Animal Behavior Challenge!

Earlier this week, Jim, a previous neighbor of mine, called to inform me of an interesting “natural event” that was taking place in a shrub next to his driveway. 

Here is a video of that event up close.  He had been out performing yard work in the past days and was sure that these bees had shown up over a short period of time.

I an effort to find out what exactly was happening and what he could do, Jim called his mother, who called her neighbor (who happened to be a master gardener), who then contacted Jarrett Mullenbruch (pictured below) who happens to be a sculpter with an interest in ecology, and who is currently working on an installation that integrates live bees. 

Once Jarrett arrived, he proceeded to talk to us about his Deep Ecology Project and then collected the bees for his installation.   To view a pdf slideshow of the images that I took, click on the image above.  You can view a collection of videos documenting the collection of the bees below.

Thanks for letting me in on the experience Jarrett and Jim!

Now for the Behavioral Challenge…

  1. How many bees would you estimate are in this swarm?
  2. Can you explain why the bees are engaged in this behavior in the first place? 
  3. Why is a bee hanging around the container full of bees in the third video?

I imagine that students could generate numerous questions that would stimulate quality discussions of this interesting animal behavior…

Providing some interesting links to resources or websites that could help students uncover the details of this natural event would be welcome as well.

New Language Discovered: Prairiedogese

Reposted from NPR’s Morning Edition by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich

If you learn a second language, there’s usually a moment where things click — you overhear some snippet of conversation and suddenly, you just get it, effortlessly.  Professor Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University has spent the past 30 years studying a foreign tongue. But there are no instructional podcasts or evening classes to help him: Slobodchikoff is trying to learn prairie dog.

View interactive media demonstrating some of the discoveries Dr. Slobodchikoff has made and listen to the 7 minute NPR Story at the following link.

for those of you with access to prairie dogs colonies, it could be quite interesting to attempt to replicate Dr. Slobodchikoff’s.

Additional Links of Potential Interest

  • Video Clip on Dr. Slobodchikoff’s work from the BCC Program Prairie Dogs Talk of the Town
  • BBC Video Clip on Coyote Predation  Prairie Dogs

Hovering Hymenoptera

Observations at a Volleyball Court, accompanied by an ID & Behavioral Challenge

While on holiday in Oklahoma this weekend, I happened by this volleyball court on the way to the pool.   My attention was immediately drawn to movements that I observed in my periphery.  Here is what I observed from sand level…

and close-up from above…

The species may be territorial.  While individuals came close to each other it appeared like there were brief chases and overall there was an emergent spatial pattern (I think you can see it in the first video) suggestive of territoriality.   I tried to follow the movement of a single individual but it was too difficult for me.

After spending more time, continuing to ignore my children swimming and doing flips of the side of the pool, I made these more detailed observations suggestive of territoriality as well.  In the first video, you will see interactions between numerous live individuals with a single dead individual of the same species…

Here is a close-up image of an instance of this behavior…

In the second video, you will see interactions of these hymenoptera with a mottled leaf…

Here is a close-up image of an instance of this behavior…

The fact that the colors of the leaf are similar to some of those found in the wasps themselves made me wonder if I could elicit the behavior with another leaf.  The leaf I chose to use, unlike the one I found them naturally interacting with, was entirely yellow.  What do you hypothesize will happen?

Around the periphery of the volleyball court, I noticed holes in the sand that were approximately the same diameter as the cylinder shape of the insect themselves (see below), although maybe a bit weathered.  I should have dug them up but didn’t think of it at the time.

I had noticed similar behavior in a much smaller number of cicada killers in a children’s sandbox, but had no idea what type of hymenoptera this species was.  Similar, I wondered, was this a mating swarm?  Where they recently emerged individuals?  What was the ratio of genders?  How long does this behavior persist?  What resources might they use to maintain their energy?

A few curious individuals did happen to come by while I was making my observations, and I received seemingly conflicting reports on their longevity.  One adult mentioned that they are there all the time, while a couple of kids arriving to play volleyball hadn’t noticed them there the day before.  In fact, later that night I saw, from afar, four people playing volleyball.  I might add, that to get some of the images and video, I walked in amongst the swarm.  I did so slowly but felt that they may have ignored me even if I had walked in at a normal pace.

So, here’s the challenge…

  • What is the genus and/or species of this hymenoptera?  and
  • What the heck are they doing?

As mentioned in response to Brad’s post on aphids, I think a collection of such videos and images could make an interesting series of ecological activities for students, and possibly a series of models for them to produce their own reports, blogs, etc… on interesting outdoor observations that can motivate learning of particular ecological principles.

For anyone that responds with the answers, unknown to me with any certainty, it would be nice, and potentially helpful in the future, for you to provide links to websites that helped in your identification.

Inquiry with Termites


Before the weekend, I received an e-mail from a colleague asking “Do you know of a good place I can go gather termites… anywhere woody?”

I responded with my suggestions, and because I was intrigued, I replied with a question of my own, “What do you plan to do with them?”

Well, after a making my own way through portions of two decaying logs, and acquiring some special and not-s0-special writing utensils, see what we ended up witnessing by watching the following videos… 

  1. Termite and paper (30 sec.)
  2. Termite, paper, and pencil drawn Infinity (30 sec.)
  3. Termite, paper, and Sanford Uniball Black drawn Infinity (30 sec.)
  4. Termite, paper, and Papermate Red drawn Infinity (30 sec.)
  5. Termite, paper, and Papermate Red drawn Spiral (30 sec.)

Sorry for the out-of-focus imagery but I hope these 2.5 minutes of observation motivate you as much as they did us before we introduced these creature to our classes today!  Experiment with other colors, other writing utensils, and have fun googling to see what is already known about the behavior you witnessed.

Happy Inquiry!